presents a summary of:


by Aleksei N. Tolstoy

"Before the investigator there unfolded a passionate story of a tormenting, impatient, and feverish imagination."
To understand the crime, first return to the autumn of 1919. Vassili Alekseievich Buzheninov, a 21-year-old Red Army soldier and former architecture student, delirious with typhus, is found on a battlefield, mumbling incoherently. He is sent to Moscow for treatment. After recuperation, he is sent back to the front. He fights in the ruined cites of Ukraine. He dreams of building wonderful cities, powerful factories and beautiful orchards in the future.

After demobilization, Vassili returns to the school of architecture in Moscow and studies feverishly. In April of 1924 he suffers a nervous breakdown. He receives a letter from his home in the Smolensk province. The letter is from Nadya, his mother's 22-year-old ward. Nadya and Vassili's mother have only just found out that he is still alive and in Moscow. Nadya writes that life is hard and that he should send them seeds. Also, his mother is ill and may not last long.

Vassili is very much excited by this letter. His friends raise money so he can take a trip home. Before his departure there is a party, at which Vassili tells this story:


"On April 14th, 2024, I was 126 years old....From the terrace where I stood, there opened in the bluish twilight that part of the city which was once criss-crossed by the dirty alleys of the Tverskaya. Now, descending to the blooming gardens of the Moscow river, at short distances from each other, stood 12-storied, recessed houses of bluish cement and glass. They were surrounded by path-crossed gardens that looked like flowery carpets.

"The terraces of the houses, recessed and with mirrorlike windows, were covered with plants and flowers. There were no chimneys, no wires above the roofs, no tramcar posts, no kiosks, no vehicles on the broad streets flanked with rich green lawns. The entire nervous system of the city had been buried underground. The used air of the houses was carried by ventilators into subterranean cleansing chambers. Beneath the ground, electric trains rushed with crazy speed, carrying the population of the city at stated hours to faraway factories, business concerns, schools, universities. In the city there were only theaters, circuses, halls for winter sports, stores and clubs--tremendous buildings under glass domes."
On 14 April 2024, Vassil was 126 years old. Half a century earlier, he would have died of old age, but the government put him on the "list of youth" to be rejuvenated. He earned this honor because he had designed the new Moscow, a beautiful Azure City of perfection. Vassili gives a rapturous, poetic description of this perfect Moscow and of this future, where frozen tundras have been turned into abundant wheat fields and all the world's energy is supplied by an electromagnetic spiral along the 13th meridian from the North to the South Pole.

Vassili says this city of the future is what they were fighting for in 1918. It is what he dreamed of when delirious with typhus.

His friends tell him he's feverish and that to build a new life is not to write poetry. They advise he forget his utopian socialism and stick to hard work, as if everyday were Monday. "It's harder to make something of these Mondays than to build your city."

He returns to his dirty, busy, and crumbling provincial home town. He goes to his home where Nadya is just leaving for work. He drinks tea and thinks how beautiful Nadya is and how much work will be needed to raise an azure city over this squalor.

Vassili settles into a routine in the house, waiting eagerly every evening for Nadya's return from work. The household lives on Nadya's insignificant wages. She hopes that Vassili will soon get well and find a job so as to help them. In the evenings Nadya usually goes to a friend's or to the movies, invited by some unnamed man. Vassili tries to talk to her about his work, the great plan to rebuild Moscow. She listens politely, but without great interest. He asks if she loves someone. Nadya says that people marry for love only in the movies. In real life, a woman marries if she finds someone with whom she can improve her condition. Her office manager Utyovkin asked her to get married, but she refused because he is unreliable. Vassili rhapsodizes poetically about building, struggling, love.

Rumors start to spread that Vassili is in town to marry Nadya. One day he meets a Sashok, the son of a local grain merchant. Sashok takes him to the beer hall and asks him about life in Moscow, why he's in town and for how long. Vassili himself doesn't know how long he'll stay. Sashok say he is getting ready to go to England on his father's business and asked Nadya to go along as his companion. She refused, afraid of what people would think. Sashok points out Utyovkin, who is also in the bar, flirting with the barmaid.

