Literary roundup: The end of the Russian aristocracy, Václav Havel and I. B. Singer

At Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s Work in Progress historian Douglas Smith has a fascinating account of the origin, process and ultimate ambiguities he came up against in writing Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. Beginning with a Connecticut dinner with a descendant of the Sheremetev family and on through accounts of meetings with various descendants in the US, Europe, as well as North Africa he ends the piece meeting with Dunya Sheremetev in Moscow, the granddaughter of Count Pavel Sheremetev, who was the only member of the once powerful clan to have remained in Russia. What happens, and even more so, Smith’s conclusions are testament to the unresolved grief and reckoning with tragedy that still clouds so much of modern Russian history.

Happy Birthday Václav Havel

“A specter is haunting Eastern Europe, the specter of what in the west is called ‘dissent.’” This is the opening from Václav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” written in October 1978. Today would have been Havel’s 76th birthday.

I.B. Singer’s 1978 Nobel odds 1-1

Today also marks the anniversary of the Nobel Prize for Literature being awarded to Isaac Bashevis Singer on October 5, 1978. Today in Literature has some notes on Singer’s speech in Stockholm.

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