The Bronze Horseman
Author:Simons, Paullina

After the war was over, my grandparents and my father and uncle lived in Moscow with relatives while Leningrad was being rebuilt. They came back to Fifth Soviet in the late 1940s and continued to live there until 1963. Both my widowed great-grandmothers lived in the rooms with them. My grandfather’s mother died in 1953 of heart failure. In 1962, my father, twenty-six, met my mother, twenty-two, and married her two months later (despite the inconvenience of a prior wedding engagement). My parents continued to live separately after their wedding because there was no room for my mother in my grandparents’ rooms.

It was when my mother became pregnant with me (I don’t know how!) that life slightly improved. My grandparents, after spending years on a waiting list, were finally given a small one-bedroom apartment of their own into which they took my great-grandmother. And so my mother, my father, and I, remained in one room on Fifth Soviet while my uncle, my aunt, and their baby lived in the other.

My parents and I left the Soviet Union for America in 1973 and my uncle and his new family soon followed. My grandparents, now retired, missed their children and grandchildren terribly. So in 1979 they accepted my father’s invitation to come and live with us in the United States. My grandfather, then seventy-two, arrived at JFK carrying his prized Soviet fishing rod – because he didn’t think they could make fishing rods like that in America.

They lived with my parents in their house for five years, and then on their own in Maine for ten. For the last six they have been back on their own in my father’s house. My parents and my uncle are in North Carolina. In July of 2001, Lev and Maria will have been married for nearly sixty-seven years – though my grandmother, coyly batting her eyelashes, likes to say that they’ve been “together for sixty-nine.” He will be ninety-four in July and she is turning ninety in August. He says, “Your grandmother may not be the most beautiful woman in the world but she is the most dear.”

My grandfather still digs his garden in the spring and plants tomatoes and cucumbers though his back is beginning to bother him; my grandmother still bakes and cooks all their dinners herself though she complains of arthritis. They argue and fight as if they were seventeen and spend every minute of every day together. After watching them go at each other for a while, my father once asked, “Has there been one day in your marriage when you two have not argued?” And my grandfather replied, “Yes, but that was a wasted day.”

They read constantly, avidly follow current events, are hockey fanatics, watch American movies though they don’t speak English, and really enjoy Mexican soap operas translated into Russian (apparently they’re even better in translation). My grandfather has two satellite dishes so he can catch Russian programming on one and movies on the other.

My grandmother says, “We can’t die; everything in life is still so fascinating.”

My grandfather says, “I won’t die until after I get your translated Bronze Horseman into my hands, Paullina. As soon as I finish reading it, then I can die.”

April 2001

About The Author

PAULLINA SIMONS was born and raised in Leningrad and immigrated to the United States with her family in the 1970s. She is the author of Tully, Red Leaves and Eleven Hours. She has lived in Rome, London, and Dallas. She now lives in New York City and can be reached at

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