Depressed, Vassili sits in the park thinking of sadness, poverty, and greyness. Sashok, Utyovkin, and the barmaid have all found their place in it. Can the great new city ever rise up here?

"There is more manhood in selling doughnuts than in rushing with naked blade into the attack."
Comrade Khotyaintsev, who knew Vassili during the war, sits next to him. Vassili is depressed, both pesonally and in social terms. He longs for the ardor and excitement of the war years. It seems to him that he has fallen into the mud and his regiment rode on without him. Khotyaintsev says it's harder to engage in the everyday labor and sweat than to go charging on a battle steed into war. Yet that is where the Revolution must now be won, on the peace front, selling doughnuts and muslin.

Vassili's health improves. He fears he is a parasite in the house. He sets to work to get ready for school again, undertaking architectural drawings. He decides that he must show Nadya his plans for his Azure City of the future; so he starts drawing it on a piece of canvas.

One evening, Vassili returns home to find Nadya crying. "Don't you see that you're compromising me?", she shouts. Rumors about Nadya and Vassili "the bridegroom" are wild in town. Utyovkin is acting like a scoundrel and hardly notices Nadya.

The next night Nadya doesn't speak to Vassili and, after dinner, hurries over to the home of a friend, Zoya Vassili follows and spies on them. Nadya talks of Vassili, calling him a "disappointment" and "that innocent". She notes derisively that he is in love with her. Zoya mocks Nadya's intention to wait until marriage to give herself to a man. She reminds Nadya that Sashok can't marry because his father won't let him. Sashok shows up with a guitar. They sing, chat, and drink tea. Vassili, depressed and insulted, slowly walks home.

Time passes. Vassili continues his preparations for school as well as his work on the Azure City, which Nadya regards indifferently. One morning, Nadya finds a vulgar word written in tar on the front gate. She screeches and locks herself up in her room. She won't talk to Vassili, whom she blames for this dishonor. She calls him a parasite and an innocent.

Rage grows in Vassili. Assuming that Utyovkin was responsible for the vandalism, he goes to the beer hall and raises a ruckus looking for him. Not finding Utyovkin, Vassili sits on a mound in the meadows. He stays there all night.

The next night, Sashok finds Nadya in Zoya's garden and begins to seduce her. Utyovkin sneaks up and spies on them. Seeing Sashok, Utyovkin says to himself, "How foolish. It was Sashok." Nadya hears Utyovkin, shrieks, and runs home, with Sashok following. Just then, Vassili comes up to Utyovkin and hits him in the head with a stone, killing him.

Nadya locks herself up in her bedroom, but Sashok jiggles the lock and gets in. He sits on the bed with her, continuing his seduction. Then Vassili, with bloody hands, enters. Sashok knocks over Vassili and runs away. Vassili thinks, "Defiler!" He picks up an iron and chases after Sashok. Sashok twists the iron out of Vassili's hand and gives him a few powerful punches.

Sashok walks away, but Vassili pulls himself and follows to the town square, which is being prepared for a big market day tomorrow. Sashok, outside the beer hall, tells everyone that Vassili killed Utyovkin. They catch sight of Vassili and chase him. Vassili hides in some hay wagons, then sets them on fire.

As the market place and then the whole town catches fire, the panicked people forget about Vassili. He makes his way to his home, which is also on fire. He rips the plan of the Azure City off the wall and returns to the town square. There, he climbs up a telegraph pole, intending to post the Azure City drawing up high for all to see. He falls and knocks himself out, which probably saved his life because otherwise the crowd would have killed him. He is arrested and appears before the court.


