Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Thank you friends

Things are going to be busier than normal until year-end. We're packing up our house over the next week, then camping out in our home for a couple of weeks before the sale closes. Working on finishing up the semester for the boys is taking more work than getting them enrolled in their new schools, but we're slogging through it. My wife is handling things well, but I can tell the stress of selling her practice and the house is weighing heavy on her, so the blog will take a third-row backseat (or looking backwards from the rear of the station wagon) to everything else going on right now.

Posts on all the books I've read may show up sporadically, but more likely in the new year. I have no idea what the next few weeks will bring, but I'm looking forward to our family's next chapter and making sure it goes as smoothly as possible. In the meantime, I'd like to thank everyone here for all your kind comments, now and over the years. It means a lot to get such positive feedback. It's a simple gesture (although hopefully not futile and stupid), but here are two different recordings of the same song...take your pick on final recording or stripped-down demo version. Or if you're like me, embrace the healing power of "and."

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Upcoming issue of Hyperion from Contra Mundum Press

One of my favorite magazines/journals has been Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics, published by Contra Mundum Press. Unfortunately there hasn't been an issue in four years (see update) but there should be a new issue available later this month. The CMP folks were nice enough to send me the table of contents for the upcoming issue. Since I'm fan of >Szentkuthy, I'm especially looking forward to the excerpt from Chapter on Love and the essay Præ-Prae. I'm sure this will be like previous issues where there is a lot to discover and explore. Be on the lookout for it!

Maura Del Serra, Sette poesie
Maura Del Serra, Voci dei Nessuno
Dejan Lukić, Earth
Alessandra Fròsini, Federico Gori: L’essenziale Opacità Delle Cose
Josef J. Fekete, Præ-Prae (Before Prae)
Fritz Senn, Events in Language: Joycean Extras
Olli Ahlroos, The Courage that Art Demands
Riikka Laakso, The Routes of a Nymph: A Shaping Body in the Poetics of Sanna Kekäläinen
Stan Brakhage: Letter to Robert Kelly
Serge Pey, excerpts from Hand & Knife:                                               
Alchemy of the Verb: Preface by Adonis
Around Atomic Birds: Interview with Thierry Renard CHERNOBYL: Oral Poem for the Men and Birds of the First Alarm
Miklós Szentkuthy, Chapter on Love (excerpt)
Rare Marker: Interview with Chris Marker
Bataille, Feydeau, and God: Marguerite Duras & Georges Bataille
Nicholas Birns on Peter Szendy’s Of Stigmatology: Punctuation as Experience

Update: I completely missed this issue from 2018 and this issue from 2017. My apologies, and many thanks to Contra Mundum for updating me.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Room/House Without Books

We've all heard the quote attributed to Cicero. I've still got the Amazon refrigerator magnet with the quote. But is it really a body without a soul? Especially when books and souls meant something completely different to Cicero than they do to us today. Without a doubt, I can say the house feels emptier without books. But then the house is mostly empty except for our beds and some staging furniture and decorations.

Anyway, the quote came to mind last night when I finished a book from the library and found myself wandering around the house, a habit I usually engage in after I wrap up a book. Sadly, I wasn't able to pull books off the shelf and consider if this or that book was what I wanted to read next since all our books have been gone for several weeks. I donated at least half of my books to the friends of the local library and the remaining ones are packed up and in storage. We even sold all of the bookcases that aren't built-in. I find myself avoiding the office nook since its bookcases (below) make me sad just to look at them. All that's left here is a few staging items and a printer.

We will be moving at the end of December, but I don't know how soon I'll have my remaining books unboxed, or even if the house we're renting has much in the way of bookcases. You can bet I've already checked out the new town's library's website to see what is available, what their interlibrary loan policy is (free!!!), and what events they have planned. There will be plenty to check out and explore once we're there, which I'm looking forward to doing, and friends seem to find it funny that I know more about the nearby libraries than I do about the house into which we're moving. Hopefully I'll get some books from my wish list for Christmas to help bridge the gap.

