Spring 1924. Lev Glebovich Ganin lives in a Russian boarding school in Berlin. In addition to Ganin, there is a mathematician Aleksey Ivanovich Alferov, a man with a liquid beard and a brilliant plump nose, an old Russian poet Anton Sergeevich Podtyagin, Clara – a “full-breasted woman, all in black silk, a very cozy young lady”, working as a typist and in love with Ganina, as well as ballet dancers Kolin and Gornotsvetov. “A special shade, a mysterious jealousy” separates the latter from the other boarders, but, “speaking in conscience, one can not blame the dove’s happiness on this harmless couple.”
Last year, on his arrival in Berlin, Ganin immediately found a job. He was also a worker, a waiter, and an extras. The remaining money
From Alferov Ganin finds out that his wife Mashenka comes on Saturday. Alferov leads Ganin to him to show him photos of his wife. Ganin learns his first love. From that moment he completely immerses himself in the memories of this love, he seems to have grown younger exactly nine years. The next day, Tuesday, Ganin announces to Lyudmila that she loves another woman. Now he is free to remember how nine years ago, when he was sixteen, he recovered from typhus in a summer estate near Voskresenskoye, created himself a female image, which he met a month later. Mashenka had a “chestnut braid in a black bow”, “Tatar burning eyes,” a swarthy face, a voice “agile, cardful, with unexpected chest sounds.” Masha was very cheerful, she loved sweet things. She lived at a dacha in Voskresensk. Once, with two friends, she climbed into the arbor in the park. Ganin spoke to the girls, they agreed to go on a boat the next day. But Mashenka came alone.
When, on the eve of a black stormy night, on the eve of his departure for St. Petersburg at the beginning of the school year, he last met her at this place, Ganin saw that the shutters of one of the manor’s windows were ajar, and a human face was pressed against the glass. It was the son of a watchman. Ganin broke the glass and began to “beat a stone fist on the wet face.”
The next day he went to Petersburg. Mashenka moved to St. Petersburg only in November. The “snow age of their love” began. It was difficult to meet, to wander for a long time in the cold was painful, so both of them remembered about summer. In the evenings, they talked for hours on the phone. All love requires solitude, but they did not have a shelter, their families did not know each other. At the beginning of the new year Mashenka was taken to Moscow. And strange: this separation was a relief for Ganin.
In the summer, Masha returned. She called Ganin at the dacha and said that her dad did not want to rent a dacha in Voskresensk, and now she lives fifty versts from there. Ganin went to her by bike. I arrived already dark. Mashenka was waiting for him at the gate of the park. “I’m yours,” she said, “do whatever you want with me.” But in the park there were strange rustles, Masha was too obedient and motionless. “It seems to me that someone is coming,” he said and stood up.
He met with Mashenka a year later in the suburban train. She got off at the next station. They did not see each other again. During the war years Ganin and Mashenka exchanged gentle letters several times. He was in Yalta, where the “military struggle” was being prepared, she was somewhere in Little Russia. Then they lost each other.
On Friday Colin and Gornotsvetov on the occasion of getting an engagement, the birthday of Clara, the departure of Ganin and the alleged departure of Podtyagin to Paris to the niece decide to arrange a “celebration.” Ganin with Podtyagin goes to the police department to help him with the visa. When a long-awaited visa is received, Podtyagin accidentally leaves a passport in the tram. With him, there is a heart attack.
The festive dinner is sad. Pull up again it gets bad. Ganin is already drunk and drunk Alferov and sends him to sleep, and he himself imagines how he will meet Mashenka at the station in the morning and take her away.
Collecting things, Ganin bids farewell to the boarders sitting at the bedside of the dying Podtyagin, and goes to the station. An hour remains before Mashenka’s arrival. He sits down on a bench in a park near the railway station, where four days ago he remembered typhus, a mansion, a premonition of Masha. Gradually “with merciless clarity” Ganin realizes that his affair with Masha has ended forever. “It lasted only four days – these four days were, perhaps, the happiest time of his life.” The image of Mashenka remained with the dying poet in the “house of shadows.” And the other Masha is not and can not be. He waits for the moment when an express runs from the north along the railway bridge. He takes a taxi, goes to another station and takes a train to the south-west of Germany.