Russia opens 1st museum for Jewish Nobel-winning poet

Joseph Brodsky, a dissident whose works clashed with Soviet ideology, was sent into exile then immigrated to US

Russian-born Jewish poet Joseph Brodsky in 1988. (Photo credit: CC BY-SA, Dutch National Archives/Wikimedia)
Russian-born Jewish poet Joseph Brodsky in 1988. (Photo credit: CC BY-SA, Dutch National Archives/Wikimedia)

AFP — Russia has opened it first museum to dissident poet Joseph Brodsky in the remote house where he lived after being sent into internal exile by the Soviet authorities.

The museum — in the abandoned former farming village of Norinskaya, around 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Moscow — commemorates the Nobel-prize winning poet, whose brooding verses clashed with the Soviet ideology and led ultimately to his emigration to the West.

Brodsky was born in 1940 to a Jewish family in Saint-Petersburg, then Leningrad.

At 23, the young poet was sent into exile in 1964 to work at a collective farm after a court convicted him of “parasitism” in an infamous trial that became a symbol of Soviet oppression of the arts.

Brodsky — who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 — later reflected that the 18 months he spent there were among the best periods of his life as he wrote prolifically from the rustic abode that he rented from a local family, at a time when electricity was not yet available.

The house had fallen into disrepair as the village emptied, and it took over a decade to realize the dream of turning into a memorial to the poet, said local newspaper editor Lyubov Cheplavina, who initiated its creation.

“Our youth gets really fascinated with Brodsky because of his independent spirit,” Cheplavina told AFP. “People remember him.”

The traditional century-old log house had to be taken apart and put back together in a project that cost about 4.5 million rubles ($84,000). Brodsky’s friends flew in from as far as Brussels to help reconstruct his room, she said.

“The part where he lived fell down because of rot” she told AFP. They were only able to gather enough funds after some businessmen from Moscow stepped in, she said.

Cheplavina said locals have positive memories of the poet, who, while driven out of the Soviet establishment, was even published in a local paper.

“He brought two poems to the paper and the editor took the risk of printing work of an exiled poet,” she said.

The public museum opened this week and is free. The village now has one resident — its security guard, she said, hoping that summer will bring more activity and interest from vacationers in the picturesque region.

Brodsky left the village after a campaign in his defense spearheaded by greats like Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre forced Soviet authorities to end his five-year sentence early.

Though he has been widely published in post-Soviet Russia, Brodsky has not enjoyed wide state-supported acclaim of some other poets, and efforts to open a museum in his home city Saint Petersburg have failed.

The poet became widely known after smuggled manuscripts were published in the West, but at home his work was distributed illegally via underground publications, while he was persecuted in defamation campaigns and even put into mental asylums.

He finally left Russia in 1972 under pressure from the KGB, and lived in the United States.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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