Alexander Fadeev monument, Moscow

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If the case of Alexander Fadeev doesn’t make you stop and think about the meaning of success and failure, I suspect nothing can do the job. Fadeev (1901-1956) began his writing career in fine fashion. After writing a handful of undistinguished stories he published his first novel, The Rout (1927), which was hugely popular. That catapulted him into the first rank of Soviet writers. However, he never finished his second novel and, for good or bad measure, he didn’t finish his last, either. It’s true that he produced one blockbuster in between – The Young Guard (1945), a novel that was huge not only as literature, but as the basis for а wildly popular feature film in 1948 as well. A bushelful of Stalin Prizes were handed out to people involved, Fadeev himself grabbing one in 1946 for the novel. A sculptural group honoring Fadeev and his characters was put up in Miusskaya Square not far from the Belorussia train station in Moscow in 1973. It was done by sculptor Vladimir Fyodorov. So what’s the big deal, you ask? Why the gloom and doom beginning to this little note? Well, just 10 years after receiving his Stalin Prize and 17 years before this sculpture went up, Fadeev shot himself dead, that’s why.

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Fadeev attached himself to Soviet power early. He was instrumental in the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers from 1928-1932 and was a champion of socialist realism from the very start. He was named head of the Soviet Writers Union in 1946 – surely on the strength of The Young Guard – and he remained in the post until 1954, shortly after Stalin’s death. During those eight years he was in charge of a great many repressive measures that Stalin instigated against writers and critics. When this and other actions Fadeev had been involved in became public knowledge after Khrushchev’s secret speech about Stalin’s cult of personality on Feb. 25, 1956, Fadeev lost his bearings. He was a heavy drinker as it was – perhaps that was the only way this simple man from Siberia could live with himself all those years – but now he was rarely seen sober. On May 13, 1956 he shot himself with his own revolver while at his dacha in Peredelkino. His wife, the famous Moscow Art Theater actress Angelina Stepanova, was on tour abroad at the time and she was called back home to deal with her husband’s death, although she wasn’t told why she was being called home until she reached Moscow.

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Fyodorov’s sculptural group is a nice one for a family park. As you can see in these photos kids and adults alike enjoy gathering around them. Pigeons also appreciate them. One extremely stubborn pigeon on top of Fadeev’s head refused to budge the entire time I was shooting the pictures. In order to get at least a few shots without it looking like the granite writer had feathers coming out of his head, I had to come right up close to the foot of the monument and shoot from below at a steep angle. I must say there’s something irritatingly attractive about the sculptures. They are faceless and bloodless like so many Soviet works of art. Fadeev, particularly, is almost a blank slate. His face, his greatcoat and his pants are as featureless as they can be. Almost like one thinks may happen after a vampire sucks the blood out of a person leaving behind nothing but an empty shell. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I find some truth in these images – because I rather suspect that is pretty much what happened to Fadeev. The last photo I include below is taken on Fadeev Street, which runs right behind Miusskaya Square. As the plaque notes, the street was named after Fadeev in 1967, six years before the ensemble of sculptures would go up.

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