Tolstoy, Aleksei Nikolaevich. Born 10 January 1882 (29 December 1882, Old Style), in the town of Nikolayevsk in the Sarmara guberniya. He was distantly related to Lev Tolstoy on his father's side, but he never stayed in the Tolstoy clan. While pregnant with the future writer, his mother, Aleksandra Leontevna nee Turgenev, left his father and ran off with another Samara landowner, A.A. Bostrom, whom Tolstoy remembered as an atheist and materialist. Aleksandra Leontevena herself was a writer, responsible for the novel Irrepressible Heart, the tale In The Backwaters, and several children's stories. At her urging, Aleksei, at age 10, wrote his first story, a tale of a young boy named Stepka. Nothing remains of this story save for one phrase: "The snow in the moonlight shone like diamonds."

After some years of harsh weather conditions, Bostrom was forced to sell his land, and the family moved to Samara in 1897. In 1901 Tolstoy moved to Petersburg and entered the Petersburg Technological Institute. At age 19, he married a medical student. He became involved in Social-Democratic organizations and took part in student demonstrations and strikes. In 1903 he was almost killed when he was hit in the chest with a pavement stone thrown during a demonstration by the Kazan Cathedral.

When the Institute was closed in 1905, Tolstoy went to study at the Polytechnic in Dresden, where he wrote some revolutionary and lyric verses. He returned to Samara in 1906, but his mother soon died and Tolstoy went back to Petersburg to continue his studies.

At this point, Tolstoy came under the influence of the Symbolists and produced some imitative lyric verses which were published in the collection Lyrika in 1907. He second volume of verse, Za Sinimi Rekami ("Beyond Blue Rivers") improved on the first, drawing on folklore, particularly Slavic mythology.

His first prose work, Starya Bashnya ("The Old Tower"), appeared in 1908. It was followed by Sorevnovatel ("The Competitor"), Yashmovaya Tetrad ("Jaspar Notebok"), Arkhip, Smert Nalymovikh ("Death of the Nalymovs"), and Nedelya V Tureneve ("Week in Turenev"). Of these beginning works of prose, Tolstoy said:

I began with imitation. That is to say, I had already felt out on what type of canvas, along what type of path I could direct my creative endeavors. But still, the road was someone else's, not mine.
The writer felt he began to find his own path with Sorochi Skazki (1911), an attempt to express his childhood impressions in the form of a fairy tale. Two novels followed shortly thereafter: Chudaki ("Eccentrics") (1911) and Khromoi Barin ("The Lame Baron") (1912) use comic realism similar to that of Gogol in their presentation of decaying, grotesque gentry life. With the novel Egor Abozov (1915), we see an abandonment of his "decadent" period and a commitment to realism. This work contains a satire on Symbolist and Futurist circles.

Tolstoy also undertook dramatic works. The play Nasilniki ("Aggressors") was staged in Moscow in 1913. It evoked a sharp reaction from the viewing public and was banned by the tsarist authorities. Between 1914 and 1917, Tolstoy penned five more plays: Vystrel ("The Shot"), Nechistaya Sila ("Evil Spirit"), Kasatka, Raketa ("Rocket"), and Gorky Tsvet ("Bitter Color").

During World War I, Tolstoy was a war correspondent for the newspaper Russkie Vedomosti, finding himself on the front, then in England and France. But he claims the tsarist censors never let him write what he really felt. Following the revolution of October 1917, Tolstoy produced the story Den Petra ("Peter's Day"), portraying an average day in the life of Tsar Peter the Great. Peter is shown as a crude, coarse, capricious, bestial, barbarian despot.

Thereafter, Tolstoy suffered a period of political and ideological confusion. He worked in General Deniken's propaganda section. Then he went abroad to live in Paris, where he began Detstvo Nikity ("Nikita's Childhood") (1921), a partly autobiographical study of a young boy's life. It was also in Paris that he started Syostry ("Sisters") (1922), the fist novel in his trilogy Khozhdeniye Po Mykam ("The Road To Calvary"), which tells the story of Russian intellectuals who convert to Bolshevism during the Civil War.

