Published by Magvető Kiadó, 2015; 208pp
Diavolina, the maid who rose to be a physician, worked as a servant for Maxim Gorky, his wives, lovers, and the crowds of guests who constantly swarmed around the world-famous Russian author. She then became his nurse and his last love. In his latest novel, Hungarian author György Spiró conjures the world of Czarist Russia in its last years and the Soviet Union in its first from the perspective of this shrewd and discerning woman, including the disturbing parallels between the new autocracy and the old: revolutions, intrigues and, more than anything else, untold numbers of dead.
In 1921, Lenin drove Gorky from his homeland. Gorky settled in Italy.
Mussolini, who had just come to power, approved his request for a residency permit, saying that a man who was writing his memoirs could hardly pose a threat. Seven years later, after having made concerted efforts, Stalin compelled the ailing writer to return to the Soviet Union, where he immediately put him to work. Gorky, who was dangerously ill, attempted both to defy and fulfill expectations. Trusting in his own stature and strength of character, he sought to outwit the regime.
Every character in this novel is based on a historical figure, and even the most astonishing stories are true. As we read, we feel we are among the ever-changing circles of guests – artists, writers, intellectuals, scoundrels, and murderers – who over the decades frequented Gorky’s many homes.