Lydia Ginzburg


Lydia Ginzburg

set text:
Blockade Diary. 1984. Trans. Alan Myers. London: Collins Harvill, 1995.


After Dinner.

Gloom over the empty plate, greasy from the porridge, signals the end of the pre-lunch rush. Here begins the lull of the siege day. This phenomenon of the post-lunch lull is something unprecedented. Real lunch (not what a man grabs during his lunch break) was always a break. Late dinner at seven o’clock was always the direct transition to an evening's relaxation. The earlier lunches cut across the day. Chekhov affirmed that it was only possible to work before lunch. Lunch brings with it not only indolence and drowsiness, but also a sense of the onset of decrepitude, old age, exhaustion, the dying of the day. For many, these were the empty hours dragging on somehow, until the evening eventually took shape with its own conventions and goals.

Now that people were in primitive dependence on the length of the day, the temperature and the light - the feeling of the dying day was especially concrete. In the middle of the white nights - there existed this winter trauma, terribly tenacious, like all traumas that winter. In the post-lunch depression the sense of over-satiety was now replaced by disappointment, and an exasperation brought on by the swiftness of lunch.

The siege circle consists of repeated renewed segments. Post­lunch depression occurs with the same regularity as everything else, the shelling for instance. The mind is not allowed the liberty to be depressed for long, and suddenly everything, which at other times is shrouded in mist, comes crowding in. The pointlessness of goals dawns with poignant pain, especially the repetition of the gestures accompanying the relentless hurry. And especially the feeling of being cut on. Cut off from those who have left the city for unoccupied Russia. They are unpicturable, their existence is unreal. Cut off from those running alongside ...

N slowly walks back from the canteen to the office. On his right is the Neva at the far end of a side street. At the hour of depression one had to walk round that, not touch it. This summer it is only when his tram crosses bridges that he sees the mighty Neva with its warships. He never once touched the granite warmed by the sun, never sat on the semicircular benches, never descended the steps down to the water, unexpectedly intimate, palpable - with sand on the bottom and the smell of fish, suddenly revealed amid the decorative riverine view.

The corner of Fontanka with an old house. Here N used to go visiting. The people he visited had been evacuated. He always used to arrive very late, getting ready to come much later than people went to bed nowadays. There was always vodka and light refreshments there. Strange ... People sat and talked and talked. Read things to one another. Casually enquired: "Shall we have tea now or finish the reading?" "Finish, of course ... "

Visiting friends, with supper delayed by conversations. Or this wind and the constant rush of foliage along the branches - that was all part of the former life. But depression has another card to play. It doesn't want it to return. Either because that other life is quite other, utterly inconceivable, or because there is too much resemblance - like a mirage.

Engrossed in his own thoughts, N walks on from the canteen to his office without looking about him. Suddenly a familiar, heavy, shuddering sound penetrates his consciousness. He realizes at once that this is not the first such sound, there have been several, one after another. A bombardment; in another district for the moment, apparently. Now N looks about him. If it hadn't been for the noise, you wouldn't have guessed what was going on. Passers­by went about their business with the Leningrad sang-froid which had begun to dominate normal behaviour completely. They walk along the street (until driven into an entrance) carrying their briefcases, lunch pails and string bags, stand in queues, chat and light up one another's cigarettes. You hear the repartee …

- Blockade Diary (1995): 106-07.

Select Bibliography:


Dnevnik pisatelya [Blockade diary] (Neva, 1984)

Chelovek za pismennym stolom [Behind the Lines: Notes, Memoirs, Narratives 1920-1990] (1989)


Tvorcheskiy put Lermontova (1940)

Byloe i dumy (1957)

O lirike (1964)
[On the Lyric, trans. Edward G. Brown (1974)]

O psikhologicheskoy proze (1979)
[On Psychological Prose, trans. Judson Rosengrant (1991)]

O starom i novom (1982)

Literatura v poiskakh realnosti (1987)


P. A. Vyamevksy. Staraya zapisnaya knizhka (1929)

Biography & Secondary Literature:

Salisbury, Harrison E. The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. New York: Henry Holt, 1969.

Homepages & Online Information:

Wikipedia entry

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