Vladimir sat on the bank of the river remembering his brother Alexandre. He had dreamed the night before, that they were fishing together on the far away Volga.
It was officially Spring, yet winter held on here in eastern Siberia. The land of exiles.
He wondered how his mother fared in Simbirsk. He hadn’t received a letter in several months and his exile would be coming to an end soon.
He would leave Russia.
He was a marked man, branded a “revolutionary”. Alexandre was dead for more than a decade, executed for an attempt on the life of the Tsar. The then 17-year-old Vladimir had visited his brother in prison before he was hanged, and Vladimir would spend a year and a half there himself, in solitary, before his exile.
Mother would beg the Tsar to spare his brother. Alexandre would not beg. Vladimir understood.
Vladimir watched the ice moving north in the river to the Arctic Ocean. He had used his exile to learn, had met others who thought like him. Others who, like his father now gone, struggled against the ills of their time; for human rights, dignity, against the darkness of life in the villages and the arbitrary treatment of the peasants by the nobility and officials. It’s not that he himself was ever hungry—but like his father, he could not bear to see those who were.
And those who were hungry were everywhere.
Politics of any sort was a crime, even discussing politics was a crime. The Tsar, now Nicholas II, was the Autocrat of all the Russians. Political thinking was deemed thought crime and you wound up imprisoned, exiled or worse for it. Alexandre had come to the conclusion there was no choice, no other road, but to kill them. Kill them all. And now he too was dead.
Vladimir thought of his high school days at the Gymnasium at Simbirsk. The school master was a nobleman because he married a noble woman and not for any particular accomplishment of his own. He wondered what had become of the Headmaster’s son, once his friend and also named Alexandre. The two families had been friends before the arrest, but Vladimir always detested the head master’s royalist politics. After the arrests, his family had no friends left at all.
“What are you doing sitting there like a tree stump?” His new bride, Nadya, had snuck up on him. “It’s cold out here, you’ll catch your death!”
Vladimir laughed. “I’m sure no one will notice!”
“They will someday. They will.” Nadya was a revolutionary to the bone. The daughter of nobility, she had the best education a woman could get in Russia. She had also been imprisoned and exiled for political offenses. ”Come home. I’ve started a fire.”
“What’s for dinner, woman?” He knew better than to talk to her like that.
She smiled at her new husband. “In the new world, men will learn how to cook!”
Vladimir and Nadya walked back to the cabin they shared. Life in exile was just that. Life very far away from anything that was happening in the world. No way to leave, until your exile was over and you received official permission to leave. Cut off from everyone and everything.
Except books. Vladimir read and wrote. It’s what he planned to do when his exile was over. He was fluent in Latin, Greek and German, while Nadia translated English and French.
Next year. In 1900. The dawn of the new century, and he would be thirty years old. Next year he could leave. Vladimir spent these years preparing himself to be useful in changing things; to rid the world of Tsars and nobles and royalists.
“You are going to need a new name when you begin writing from abroad. A nom de plume. A revolutionary name!” Nadya set out two bowls and spoons while Vladimir tended the fire.
“What’s the matter with Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov?”
“Nothing – except it’s too bourgeois! You need a name people will remember! A name that….some day…..will strike terror into the hearts of the oppressor.”
Vladimir smiled. He could not envision what she envisioned. She had the faith. He shook his head. “And what do you suggest my lovely?”
She thought for awhile. Outside the Lena river flowed north, the ice creaking as it broke and crashed in the twilight.
Her eyes brightened. “The river! We’ll name you and your new life with me after our river.”
“My revolutionary name will be after a river? The Lena river?” He looked at her with incredulity.
“No! Not Lena…Lenin. You will be Lenin.”
Nadya ladled some hot soup into a bowl sitting in front of the man who would avenge his brother’s death at the hands of the Tsar and drive the son of his old Headmaster, Alexander Kerensky, from his homeland and into a different kind of exile—culminating in teaching Russian history at Stanford University.
And little Nadya Krupskaya Ulyanova would become the Minister of Education in the new Soviet Union; a member of the Supreme Soviet.
“Eat before it gets cold,” she said. “You will need strength. There is much to do”.