On January 3, 1907, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and other political prisoners began their journey of exile from Saint Petersburg to Obdorsk, a city on the Arctic Circle, more than 1,600 kilometers from the nearest railway station. Trotsky had already been banished to the Siberian penal colonies six years earlier. The inhospitable landscape remains the same, but at the same time nothing is the same due to the pre-revolutionary climate that is breathed, he writes in Tudá i obratno [Viaje de ida y vuelta], published for the first time in Spanish with the title The escape from Siberia in a reindeer sleigh (Twenty first century). The peasants “talk about political issues, reflect on when this is going to end”; The coachman boy who transports them in the third stage “is aware that everyone is on his side and openly” shouts:
— Up the working people! Up the hungry! To fight!
“He was a young Trotsky almost in a pure state. A lonely man, full of hope”, describes the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura in dialogue with EL PAÍS about the book in which he narrated his deportation and subsequent flight from exile to which the tsarist regime sent him.
Padura, author of the novel The man who loved the dogs (Tusquets, 2009) in which he describes the lives of Trotsky and the man who assassinated him in his Mexican exile, Ramón Mercader, signs the prologue of this small discovery that allows us to peek into the intimate personality of the Russian politician. “Its publication, for the first time in the Spanish language, may be a tribute to the memory of a thinker, writer and fighter assassinated more than eighty years ago who, in today’s world of such faithlessness, still makes some think that utopia is possible. Or, at least, necessary”, emphasizes the Cuban writer.
For Padura, the attraction for the figure of Trotsky is still especially alive in Latin American countries. “I think the interest in Trotsky in Latin America has to do with our long history of social and political dissatisfaction,” he replies. “Since the arrival of the Spanish, the independence of the 19th and 20th centuries, it seems that all the attempts to build a path of democracy and justice have not been achieved. We have even led to very regrettable dictatorships. Trotsky has had great influence on certain thinking to search for answers and perhaps solutions to that dissatisfaction”, he points out.
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The Cuban novelist believes that unlike the communist leaders who governed the Soviet Union, Trotsky, the exiled revolutionary, has turned out to be “a battered winner” of the historical dispute, from which he has emerged as a symbol of resistance.
In 1907, Trotsky was 27 years old. In 1940, when he was assassinated, he was a few months short of his 61st birthday. “There is a similarity: passion. He had great political optimism and that made him the fighter that he was. He always maintained that passion and that faith that something could be done”, answers Padura when comparing the young revolutionary with that exile in Coyoacán in the final stretch of his life. “But he is not the same as the man who struggles with a horizon than the one who has already gone through many stages and disappointments and who sees how ideals have been perverted. In this book it is a Trotsky who is fighting, the other (the one that Padura recreates in The man who loved the dogs) is a Trotsky who has already fought and who, although he continues to fight, knows that for every step he takes, he takes two steps back”, he continues.
Unlike his more political texts, in The escape from Siberia in a reindeer sleigh the most human side of the Russian politician emerges. Throughout the 40 days there, described through the letters addressed to his wife, Natalia Sedova, the deportee reflects on the daily descent of “one more step towards the kingdom of cold and savagery”, where the author describes as a “tolerable cold” temperatures of “-20. -25, -30ºC”.
During the eleven days of his flight, in the reverse direction, Trotsky describes the almost permanent drunkenness of his guide, Nikifor Ivanovich, and the customs of those he meets along the way, as in this paragraph:
“The Ostiacos are tremendously lazy; Those who are in charge of all the domestic tasks, and not only the domestic ones, are women: it is quite common to surprise them on their way to the forest, going with a rifle to hunt stoats and mink”.
The reindeer, which he defines as “fascinating creatures”, deserve the author’s constant attention.
“When we started our odyssey, they hadn’t eaten for two days and it’s going to be another day without a bite,” he writes. “The reindeer is everything: it feeds you, it dresses you, it transports you,” he points out in another passage from the book.
“Trotsky was a man with a very high sensitivity. When he entered the field of politics he became a pragmatic and ruthless politician, but he was a man with a very humanistic and European vision. That sensitivity was expressed throughout his life in his relationship with nature, ”says Padura. In The man who loved the dogs, collected Trotsky’s close relationship with dogs, especially with Maya, the borzoi who accompanied him in his first years of exile in Turkey. “When her dog dies, Trotsky suffers a strong attack of sciatica and those of us who suffer from sciatica know how painful it is for her, but even so she carries her in her arms to bury her in the island’s cemetery wall,” he says. the.
“His great personal magnetism was capable of moving the heart of Frida Kahlo,” highlights Padura, who details that the romance between them cost Trotsky “having to write the most difficult apologies” in a letter to his wife that he signed as “Your faithful dog”.
In 1907, long before that fleeting love story, also before the triumph of the Russian Revolution and his subsequent expulsion and assassination order, Trotsky manages to cross the Urals and board the railway that brings him back to St. Petersburg. In the book he leaves in writing the celebration for having fulfilled a goal much smaller than those to which he aspires: his escape. “In the first moments I felt suffocated and oppressed in that spacious semi-empty car. So, I went out: the wind was blowing outside and everything was immersed in darkness, and an irrepressible scream escaped from my chest. It was a cry of freedom and joy.”
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