What started with a joke by my wife at a conference in May led us to check out the new area at the end of July, then spending the next two months purging the house and sifting through the detritus of our lives. It has been an intense process, but the thought of moving to an area we love where we can be financially secure makes it all worthwhile. So yes, our house feels like it is without a soul right now, but at the same time it represents a lot of promise.

Update: For Lisa...here's a picture of some of the books the stager used in our house. I would love to know what they are just to pretend I'm able to read them.

Update 2: Pictures of the title pages. Table of contents are in the back, but I'm more interested in the "Printed in the USSR" stamps on them.
And here I was talking about a house without books, and I'm focusing on the books in the house. Seems contradictory, doesn't it?

Monday, November 25, 2019

The George Eliot Archive

Many thanks to Michael Orthofer at The Literary Saloon for passing on information about the George Eliot Archive.
The George Eliot Archive is an extensive resource for anyone studying the author best known as George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans), one of the most highly acclaimed novelists in Western literature.

The Archive provides free access to all of Eliot's writings: the standard "Cabinet Edition" of the novels and short stories, her complete poetry, her translations, and all her non-fiction essays. These documents are searchable and downloadable. Visitors also will find hundreds of documents pertaining to George Eliot, including reviews of her works by her contemporaries, early biographical studies by those who knew her, and all known portraits the author created during her lifetime. Our most recent addition is a 60,000-word interactive chronology.

Michael also points out the George Eliot 2019 site, celebrating the bicentenary of her birth. I love having this information easily available, so I greatly appreciate those who point the way to them. I'm obviously late to the party on this one, so thanks to Rohan Maitzen posting about the interview.

One last thing in reproducing Michael's post is the interview with Beverley Rilett, developer of the Archive, by Tara Thomas of The Dickens Project. I wanted to link to The Dickens Project since it may be as new to you as it was to me, and they have some interesting ongoing and upcoming events.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

BBC Radio 4 Adaptation of Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman to air soon

From the BBC article:
Kenneth Branagh, Greta Scacchi, Mark Bonnar, Ann Mitchell, Doon Mackichan, Kenneth Cranham and more star in a dark and honest account of the epic battle of Stalingrad by celebrated war reporter and author, Vasily Grossman.

  • Two part drama based on war reporter Vasily Grossman’s account also stars Greta Scacchi and Mark Bonnar
  • Anton Lesser reads Grossman’s private journal - translated into English for the first time - in a Book Of The Week special
Translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Stalingrad is a prequel to Grossman’s novel Life And Fate which was adapted by Radio 4 in 2011 and featuring many of the same acclaimed cast.


To accompany the adaption Radio 4 also gives over Book Of The Week to Stalingrad: Destiny Of A Novel; featuring readings from Grossman's private journal, translated here for the first time ever, chronicling his novel's tortuous progress through Soviet censorship from 1950-53. A period when Stalin's last campaign of terror was unfolding against his own Jewish population. Written and presented by author and historian Catherine Merridale, with readings by Anton Lesser, the five-part series tells the dramatic backstory behind the novel and the beginnings of Grossman’s own journey towards Soviet heresy. He was canny enough to keep a personal diary of the process of submitting his manuscript, translated into English for the first time it reveals the beginnings of a maddening journey that became an epic battle of wills. Detailing the pressure of Soviet forces attempting to censor Grossman, and the changing tides of approval and disapproval he faced from his comrades.

If it works like the Life and Fate adaptation, the broadcast will be available to listen to (and maybe download) for a brief time after the air dates at the BBC Radio 4 site.

The Life and Fate adaptation was well done and I really enjoyed it, so I'm excited to see the Stalingrad adaptation. My biggest concern, though, is that it will be only four hours long. That is a lot of material to compress into such a short period of time, so obviously there will be cuts to the story. Regardless, congratulations once again to Robert and Elizabeth Chandler for their translation and making this available in print so the adaptation could be done.

The readings from Grossman's journal should be fascinating as well, although it will probably go through some of the same material covered in Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century by Alexandra Popoff. I'll be listening anyway. I'll try and remember to post on it again as the episodes air. Spread the word!

