Literary roundup: The apartment of Russia’s King Lear and Tolstoy the outrageous

At The Moscow Times, John Freedman writes about discovering that the unassuming Moscow apartment building he passed countless times had belonged to Russian/Soviet/Yiddish theater legend Solomon Mikhoels. As Freedman notes, Mikhoels performance of King Lear was his most famous and celebrated role along with that of Tevye the Milkman (best-known worldwide in adaptation in Fiddler on the Roof). During World War II he was extremely active in anti-fascist organizations in the Soviet Union and abroad and worked with long-time friends and associates such as Marc Chagall, Ilya Ehrenburg, Peretz Markish and Dovid Bergelson as well as Albert Einstein among others.

Left: Itsik Fefer, Albert Einstein, Solomon Mikhoels, Right: Itsik Fefer, Paul Robeson, Solomon Mikhoels

It was a combination of those international contacts, his popularity and Stalin’s anti-Semitism that led to the Soviet leader ordering Mikhoels’ brutal killing just two years after awarding him the Stalin Prize in 1946. On a trip to Minsk Mikhoels was apparently bludgeoned to death, then run over by a truck to make it look like an accident. Schizophrenic as ever, Stalin threw Mikhoels a lavish funeral then proceeded to attack him as a “bourgeois nationalist” a short time later when he put the final nails in the coffin of Russian Jewish culture and ended up killing off most of Mikhoels’ friends such as Markish and Bergelson on what is known as the Night of the Murdered Poets.

Solomon Mikhoels in the role of Benjamin in the play, The Journeys of Benjamin the Third by Mendele/photo –  Ghetto Fighters House Archives

Russian Bullet in The American Reader

No, this is not the report of a violent crime or the paranoid explanation for a decline in reading. It’s actually just an announcement that Olga Slavnikova’s short story “The Russian Bullet,” translated by Marian Schwartz, appears in the new and very interesting looking literary magazine The American Reader. And although I’ve read a description of the magazine as targeting “Generation Y (18-35 year old)” and don’t fit that demographic, being only 17 myself, there appears to be a lot worth reading.

A particular favorite of mine is the Day in Letters section, which takes literary correspondence from “this day in history” and includes many letters from this part of the world. So, for example there is Pushkin gossiping and very poetically referring to someone as “fat-assed Minerva,” Kafka being so Kafkaesque in a letter to Max Brod you suspect he has read some of the posthumous criticism of his work, a Dostoevsky pitch letter you likely won’t find in the how-to-pitch-your-novel books.

In the interests of Russian-American reciprocity I am now looking to see if there is a Russian literary magazine called The Russian Reader to which I can submit a short story titled “The American Bullet.”

Chtenia: Tolstoy and more Tolstoy

The latest issue of Chtenia is out and it’s all (bilingual) Tolstoy all the time. Which one, you ask? Alexei? That might actually be interesting. No, it’s Lev. Personally, I’m not sure of the point of having excerpts of Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Haven’t they already been translated? But there is also some interesting content such as a very late story “Alyosha the Pot,” a comparison of three translations from Anna Karenina to see the different ways his work has been rendered into English over the last 100 years and excerpts showing “some of the more outrageous ideas he advocated.”

Nothing is available online so if you’re a Tolstoy-head order the issue and if you are from Chtenia send it to me. Please.

Photo – Solomon Mikhoels as King Lear

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2 Comments on “Literary roundup: The apartment of Russia’s King Lear and Tolstoy the outrageous”

  1. 20/10/2012 at 7:00 am #

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  1. Literary roundup: Russian literature in marked and unmarked museums | literalab - 09/11/2012

    […] down Russia’s neglected cultural history on the streets of Moscow. I recently linked to his piece on realizing a familiar apartment building had housed the legendary Russian/Yiddish actor Solomon […]

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