Father and Son – the Pasternaks

Leonid Pasternak painting of his sons Boris and Alex

Leonid Pasternak painting of his sons Boris and Alex

Thinking about father – son relationships led me to the Pasternaks, starting with the son, Boris.  Boris is seated to the left in this painting, done by his father. One wonders whether Boris and Alex were as angry as the father has painted them, or whether the father only imagined them to be resentful about sitting for the portrait. Father-son relationships are often hard to figure out. They’re about perceptions.

The name Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960), the Nobel Laureate who declined the award in 1958, is etched in the annals of Russian literature.

So is the name of his father, Leonid (1865-1945), the revered Russian painter and illustrator, friend of Rainer Maria Rilke and Leo Tolstoy, among others. Leonid’s drawings illustrated Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Resurrection.  

Can you see the father in the sons, and the sons in the father who painted them?

Photo of Leonid Pasternak, Russian painter.

Photo of Leonid Pasternak, Russian painter.

Why, then, would the sons’ father leave them behind?

In 1921 when Leonid Pasternak left Russia for eye surgery in Berlin, he took his wife and two daughters, Lydia and Josephine, leaving Boris and Alex behind in Russia. He never returned. He, his wife, and the girls remained in Berlin until 1938 when he fled from the Nazis to England. The sons remained in Russia.

According to the Pasternak Trust, “Leonid Pasternak was the friend and illustrator of Tolstoy.

Leonid Pasternak illustration in Tolstoy's Resurrection.

Leonid Pasternak illustration in Tolstoy’s Resurrection.

His portraits include studies from life of writers (Tolstoy, Gorky, Rilke, Remizov, Hauptmann); musicians in performance (Scriabin, Chaliapin, Busoni, Rachmaninov); other distinguished contemporaries including Einstein, Hoffman, Gordon Craig and Lenin.

“Sketches of family scenes – his wife at the piano, and their four children reading and playing – are among his most intimate and charming works. His landscapes stretch from the Black Sea to the Bavarian Alps and Palestine.” – Excerpt from The Pasternak Trust.

Although Leonid never returned to Russia, it was his brush that painted Boris into life as a painter whose brush was words, and one can imagine it was his mother’s music that lulled him to sleep even as an adult His mother was a concert pianist.

“‘What is history?” wrote Boris in Doctor Zhivago.

“Its beginning is that of the centuries of systematic work devoted to the solution of the enigma of death, so that death itself may eventually be overcome. That is why people write symphonies, and why they discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves.”


Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago (English translation by Nikolay Nicholayevich, 1957), Chapter 1, Section 5.

America’s Future

This morning Robert Perschmann wrote this in reply to “Next Up: IRAN” (posted here yesterday) and “The House We Live In” (posted on Monday). He gave permission to publish it here. Robert is a student of history. His reflection is thoughtfully provocative.

Gordon, I visualize the reading of the riot act to new American presidents. I can hear the part about how dependent the economy is on war. I can hear the argument about needing decades to prepare the economy for no war. What a serious view of the future is needed if we hope to change this. I think that Obama is closer to visualizing the change than any previous president. A few things that come to mind:


It is natural to want to forget what we have been through… the massive financial devastation by white collar pirates and the unspeakable suffering, death, destruction, and black-hole waste, caused by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. We must understand, in detail, exactly what happened so that we can be sure that we will never again be led blindly into the dark cave of the extreme right wing. No threat has ever done more harm to us and to the whole world than these fanatic American citizens who now smirk and wish failure upon us.

No we are not dealing with a crisis… it is a catastrophe. I like a president who wants to look ahead, rather than back. No one will interfere with that. However, it is not a one person government. We must and will have hearings to document and publicize what caused the catastrophe.

I want President Obama to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. If those countries must have foreign interference… let it be the United Nations, with the support of the US. I want the US out of the greatest and grandest, largest and most expensive embassy building in the world… the one constructed at US taxpayer expense in Bagdad. Let that building be whatever Iraqis want it to be.

Get out of Afghanistan. It ruined the Russians and we can not help. If interference is in order… it must be the UN. While we are withdrawing… let’s get out of Germany and generally recall the outposts of our empire. We can not afford it. Those days should be as over as the British empire is over.

No I don’t suggest that the US is the number one  international villain of all time. Most countries have their own list of misdeeds. But we who think that we are so above it all… do have a list… and we have really, really blown it this time. And, yes we citizens are responsible for the actions of our presidents and our government. We probably can not help other countries very much right now. We have to  pull out of our nose dive and begin a recovery that can serve as the beginning of a world wide recovery. I think that the People’s Republic of China has gained the most from massive world wide blunders. They should, and I think that they will… try to contribute to worldwide recovery.

Part of the US recovery will be the understanding that we can never rely on foreign nations to to make everything that we use. We will understand that from pharmaceuticals to electronics, from cars to appliances, from food to clothing… the US and every country that hopes for success… must produce things. I suggest that every American check the country of origin for every dollar spent. It takes extra time, but I want to attract attention to the issue. Look at the eye glass frames that you think are expensive. Ask where the lenses are made. Ask your pharmacist where the medicine comes from. Check the labels on the produce. Ask about the seafood. To save you a little effort… I can tell you that China makes most of what you buy and they aim to make more and more. I feel better when I can buy a product from Mexico, or Canada, or

Madagascar, or Italy. I think it is better to send money somewhere in addition to China.

I think that the People’s Republic of China is headed to become the new American-style success that we have imagined ourselves to be. I am hoping that they will avoid many of our blunders… but am sure they will not avoid them all. I have smiled at the thought of the red flag flying over the land of the manufacturer to the world. That happened thanks to the quest for the cheapest labor. We gave away the store. But… enough. I think that we should tax the pants off of imports, including those of American companies thought to be all-American… like Apple Computer. Do this until it pays off to make things here again. I think that offshore customer support should be taxed, as well as foreign airlines and shippers that transport to our country. After we have established some American production and restored our economy, …at that point we can study trade agreements with other countries. Yes products will cost more. The answer to that problem is higher pay for American workers. So, why does this issue remain anyway? It is because of the belief that unhindered wealth is okay. It’s not okay. I think that the president’s definition of wealth is generous. A quarter of a million dollars is wealth. It is appropriate for people who exceed that income to pay a great premium in tax. There is no point in having wealth if there is not a society to be wealthy in. American workers made this country possible. If we want less socialism, the wealthy must be happy to pay more taxes to support our society. And the rest of us should be more conscious of what a great privilege it is to be an American tax payer.


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