Transmission details
Saturday 30 November, 2.45-4.45pm
Sunday 1 December, 3-5pm

Stalingrad: Destiny Of A Novel
Monday 2 December, 9.45-10am (1/5)

"Robert Chandler talks about Vasily Grossman and how he (Robert) and his wife Elizabeth went about translating the novel Stalingrad."

Update 2:
I've linked this elsewhere, but I want to include this here, too. For more on Grossman, see Yury Bit-Yunan and Robert Chandler's article Vasily Grossman: Myths and Counter-Myths on sorting out facts of Grossman's life from “Soviet intelligentsia folklore."

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Glass Pearls by Emeric Pressburger

The Glass Pearls by Emeric Pressburger
London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1966
Hardcover, 210 pages

Lucy Scholes' article "Emeric Pressburger’s Lost Nazi Novel" at The Paris Review blog got my attention for several reasons. I've enjoyed several of the Powell and Pressburger movies and wanted to see how his talent from the screen would translate to the page. The 'twist,' finding out immediately that the main character is a Nazi war criminal, made me want to see what the focus of the book would be. Also, saying a well-written book "sadly remains largely unknown and unread" feels like a personal challenge for me to find and read it.

Scholes' article is a great introduction to the work as well as providing insight into Pressburger's life and its tie-in to the novel, so I highly recommend reading it. In addition, there are two online reviews I found (after I finished the book) that I also recommend since they add more angles to the story and tie-ins to Pressburger's life:

These three reviews/posts cover a lot about the book, so I will try to focus on different angles in the story as well as cover some of the same territory in case this is your introduction to the book. I know there will be a lot of overlap with those posts. I know I'm revealing much of the story, but the power of the book comes from the questions raised and the way Pressburger chooses to raise them.

The book begins early in June 1965 with the piano tuner Karl Braun moving into his new flat on Pimlico Road in London. We find out right away, through a flashback to earlier that year, that Braun is really a Nazi war criminal with the real name of Dr. Otto Reitmüller. In the four years he performed operations on concentration camp prisoners he removed parts of their brain and had them repeat stories, "vivid memories from their lives," in order to note discrepancies with previous narrations of those stories. He would repeat the process until the patient died, usually by the third brain operation.

While the focus of the book is on Braun, one of the recurring questions explored in the book is what it takes for a person to volunteer to be in such a medical trial. It's a difficult question that's hard to answer without being in that situation. As one of Braun's London neighbors puts it to a fellow boarder,

"If you'd been told...you've got the choice: either you join the others and proceed into the slaughter-house [gas chambers] now—or you could enter the hospital where there will be food, clean sheets, for as long as three to four months. Either you'll be exterminated like vermin tonight, or, I, the famous researcher working to solve the secrets of the human mind, will carry out some experiments on you. Which would you have chosen?" (204-5)

The flip side of that question is why Braun performed those experiments. His cold-blooded, analytical mind generates nightmares about being caught and tried for war crimes, but his subconscious comes up with reasons why he would be released. The courtroom should symbolize "the people's wish: to be judged by its own conscience and thus purify itself of the deeds of the past." (11) The defense counsel in his dream essentially gives the "just following orders" defense without using those words, and his nightmares resolve in his favor. The self-importance he feels in what he has contributed to science is monumental, since he "did all the spade-work to discover how memory was stored in the brain, who carried out his unique experiments using his advanced technique of surgery on the living human brain." (166) Which is, of course, precisely the problem. These patients weren't given a true choice.

Braun has been dating a divorcee, Helen Taylor, who keeps him at arm's length, at least physically. In response to Helen's repeated questioning of his past, Braun tells of being a press photographer. Helen provides one of the deepest insights into Braun and the "following orders" excuse, although ironically, since she is talking about his job as a photographer instead of a doctor.

Helen: "You're obstinate when you want to gain your end. I can imagine when you were still a press-photographer, you always got the pictures you were after. No matter whether it embarrassed your victim or not. You didn't care a damn about the suffering of your victims. Am I right?"

