- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Nov-01-2001
Anton Chekhov died in 1904. His sister Marya (or "Maria" in this novel) survived the Communist Revolution and two World Wars to die in 1957 at the age of 94. After Anton's death, the unmarried Maria assumed his role as head of the extended Chekhov clan and she devoted the remainder of her life to the protection and advancement of her brother's literary legacy. To do so, she had to plead his case with the Russian authorities and later adapt to the political (and literary) orthodoxy imposed by the Communist regime. Early in the Soviet era, Maria successfully lobbied to have the Chekhov house at Yalta turned into a State museum, thereby insuring that the author's books and papers would be preserved.
The action of this novel takes place during the Great Patriotic War in late 1941 when the Germans occupied Yalta. Maria lives at the Chekhov museum, where she presides as curator. Also living at the house is Peter Kunin, a medical student and would-be writer who is Maria's protégé. In preparation for the Germans' arrival, Maria arranges the house to make it seem that Chekhov was pro-German. For example, she has Kunin dig up an old portrait of Goethe to hang over the mantelpiece.
Despite these machinations, the Germans fully intend to billet soldiers in the museum until a mysterious man named Diskau shows up. Diskau, who works for the German Ministry of Culture, insists that the Chekhov household be spared. In fact, he proposes to win over the local population to the German "liberators" by staging a New Year's Eve production of The Seagull in the abandoned Imperial Theater.
The remainder of the novel traces preparations and rehearsals, culminating in the single catastrophic performance of The Seagull, during which all is revealed.