A few weeks ago I posted an entry on the director Andrei Tarkovsky. I gave a couple of useful links about him and his father the poet, but the most gripping part was the second paragraph, in which I breathlessly recounted his descent from the shamkhals of Tarki. Alas, that appears to be a crock. I’ve just started reading his sister Marina’s book Oskolki zerkala (‘Shards of the Mirror,’ or ‘Shattered Mirror’), and the first section, Rodoslovnaya (‘genealogy’), includes the following (my translation):

Papa’s roots were in Poland. My grandfather was offered as an inheritance the ownerless herds and silver mines of the shamkhals of Tarki in Dagestan. This gave rise to the story [versiya] about the Caucasian origin of the family. There is no documentary support for this legend. Among the papers kept in our house after the death of Papa’s mother was the genealogical tree of the Tarkovskys. On the parchment were little circles drawn in ink, and in each of them a name was written. I remember finding the names of Papa and of his brother Valya. More distant ancestors didn’t interest me at all then. Afterwards, the parchment vanished. There remained an official document [gramota] from 1803, a “Patent,” written in Polish, confirming the privileges of nobility [dvoryanskie privilegii] of Major Matvei Tarkovsky. From this document and from the “Dossier [delo] of the Noble Assembly of Volynsk Concerning the Noble Origin of the Tarkovsky Family” it is clear that Papa’s grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great-grandfather were soldiers living in the Ukraine. They were Roman Catholics, but Papa’s father was inscribed in the Orthodox church book and considered himself Russian.

The Tarkovskys had fair hair and eyes. It was Papa’s mother, Mariya Danilovna—daughter of a Kishinev postmaster, court counsellor Rachkovsky—who mixed up the cards, being dark because of her Romanian grandmother [?: v svoyu babku-rumynku]. Papa’s family name combined with her dark coloring caused Dagestanis to think he was one of them, and certain Russians to ask the traditional question, “Tarkovsky… isn’t that a Jewish name?” [ne evrei li Tarkovsky?] Even before the war this question interested our housemates. Semyonova, for example, was sure the answer was yes. Papa’s nationality bothered [volnovala] certain audience members at poetry readings as well, and they asked him about it in anonymous notes. Papa, who grew up in a family where people of all nationalities were treated equally, did not answer such notes. In general he was a little old-fashioned; he kissed women’s hands and did not shake hands with scoundrels [ne podaval ruki podletsam].

So it looks like the Tarkovskys were Poles, not shamkhals. Fiction is stranger than truth. At least nobody picked up the story from my old entry and republished it to fool a larger audience…

Note: The translation has been edited in accordance with a very welcome e-mail; thanks, Renee! [12/13/2004: and amended again thanks to an e-mail from mapraputa. I appreciate the efforts my Russian-speaking readers make to improve my translations!]


  1. This could be a proper place for a question about another Andrei Tarkovsky legend, that he wrote the lyrics for Vladimir Vysotsky’s classic crime ballad, “When I met you…”

    Does it have any credence?

  2. PlasticPaddy says

    По свидетельству А. Макарова («Круг чтения» № 19, 1991 г.), автором первоначального текста является Андрей Тарковский. Однако есть большие сомнения в истинности подобного утверждения. Песня пользовалась популярностью ещё в конце 40-х — начале 50-х годов, и Тарковский был слишком молод, чтобы её написать. Так, исполнитель Борис Львович в одной из передач «В нашу гавань заходили корабли» вспоминал, что он ещё мальчишкой пел эту песню в Татарии в начале 50-х, и они даже переделали один из куплетов — пели «Пришёл ко мне Шакиров, мой защитничек-старик».
    To summarise, maybe Tarkovsky was too young to have been the author.

  3. PlasticPaddy says

    Tried to give answer but too much Cyrillic. Here is link:
    Author thinks T was too young to have written song but cites a source for claim.
    Hat you can delete what is in moderation.

  4. Done, and thanks for finding that!

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