Braun: "What on earth are you talking about?"

Helen: "I know what I'm talking about. Don't press-photographers invade the privacy of people?"

Braun: "It's the duty of a press-photographer to photograph the news. It is his job. The readers expect nothing less from him."

Helen: "Alcoholics expect alcohol. Drug-addicts expect drugs. Sex-maniacs expect to rape little girls. I hate people to say that they do things because it's expected from them. It depends on you alone whether you do things or you don't. ..."

Braun: "If one reporter doesn't do it, another will."

Helen: "Let him. The first reporter could say, 'I haven't done it and I'm proud of it.'"

Despite claims that Pressburger makes Braun a sympathetic character, I felt the approach was closer to trying to understand and maybe even empathizing with someone who has made the choices Braun has made, as well as exploring what it takes for him to survive in a world where he is a fugitive. The reader follows Braun through his humdrum daily routine and to his nights at classical concerts. One of the ironies of the book lies in Braun having to hide his past, similar to how Jews had to live in Nazi German-occupied territory hiding their heritage in order to avoid the concentration camps. Braun, of course, has the advantage of being able to live in the open despite feeling like a prisoner, and his story of escaping Germany before the war started draws sympathy from other characters. Pressburger does allow one character to heavy-handedly and directly express the general opinion toward the experiments: "The kind of man you are describing [a "famous researcher working to solve the secrets of the human mind"] belongs to the most common and most dangerous kind of criminals. They are the scourge of the human race. Those who can explain everything. Who commit their crimes int he name of Science, the Fatherland, Religion, for the sake of Love, Culture, for Progress." (205)

There are several events that heighten Braun's paranoia and despair. A visit from a Nazi colleague earlier that year had made him aware of the statute of limitations for war crimes, which had been scheduled to expire in May 1965, would be extended five years. The colleague had begged Braun to return with him to Argentina and join a community of former Nazis living there, but the thought initially repulsed Braun. "He shuddered at the thought of spending the rest of his life among disgruntled sexagenarians who had one single purpose in life: to become octogenarians." (146) He realizes, though, that all he wants is peace and rest from having to continually hide from his past, so he plans to draw money from his secret war stash and travel to Buenos Ares. While the approach of the anniversary of the death of his wife and child in the bombing of Hamburg always unsettled him, this year is worse as many acquaintances try to include him in their activities on that day. To make matters worse for Braun, the trial of an assistant in the concentration camp hospital makes him aware that his research diary was in the hands of the authorities. All of these things together heightened Braun's paranoia, so when he believes someone is following him his baser "survive at any cost" instincts kick in and we find he is still capable of unbounded cruelty.

The question of memory repeatedly comes up in the book. I won't provide the spoiler here, but if you don't believe you'll read the book and want to know more, go to sovay's post. The paragraph that begins, "In the very last pages of the book" reveals a powerful twist to both the story and how part of it derives from Pressburger's life. In addition, the last quote in that paragraph is one of the last lines in the book and mentions that the patient Braun was experimenting on died "somewhere on page 183" of Braun's research diary. Coincidentally (or maybe not), Page 183 in The Glass Pearls is when Braun finds out that authorities have his research diary, changing the course of his plans and leads to his destruction.

There is so much more I could write about the book, but I need to close this post before it rambles on too long. Pressburger provides a haunting character study of a man similar to some of the most monstrous actors in World War II, one I won't forget soon. It's a powerful book, one I immensely enjoyed and recommend very highly.


  • Faber & Faber reprinted the book in 2015 with "two new introductions, by cinema scholar Caitlin McDonald and by Pressburger's grandson, the Oscar-winning film director Kevin MacDonald." I read the original 1966 release, but with a little searching I was able to find the new introductions online. According to Pressburger's Wikipedia page, "Kevin has written a biography of his grandfather, and a documentary about his life, The Making of an Englishman (1995)." In sovay's article linked above, McDonald's book Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter (1994) is mentioned when listing some of the facts from the book that tie directly to Pressburger's life.

