© Shutterstock

When ‘Time’ Becomes ‘Space’
A translator can probably best understand foreign authors as she rewrites their texts in the second language. We requested Youn Jinhi, an expert translator of Russian literature, to give us an account of her Moscow literature tour following the traces of Leo Tolstoy, Russia’s literary legend. As we read her travelogue sentence after sentence, we could feel Tolstoy’s breath and see the faint image of his back.
Off to Moscow to Polish Translation
I translated in the course of six years from May 2009 to April 2015. After finishing translation, I went over the manuscript from the beginning, comparing it to the original text to check for errors or omissions. Doing that, I felt a growing urge to go to Russia.
Leo Tolstoy created a world inside his novel as if he were playing God in the Book of Genesis. He gave elaborate and concrete shapes to nature, man, and the objects that surround man and nature, using his language. Perhaps because he believed that the details were central to understanding the truth and essence of nature, man, and objects? His characters agonize over and argue about ideal matters, yet their bodies and world are so substantial and sensuous that they seem palpable.
Tolstoy’s style of writing poses a great challenge to the translator. For the accurate translation of his work, you need to thoroughly understand and be able to visualize the Russian custom and culture of 150-200 years ago, including clothing, furniture, the structure of house, street scene, stationery, weaponry, topography, carriage, theater, and farming tools. Fortunately I could refer to the Internet as well as Russian movies based on the works of Tolstoy. Still, with being a saga, it was difficult for me to envision all of the scenes with clarity using the data on hand. Blurry scenes covered with white spots as if you’re looking at them through a frosted window. In order to add color to those scenes, I decided to go to Russia, see as much as I could, take pictures, and make sure the memories would remain safely in my head.

State History Museum of Russia © Youn Jinhi

So to that end on May 13, 2015, I embarked on a month-long trip to Russia. Three weeks were spent in Moscow where traces of Tolstoy’s life and the Patriotic War of 1812(also known as ‘Napoleonic Wars’ which provided the backdrop for ) were abundant. The remaining week was spent in St. Petersburg, another important location in the novel. This travelogue will be about museums in Moscow, particularly the Leo Tolstoy Museum located on Dolgo-Khamovnichesky Street.

A church near the street where the Hamovniki House Stands © Youn Jinhi

Conversation with Pictures in Museum
“The brightness of the morning was magical. Moscow seen from the Poklonny Hill lay spaciously spread out with her river, her gardens, and her churches, and she seemed to be living her usual life, her cupolas glittering like stars in the sunlight.
The view of the strange city with its peculiar architecture, such as he had never seen before, filled Napoleon with the rather envious and uneasy curiosity men feel when they see an alien lifestyles. This city was evidently living with the full force of its own life.”

In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy describes what he imagined to be Napoleon’s feelings right before entering Moscow on September 2, 1812, looking at the golden cupolas and crosses glittering under the sun. For sure Moscow has gone through dramatic changes for modernization more intensely than any other Russian cities. It is meaningless to compare the current capital city to the one during Napoleon’s era. A great number of churches were destroyed as well during the Soviet regime. However, Moscow still seemed to have its distinctive charm and a life of its own, perhaps because of the city’s unique architectural style shown in churches and monasteries, different from that of St. Petersburg, the former capital of Imperial Russia, or because of the countless museums that have preserved the cultural heritage of the country.
I first toured the State History Museum of Russia, Museum of the Great Patriotic War, and Battle of Borodino Museum-panorama. As expected, I found enough information regarding the early 19th century Russian society and battle scenes from the 1812 Patriotic War. Words that were vaguely defined or locations and objects that were impossible to visualize even by drawing and reading repeatedly all began coming to mind with clarity as if the fog had been lifted.

