I’m not the kind of person who gives a lot of thought to my own tombstone.
Officially, I’d say I prefer to be cremated, but I’m really more of a “dump me in the nearest river” type.
At the same time, I don’t particularly think of graves or graveyards as being creepy places. I think they can, under the right circumstances, be quite beautiful and peaceful—which, correct me if I’m wrong, I believe was the original idea.
So I thought it was interesting when I started to notice, in the course of browsing information and collections on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, that there are some really elaborate and intriguing gravesites for Russian writers out there.
It’s not just the graves themselves that are noteworthy, but the locations and upkeep, as well as the sheer colorful variety.
It might seem ironic that many dead Russian writers who are now famous and ostentatiously bedecked in the afterlife suffered a lot while they were still living. Most of those on the list below experienced poverty or serious health issues, more than half at least attempted suicide and two ostensibly died that way. But it’s hard to feel too cynical about the contrast when you see the attention that went into some of these sites.
If nothing else, it shows a respect for dead writers, and the dead in general, that seems alien to me as an American. I enjoy being surprised.
1) Mikhail Zoshchenko
Possibly my favorite writer of all time, Zoshchenko also happens to have my favorite tombstone. I like to think of him just hanging out on a bench, in the woods, for eternity.
Still not very well-known outside of Russia, Zoshchenko was an extremely popular satirist in the early days of the Soviet Union. You can read three of his short stories in English translation here.
2) Nikolai Gogol
The author of Dead Souls and “Diary of a Madman,” Gogol had a talent for making the fantastic seem mundane and the mundane seem fantastic. There’s nothing either mundane or fantastic about the scene above, however, though way to go for the elevated bust and above-ground coffin. I can’t think of much better to do on a civilized, sunny day than to hang out at the eternal resting spot of one of Russia’s most wonderfully weird authors.
3) Anton Chekhov
Not a terribly interesting tombstone in itself, but my eye is drawn to the squat red turret in the background, which increases the sense of depth and detail in this photo.
Chekhov is probably the most widely-known writer on this list. He’s considered one of the masters of the short story—by some, the master.
4) Marina Tsvetaeva
Less elaborate than some of the others, but the seeming isolation of the grave combined with the artsy decor seems almost more powerful for its deliberateness. It’s an alien kind of power—it makes me think of Last Year at Marienbad.
Tsvetaeva was a writer born in Russia who emigrated to Europe during Soviet times. She’s especially beloved for her poetry, some of which you can see translated into English by Andrey Kneller here.
5) Vladimir Mayakovsky
I can’t decide whether this gravestone in itself is cool or awful. The generic futuristic quality makes it look like a grave that was intended for Russian expatriate Ayn Rand (though she ended up with something fairly modest and American). In fact, Mayakovsky, a poet who penned such titles as “A Cloud in Trousers” and “Backbone Flute,” was part of the Russian Futurist movement, which was more like this than what you see above.
In any case, Mayakovsky died in 1930, so this can’t possibly have been the original tombstone. But still oddly beautiful in the snow, no?
You can read some of Mayakovsky’s poetry, also translated by Andrey Kneller, here.