  • At the Powell & Pressburger Pages site is The Writing of Emetic Pressburger page.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Excerpt from The Glance of the Medusa by László F. Földényi

Földényi's The Glance of the Medusa: The Physiognomy of Mysticism is a book I have on my Christmas list, so I hope to read more of it soon. Hungarian Literature Online has an excerpt from the book's second chapter:
For this reason, the moment of love is not only about finding oneself but also about dispossession. While those in love are able to compress into someone else all the desire and longing that they have previously considered to be their own, and could not handle to a satisfactory extent, they also find that they ended up beyond themselves. They found their centre, yet this happens to be located outside the boundary of their selves. This does not mean that the existing centre has suddenly ‘shifted’ into another being, but, rather, that this centre has just come into being—sameness is the outcome of difference. In parallel with the ‘lightning glance’ and the ‘silver flash’, it becomes increasingly likely that the individual should lose itself at the very point when it supposedly found itself, because existence itself lacks a centre. Its alleged ‘basis’ is being, which permeates everything yet remains on the outside, so it becomes noticeable only in the lack inherent in things. Whenever one tries to ‘pull oneself together’, one cannot help finding oneself set into motion by a faith placed in some sort of a supposed centre. Beyond a certain point, however, it becomes obvious that this is impossible. The more existence ‘thickens’, the less one can find one’s way around, and ultimately all one is in a position to perceive is the fact of being at the mercy of the impossible.

In an earlier post, HLO included this from the bookflap:

In The Glance of the Medusa, Lászó F. Földényi offers a mesmerizing examination of the rich history of European culture through the lens of mythology and philosophy. Embracing the best traditions of essay writing, this volume invites readers on a spiritual and intellectual adventure. The seven essays bear testimony to Földényi’s encyclopedic knowledge and ask whether it is possible to overcome our fear of passing away. In doing so, they illuminate moments of mystical experience viewed in a historical perspective while inviting readers to engage with such moments in the present by immersing themselves into the process of reading and thinking.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Excerpt from The Russian Job by Douglas Smith

Found at Air Mail, an excerpt/adaptation from The Russian Job: The Forgotten Story of How America Saved the Soviet Union from Ruin, by Douglas Smith, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux today. An engrossing read (no pun intended).
The stories began to appear in the Soviet press in the autumn of 1921, each one more gruesome than the last. There was the woman who refused to let go of her dead husband’s body. “We won’t give him up,” she screamed when the authorities came to take it away. “We’ll eat him ourselves, he’s ours!” There was the cemetery where a gang of 12 ravenous men and women dug up the corpse of a recently deceased man and devoured his cold flesh on the spot. There was the man captured by the police after murdering his friend, chopping off his head, and selling the body at a street market to a local restaurant owner to be made into meatballs, cutlets, and hash. And then there was the desperate mother of four starving children, saved only by the death of their sister, aged 13, whom the woman cut up and fed to the family.

The stories seemed too horrific to believe. Few could imagine a hunger capable of driving people to such acts. One man went in search of the truth. Henry Wolfe, a high-school history teacher from Ohio, spent several weeks in the spring of 1922 traveling throughout Samara Province, in southeastern Russia, intent on finding physical evidence of cannibalism. In the district of Melekess, officials told him about a father who had killed and eaten his two little children. He confessed that their flesh had “tasted sweeter than pork.” Wolfe kept on searching, and eventually found the proof he had been looking for.

Cynthia Haven has an article on PBS "American Experience" documentary The Great Famine (trailer can be found here), based on Stanford researcher Bertrand Patenaude's The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

God Struck Me Dead: Voices of Ex-Slaves

God Struck Me Dead: Voices of Ex-Slaves
Edited by Clifton H. Johnson, with a new introduction by Albert J. Rabateau
The William Bradford Collection from The Pilgrim Press, 1993 (2nd edition)
Paperback, 204 pages