Inside the Leo Tolstoy State Museum © Shutterstock

To understand the lives of artists who formed relationships with Tolstoy, as well as the writers who led the golden era of Russian literature in the 19th century, including Pushkin and Chekhov, I visited the State A.S. Pushkin Museum, Leo Tolstoy State Museum, Pushkin House Museum, Lermontov House Museum, Nikolai Gogol House-Museum, I.S. Turgenev House-Museum, Herzen Memorial House, Anton Chekhov Memorial House, and Scriabin Memorial Museum. Before the trip, all the books I had read on Russian literature and writers were strewn about in my head without any order. After the visit to the museums, the broken pieces of memories came to life once again and started consolidating like the molecules of a substance, forming a story.
Orhan Pamuk said, “Real museums are places where Time is transformed into Space. (......) As Aristotle defines time as the line that links individual moments, I realize a line that links objects becomes a story.”
Indeed. In between the museums, writers in the 2D realm of portraits or black-and-white photographs on display would walk out of the flat surface and talk about their life, their encounters with Tolstoy, and the era they lived, keeping me company throughout the journey. Their voices and stories sank in my heart along with joy. Soon, I experienced that the moment when ‘time’ transforms into ‘space’ could be heartbreaking while I was in the Tolstoy Museum.

A part of the manuscript for <War and Peace> on display at the Leo Tolstoy State Museum © Shutterstock

“Perhaps those months which we have left to live are more important than all the years lived before, and we must live them well."
From Tolstoy’s letter to his wife after he left home

The garden at the Hamovniki House © Youn Jinhi


The façade of the Hamovniki House © Youn Jinhi

Tolstoy’s Sorrow in Hamovniki House
There is a humble wooden house after a brief walk along the tree-lined street in the residential area near the Park Kultury metro station located southwest of the Kremlin. Tolstoy bought this property in 1882 at the age of 54 and expanded it to accommodate his family, which includes his wife, eight children(His wife Sofia carried 13 of the 15 babies to term and gave birth but lost four of them to illness), private tutors, and servants. He lived in the Hamovniki house for 18 years until 1909. He most likely purchased the house so that his older children could be educated in Moscow. The writer himself spent summers in his estate in Yasnaya Polyana, but remained in Moscow in winter. Most of his major works since were composed in this house.
The two-story house with a green roof and rain gutters on the reddish brown walls also has an annex and several small structures in its estate. The estate also includes a large garden spanning 20,000㎡, a rarity in a city. On the ground floor are a children’s playroom, small sitting room, and dining area. On the upper floor is a spacious hall where balls or parties took place. Russia’s leading musicians such as Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Taneyev have played the piano in the hall, and Chaliapin has sung there.

Tolstoy’s study © Youn Jinhi

Across the hall, a narrow hallway and a few flights of stairs lead to the study and work space of Tolstoy where he spent most of his time. Upon signing a bill nationalizing the Tolstoy estate on April 6, 1920, then Soviet leader Lenin expressed his desire to maintain the house as is. “Everything in the house should be kept in its original form. People should see how Tolstoy lived in this ‘two-story’ house.”
His walnut desk has a low partition around the edge to prevent manuscripts from falling and a candlestick and stationeries are placed on the desk. Tolstoy reportedly cut off the bottom part of his armchair in front of his desk. He was short-sighted but refused to wear glasses and would look at the manuscript from up close to write. It was personally just as shocking as Beethoven composing a symphony while having hearing disabilities. His detailed description of objects as if he had a microscope in one hand and a telescope in the other was in fact the outcome of his hard work despite his extremely bad eyesight. Moreover to maintain such a posture for a prolonged period of time without taking a break from writing was unimaginable to me. The desk however witnessed the painful process of the birth of his masterpieces such as “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” his best short story according to Borges, and "Resurrection" which I find the most mysterious among his works.

