ARTICLES / Ukraine

Russian Life magazine: “Gogol on the rocks”

Odessa has not forgotten Nikolai Gogol, the nineteenth-century author who gave the world Dead Souls.

At the city’s Literary Museum, an entire wall is devoted to the Russian-Ukrainian writer, with first editions of his books and even a handwritten manuscript proudly on display beneath the glass. Other books are opened to the pages with the letters that Gogol wrote from Odessa during his two visits to the city. If a visitor presses his or her nose to the glass, it is possible to read the words: Gogol writes that he came to Odessa in search of milder weather, to spend the winter in a place that has some natural warmth – not artificial, indoor heat. Artificial heat, he writes, makes it hard for him to work.

Not far from the Literary Museum, a visitor can find Gogol Street and a trendy restaurant named “Gogol-Mogol.” Inside, the tablecloths and curtains look like they were borrowed from a nineteenth-century drawing room, the bill arrives folded inside the pages of a book, and customers are encouraged to draw on the menus. Paintings of Gogol decorate the walls.

Yet just across the street, the home where Gogol stayed during his visit to Odessa is vacant and abandoned; the windows are boarded up; on the walls, the paint is peeling and vegetation is growing; the roof looks like it is about to cave in. Two memorial plaques – one in Russian, the other in Ukrainian – inform passersby of the home’s historic significance:

“Here, between 1850 and 1851, lived the great Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol.”

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