Pavel Basinski

Posmotrite na menya. Tainaya istoria Lizy Dyakonovya Look at me. The secret story of Liza Dyakonova
Documentary novel. AST. Moscow 2017. 435 pages
Foreign rights: World English/ Glagoslav

1902, Austria, the Tyrolean Alps. The young Russian, Liza Dyakonova, a student of law at the Sorbonne University in Paris, interrupted her journey from Paris to Russia to stay with her aunt in Tyrol. During her visit she set off alone for a hike in the mountains and did not return. It is only a month later that the naked body of the young woman is found by a hill farmer on the bank of a mountain stream. Is it murder or suicide? The circumstances of her death remain a mystery. Her diary, found after her death, was published and highly praised by the famous Russian philosopher Vasily Rosanov as „the best literary work written by a woman“, but ultimately it sank into oblivion. Just like Liza herself. Based on the diary and recently discovered archive material, Basinski‘s „documentary novel“ attempts to find an explanation for her mysterious death.

Liza Dyakonova was one of the first women, if not the very first Russian, indeed European woman, to study law. With great sensitivity, but also with great conviction, Basinski leads us closer to the psyche of this young, brave and spirited intellectual, and to her struggle with the traditionalists in society, her environment and her family. He also shows her own internal struggles. And stepping outside Liza‘s biography, he presents us with the social circumstances of the time, but only as far as they are relevant to Liza‘s fate. He describes the different social classes and reform movements, the education system, the bureaucratic administration of the Russian Empire, and the influence of Turgenev and Tolstoy on the minds of literarily educated women. By placing her individual tragedy in the context of her time, Dyakonova‘s importance is not belittled, but rather it is accentuated and the exceptional and exemplary historical aspects of her situation emphasised. On the one hand brave and radically progressive, on the other tragically trapped by her own circumstances, she had the potential to become a guiding figure of European feminism, if her fate had been known or, alternatively, not completely neglected by the Russian intellectuals. The re-discovery of this exceptional woman may well correct this.