The name Rybakov is a pseudonym; my real name is Szescinski, because my father was Polish. He came from the region around Gdansk. My great-grandfather had been an enterprising peasant who opened a small factory making sewing machines. He prospered, enabling my grandfather to buy a large estate and with it, according to family legend, the title of count. To this day one of my uncles and his family live in Poland; he is a senior officer in the Gdansk police force. Like most of their fellow countrymen, they confess to having no love for the Russians.
My mother was from Russia, but, like my father, she was not entirely Russian either: she was also part gypsy. Her mother, my grandmother, known in the family as Mémé, was married to a successful architect called Vorobyov. She, in turn, was the owner and headmistress of a private boarding school for girls, and, at the same time, was a member of the Social Revolutionary Party. The Social Revolutionaries professed a brand of non-Marxist agrarian socialism and were deeply committed to terrorism as a political weapon. It was they, for instance, who assassinated Plehve, the Russian Minister of the Interior, in 1904; the Grand Duke Sergei in 1905; and Stolypin, the Prime Minister, in 1911.
Mémé’s brother did not share her political views: he owned forests in Smolensk Province, and when in 1896 or 1897 he caught some peasants cutting down his trees and stealing the timber, he mutilated them by cutting off the fingers of their right hands. It was no doubt those same peasants or their relatives who seized him eight years later during the 1905 revolution, lashed him between two planks, doused him in kerosene and burned him alive. When Mémé learned of her brother’s fate, she exclaimed: ‘And high time too! At last justice has triumphed. The dog has died a dog’s death.’ It was not a particularly intimate family.