The reissue of a rare volume of ex-slave narratives is as timely now as it was when it first appeared in a mass-produced paperback edition in 1969. These autobiographical memories and recollections of conversion experiences of elderly African Americans, born under slavery, were culled from interviews conducted during the years 1927 to 1929 by Andrew Polk Watson, a graduate student in anthropology at Fisk University. Originally issued in limited circulation at Social Science Source Documents No. 2 by Fisk in 1945 in tandem with another volume of ex-slave narratives, The Unwritten History of Slavery (Social Science Source Documents No. 1), the value of these texts becomes all the more apparent when we realize that they were recorded just as the opportunity to listen to the testimony of living former slaves was rapidly disappearing. Under the guidance of anthropologist Paul Radin, then serving as a research professor at Fisk, Watson conducted extended interviews with a hundred elderly black people, asking them to recall life during slavery and to describe their religious conversion experiences. "The autobiographical narratives were then culled from long and rambling accounts, but in most cases the conversion experiences were repeated several times as here recorded, with little or no variation from one telling to the next."
- Albert J. Rabateau (xix)

The central focus in this book is the religious conversion experience, the sudden, dramatic change in an individual when realizing acceptance into the Christian faith. The book contains an introductory essay by Andrew P. Watson on "Negro Primitive Religious Services," thirty-one conversion stories, and six autobiographical sketches. In this edition's Introduction by Rabateau, he notes

the vividness of the imagery and its similarity from one account to the next. A common store of biblical sources, especially the Book of Revelations, helps to explain the frequency with which the same images appear. These were common cultural images, heard over and over again in hymns, prayers, and expounded upon in sermon after sermon. The accounts also betray a common narrative pattern due to the regular recitation of conversion experiences at revivals and "experience meetings" by the converted who were expected to talk about the inner working of the Spirit upon their hearts. Individual and unique as these conversion experiences were, they shared the common narrative construction and group norms associated with the tradition. Thus conversion was both a profoundly personal experience and an experience defined and validated within a community of church folk.

Despite having many stories echo each other, the former slaves' conversion stories are interesting to read, in part because of the details of their differences but mainly from the joy you can tell the interviewee has in telling it. Common themes include individual and group visits to the woods or a particular tree, hearing voices or seeing a "little man," and sickness or loss of appetite, all leading up to a "death" experiences from which God brings them back to life reborn in faith. Their descriptions of God (and the easterly direction where he resides) sound similar, as does the joy expressed through singing and dancing, all hinting at some sort of cultural synchronicity. Without a doubt, though, the bliss expressed by the slaves feels authentic. Here's a conversion story from the "To Hell with a Prayer in My Mouth" chapter that covers a few of the common attributes:
[The] Lord would begin to work with me, saying each time, "You got to die and can't live!" I hadn't yet learnt anything about a spiritual death, so I thought he meant I would have to die a natural death. My husband and neighbors thought I had lost my mind, so they sent for my mother. She came and told me to pray. At that ver minute I was praying on the inside, "Lord, lave mercy on me. Lord, have mercy on me." After she came I picked out a way a little way from the house, in a thicket, and then I went daily to pray. But it seemed like the more I prayed, the worse I got. I felt like I had the burden of the world on my shoulders.

Finally one night I went out to a spot much farther from the house and fell on my knees. A voice spoke and said, "Lo, here is the way." I heard a noise like a rising storm, but I stayed there, and when the voice spoke I stretched out flat on the ground. God spoke to me and again said, "My little one, you got to die and can't live." I jumped up and went to the house and found my husband and children asleep. I got in bed, my heart still praying, "Lord have mercy on my soul." The voice spoke again, "You got to die and can't live." I began to die right there and was dying all night. My husband called in five doctors to me, and they gave me up and said that I would not live until twelve o'clock the next day.

About nine or ten the next day I began to see the wondrous works of God. I saw myself on the very brink of hell. I was on a little something that was swinging back and forth, and it looked as if I must surely fall at any minute. My jaws were locked and my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, but on the inside I was still praying, "Lord have mercy! Lord, have mercy on my soul! If it be your will to send me to hell, send me with a prayer in my mouth." When I said this I took hope, for the Lord spoke to me and said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the very door to the Father. Follow me! Follow me!" (93-4)

This interviewee then tells of the wondrous things she sees, and also additional dreams/visions she has had. There are several preachers interviewed, too, and they share similar stories about how they rarely realize what they are saying during their sermon, the part that Watson calls "the coming of the spirit" in his essay. As I mentioned earlier, the repetitive nature can wear on the reader, but the differences, particularly their lives and circumstances, provide insight into the types of hardships slaves and former slaves had to deal with.

