Marina Petrovna in The Siege

Sreekumar K

Marina Petrovna is an important character in the Siege. She is an artiste and finds it hard to put up with things happening around her. It is hard for others to understand her. Even the heroine takes time to come to terms with her.

We are told about Marina in the very first chapter itself. Anna’s earliest memory of her is how he mother felt mortified after a casual meeting with her. She was trying to be nice to Vera and asked about her and her husband whom she lovingly refers to as Misha. But Vera could not tolerate such niceties coming from her husband’s girlfriend. In the following chapter we see Anna going to meet Marina and paint her portrait as demanded by her father. The first sentence of this chapter which describes where  Marina lives is striking.

                                    The track narrows down to a path.

This sentence in a way summarizes the life of Marina. She used to be a famous actor like Mikhail was a well acknowledged writer. They both lost their stature. But it Marina was more hurt by that.

Her name was wiped from posters, programmes and reviews.

She was lucky in that she was sidelined by the Soviet regime before it became too brutal. If she had been questioned a year later, she would have disappeared along with her name.

But an actress can’t burrow down and work alone, hidden. She’s got to have a stage, cast,   

director, lighting, and above all an audience.

But very few are willing to associate with her now. Even Anna doesn’t want her father to correspond with her and when a letter comes, asks he father not to keep it in the house. Marina too doesn’t use the Postal system anymore. She sends the letters only though people she trusts. Vera never read those letters even when they were handed over to her. ‘It is you she writes to, isn’t it?” Vera used to ask Mikhail when he asked her to read Marina’a letter.

Obviously, it was Anna’s father’s strategy to bring her and Marina close to each other that made him ask Anna to go to Marina’s place and paint her portrait. Anna is unwilling to go to see Marina and she has an argument with her father about it. He tells her Marina was a friend of her mother. But she knows it is not true. Her mother had explicitly told her so.

‘Isn’t she your friend as well mammy?’

‘Not really. She’s your father’s friend. He’s known her for a long time.’

‘But she wants to be your friend, or she shouldn’t write to you.’

‘I daresay. But friendship doesn’t work like that.’

This chapter and the next are written in such a way that we are intrigued about this character who appears to be living outside the main frame of the other actions in the story. The description of the dacha where Marina lives and how Anna tries to find her way into the house reminds us of Kafka’a novel The Caslte.  She lives thirty kilometres away from Leningrad and twenty kilometres away from the dacha. She lives with her own nurse and does not mingle much with the public. She has been blacklisted in her own profession in the theatre, just like her old time love Mikhail in his profession as a writer. Even those who associate with her could get into trouble. Her dacha is within a forest area and she is very discrete about whom she contact lest the state should take her away and imprison her. But it is Marina’s life that reminds us more of Kafka’s castle than her dacha itself. All her life she has been trying to reach something, finish something and dies without reaching there.

As Anna tries to finish Marina’s portrait and Marina tries to strike a warm conversation with Anna, we get to see a lot about their characters as if one is a touch stone for the other. Anna is trying to be as professional as she can, forget the old problems between Marina and her mother and concentrate on her work while Marina is trying to snatch every chance to get closer to her. Anna does her work and Marina is much impressed with it. She does she a lot of her feature for the first time only in Anna’s drawing. Towards the end of the day, Marina talks about Anna’s father but Anna shows the least interest.

Among other things, we forget about Marina and then she suddenly comes back to Anna’s life. The war has begun and Anna’s father is away at the battlefield making fortifications. Marian comes to Anna’s house when she finds that her own dacha is about to be attacked. She has brought a lot of food for Anna and tells her that food is the most important thing in war. Though she comes only for two days she neverl leaves and finally dies there. After two days, she asks Anna that she is free to go as volunteer to dig trenches and that she can take care of Kolya. Thus begins her close association with Kolya.

Both the women try their best to keep the rest of the family alive after Anna comes back from the trenches at the onset of winter and her father also returns wounded. There is a Andrei too living with them and he too is much impressed by Marina. Marina is still very energetic and she does a lot of domestic chores, quite a new thing for her who lived always with her old nurse.

Later in the story we find that she was pregnant from Mikhail. She met a doctor and effected an abortion. She had known it was a male foetus. She tells a fantasy about this to Anna and then she tells her what really happened. We feel that it was to win over her by giving Mikhail a son that Vera went ahead with her pregnancy so late in her life. But it is Marina who had the good fortune to bring take care of Vera’s death. Kolya has the same feelings for her and Mikhail, his father.

Marina fulfils one last thing in her life. She takes care of her lover till his death and even after his death for days since it takes several days for them to bury her. Before he is buried she too dies. Before she dies she gives them two bottles of jam which she was resisting to touch. But she dies without being able to touch the jam. Through her death she was able to help the rest of the family, with her rations and those two bottles of jam.

Marina’s is a tragic story which reminds us of what happens to artists in a totalitarian state and how they make is even worse by not being able to manage their emotional instability. In the present day society where family is the boundary of relationships, her love for Mikhail was not recognized even by Mikhail. She is able to hear his thoughts but he is quiet reticent near her. Everyone found fault with her. Only death was kind to her by putting an end to her life soon after Mikhail’s. They get to lie together in the same mass tomb, close to each other, a privilege she won over Vera.




The Siege

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