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Aleksei Tolstoy Crater
In the autumn of 1921, Tolstoy moved to Berlin and linked up with the pro-Communist Nakanune group. He also met with Maksim Gorky and established good relations with him. While in Berlin, Tolstoy wrote his first great science-fiction novel, Aelita (1922), an account of a Russian landing on Mars. In the novel, an engineer-inventor attempts to win the love a Martian princess, and a Red Army soldier works to export revolution to the Red planet. (The first Soviet prize in the field of science fiction, initiated in 1981, was named after this novel. And in 1982, the International Astronomical Union honored Aleksei N. Tolstoy by naming a crater on the planet Mars after him.)

During his Berlin period, he also produced the novels Chernaya Pyatnitsa ("Black Friday"), Ubistvo Antoine Rivo ("The Murder of Antoine Rivo") and Rukopis, Naidennaya Pod Krovatiu ("Manuscript Found Under A Bed").

In 1923, having fully accepted the Revolution, he moved back to Russia. Two more science fiction novels followed: The Revolt of the Machines (1924) and Engineer Garin's Hyperboloid (1926). The latter is a story of a power-hungry engineer who, with the help of a concentrated heat ray, uncovers a vast deposit of gold in the earth's core. Threatening the world with ecological disaster, he becomes dictator. But he is eventually foiled by by a good Soviet Chekist.

The hero of the short tale Azure Cities (1925) comes to a bad end because his fantastic dreams of a 21st century Moscow clash with the realities of building socialism in the period of the New Economic Policy.

Beginning in 1923, Tolstoy again began writing for the theater. He produced Izgnaniye Bludnovo Besa, Zagovor Imperatritsy, Azef, Chudesa V Reshetke, Vozrashchennaya Molodost and an adaptation of Revolt of the Machines. But pressure from RAPP soon forced Tolstoy to abandon dramatic work for a time. However, by 1929 he was back it with the play Na Dybe ("On The Rack"), another treatment of Peter the Great. While some of the hostile attitude to Peter is still apparent in this work, he is also shown as a statesman working for the good of the nation. The play underwent two revisions, in 1934 and 1937.

In 1928, Tolstoy finished 1918, Part Two of his "Road to Calvary" series. Then, in 1929, Tolstoy published Part One of Peter I, considered by many his masterpiece. Part Two appeared in 1933, and Part Three in 1945. The story begins with Peter's childhood and continues on through the Battle of Narva in 1701. Peter here is portrayed as a great genius who completely transformed Russia for the better. The work has a wide variety of characters and settings and has a great breath of social, historical, and geographic scope. Tolstoy began work on this epic a month after the February Revolution in, as he put it, an attempt to solve the mystery of the Russian people and the Russian state:

What attracted me to the epic "Peter I"? Undoubtedly, I chose that era as a projection of the modern world. I was attracted by the feeling of the fullness of the "uncombed" and creative force of that life when the Russian character was revealed with particular clarity.
In the 1930s, Tolstoy made several attempts to produce theatrical works, but he met with strong resistance from the Trotskyite forces in the RAPP. It was only when these elements were purged that Tolstoy felt that the "hostile encirclement" around him had ended and that we was able to give all his energies to his literary and social activities. He got a measure of revenge in the 1938 novel Khleb ("Bread"), concerning the defense of Czaritsyn by Reds in 1918-1919. The roles of Stalin and Voloshilov are glorified and the treachery of Trotsky is exposed. 1938 also saw publication of Put K Pobede ("Path To Victory") and and anti-Fascist pamphlet Chertov Most.

On the day the Great Patriotic War began--11 June 1941--he wrote the last lines of Khmupoye Utro ("Gloomy Morning"), the final installment in the "Road to Calvary" trilogy, which was now deemed worthy of a Stalin Prize. During the war, Tolstoy wrote many patriotic articles as well as the two-part Ivan Grozny ("Ivan The Terrible") (1943), which also won a Stalin Prize.

In 1936, Tolstoy was elected Chairman of the Writer's Union, and he was a deputy to the Supreme Soviet in 1937. In 1939, Tolstoy was elected to the Academy of Sciences. He wrote numerous children's stories, including The Golden Key, or The Adventures of Buratino (1936), and more than 20 plays. Other works include Motherland (1943) and Stories of Ivan Sudarev (1944).

He died in Moscow on 23 February 1945.

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