Workshop where Tolstoy built shoes © Youn Jinhi

I was reluctant to leave his study but forced myself to continue touring the house. At the end of the hallway a small work space of about 1.5㎡ appeared. Tolstoy used to craft leather shoes in this room. Although he was a count by rank, he drew water for his family, chopped firewood, and sewed his own shoes while staying in the estate. When he was away in Yasnaya Polyana, he would dress like a peasant and work on the field. As a matter of fact, such behaviors had him ridiculed by the peasants who worked at the estate and even his closest friend and poet, Afanasy Fet. It would have seemed that a rich, hypocritical nobleman with a huge income from his estates and books was copying a few routine works of poor people to make himself look good.
Back then, the house was situated among several small factories where laborers worked from 5am to 8pm. Those with a job were considered lucky. A growing number of hungry peasants who had been freed per the government’s policy to emancipate serfs were flowing into Moscow looking for work. Tolstoy often witnessed the miserable lives of poor people on the street. He was ashamed of his wealth and tried to live a more humble life to avoid feeling guilt, but he didn’t make much impact, if any.
Between Writer Tolstoy and Human Tolstoy
Starting 1885, all copyright-related business was handled by his wife Sofia. In fact without her assistance, Tolstoy might not have been able to produce such volume of work. There was a dispute between Tolstoy and his family over his assets in 1892. Subsequently he agreed to hand over all his real estate to Sofia and their children. She often complained about the number of children they had to provide for and used it as a leverage to safeguard the wealth. Ironically only one of their children worked for a living. Everyone else, including the ex-wife of his eldest son, their children, and the six more children adopted through the second marriage, relied on Tolstoy’s income.
Although Tolstoy kept the right to determine the ownership of his written works, it wasn’t easy to do so due to the opposition and surveillance of his wife and sons. All he could do was write critical essays with respect to social issues and publicate them through various media outlets. He would then stay isolated from his family in the small room where he made shoes, either praying in repentance or thinking of a worthy life. He was the almighty in his novels controlling the characters and their world with the power of his language, but in reality a helpless man trapped in relationships without any kind of autonomy over his own life.
On a rainy afternoon, gazing quietly at his study and work space sitting alone in the narrow hallway with a low ceiling, I felt a wrenching sadness. A whole range of emotions such as comfort, sadness, anger, joy, and fear that he would have barely had in the remote, solitary room were still palpable there. Lush green leaves on the old tree outside the study window danced to the wind along with raindrops. I remained nailed to the spot until a museum employee came to notify me of the closing because that’s all I could do.

© Shutterstock

Leo Tolstoy State Museum
Address 11/8, Prechistenka Street, Moscow, Russia
Phone +7-495-637-74-10
Hours 10am-6pm
Youn Jinhi is a translator specializing in Russian literature which she majored in college. The entire Tolstoy collection published by Minumsa. She has been known for a style of translation fit for a 21st-century sentimentality as she uses sentences that are more contemporary and colloquial, and offers vivid descriptions of the characters. In addition to her works on Tolstoy, she has translated various Russian novels.



Where to Stay in Moscow: LOTTE HOTEL MOSCOW
As the first overseas chain by LOTTE HOTELS & RESORTS and any Korean hotel brand, LOTTE HOTEL MOSCOW was selected as Russia’s Best City Hotel two years in a row by travel magazine ‘Conde Nast Traveler.’ Located on New Arbat Avenue, the financial and shopping hub of the capital near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre, the hotel offers 300 rooms and suites in a 10-story building with four underground levels on a 7,117㎡ lot. It presents diverse epicurean options including ‘OVO by Carlo Cracco’ run by the eponymous, two-Michelin-starred Italian chef and ‘MEGUmi,’ a New York-style Japanese fusion restaurant. Award-winning Mandara Spa and Atrium Garden also provide the ultimate service and hotel experience.

Address 2 Bld., 8 Novinskiy Blvd., Moscow, Russia, LOTTE HOTEL MOSCOW
Phone +7-495-745-1000
August 2020 Editor:Jung Jaewook
Writer:Youn Jinhi

Where to stay?

  • August 2020
  • Editor: Jung Jaewook
    Writer: Youn Jinhi
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