The most engaging sections of the book for me were the autobiographical chapters. Some of these are very short and don't supply more than sketches of what it was like to be a slave, but the few that are longer provide a more detailed picture on the lives of those former slaves. We see varied treatments of the slaves, from good and bad masters, and even from Union troops. There are dealings with paddy rollers, armed white patrollers making sure slaves don't escape. It's chilling to hear the former slaves recall being bought and sold, separated from family, and the decisions they had to make if they wanted to escape. These details help give the context needed to understand the joy they received from religion, one of the few areas where they had control, as well as giving them validation and acceptance. Despite some of the harrowing details, it's ultimately a book of joy and peace.

The final chapter, though, yields quite a different tone. The interviewee (apparently younger than others) says "they have not had all the varied experiences [regarding conversion] that most of the older people say they have had. ... I have seen nothing and heard nothing, but only feel the spirit in my soul, and I believe that will save me when I come to die." This is the one outlier in the interviews, and being younger than the others I have to wonder if that wasn't meant to signal a turning away from the evangelical tradition of conversion for later generations.

Because I liked the autobiographical chapters the most, I was interested in the mentioned The Unwritten History of Slavery, which I gather is sort of a "companion" to this book with oral histories of ex-slaves. While it was difficult to find at an affordable price (for me), I have placed an InterLibrary Loan on it and hope to post on it soon.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Vladimir Bukovsky 1942-2019

Vladimir Bukovsky passed away this past weekend at the age of 76. Before he was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1976, Bukovsky spent 12 years in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and labor camps. Vladimir Nabokov said of Bukovsky, "Bukovsky's heroic speech to the court in defense of freedom, and his five years of martyrdom in a despicable psychiatric jail will be remembered long after the torturers he defied have rotted away." Here is the obituary at the Vladimir Bukovsky site. And there's this from Juliana Geran Pilon's Monday Wall Street Journal column on Bukovsky (behind a paywall, unfortunately):
In 1992, the year after the Soviet Union collapsed, Bukovsky was asked to return to Russia as an expert witness at a trial against President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin had banned the Communist Party and seized its property. Bukovsky’s argument, which he had always believed, was that the party had been unconstitutional. To demonstrate it, Bukovsky requested access to the Central Committee archives. Using a laptop and hand-held scanner, he surreptitiously copied and smuggled out thousands of pages before being discovered.

His findings were captured in Judgment in Moscow, first published in 1995 in French, then in Russian and other European languages. It didn’t come out in English until this year. Its subtitle, “Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity,” gives a clue as to why. When Bukovsky first attempted to publish the book in English, in the 1990s, the American publisher had asked him to rewrite “the entire book from the point of view of a leftist liberal,” he wrote. Specifically, he was told to omit all mention of media companies that had entered agreements to publish articles and cover media events “under the direct editorial control of the Soviets.” He rejected the offer, and the publisher canceled the contract.

The documents cited in the book demonstrate, he wrote, the “treacherous role of the American left”—its complicity with Moscow during the 1930s and ’40s, infiltration of the U.S. government and assistance to the Soviets during the Cold War. They demonstrate also the Kremlin’s support for Middle Eastern terrorists, Mikhail Gorbachev’s sabotage of the European Community, and the pseudoliberalism of Mr. Gorbachev’s “perestroika.”

Judgment in Moscow didn't have an English translation until earlier this year when it was released by Ninth of November Press. For a starting point, I recommend 1978's To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter (see the Links section). The chilling note at the beginning of a recent edition of the book reads "Truly we were born to make Kafka live."

A few quick links to explore:

There is a lot more available online about Bukovsky and his work.