—excerpts from an essay-requiem—
By Lev I. Libov

Translated by Ronald Bruce Meyer

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From the translator: Whoever writes his memoirs must do it in his own way. Lev Libov belongs to a generation that saved the world from fascism. His reminiscences are dedicated to the World War Two years he experienced as well as to the lives and deaths of the many Soviet Jews of the Holocaust. But it was not enough for the author to reiterate what has already been written about that time. Instead, Mr. Libov reflected on his personal experiences and observations so as to write about them in light of contemporary philosophical views.

Rivers of words have been written about the Holocaust. Only a few drops of that flood have embraced the fate of Soviet Jews, as opposed to European Jews. A raw enumeration of facts and statistics can be found in any encyclopedia; naked descriptions we can find in any magazine or newspaper. Every experience is unique and I don't in any way disparage newspapers and encyclopedias. When we read a first-person narrative, our experience of it is entirely different from the experience of reading a strictly factual narrative. The two professions have different aims and different methods. What we cannot find there is what Mr. Libov has given us here: a highly personalized essay-requiem, combining a talent for expression with his lived experience.

Cover for Ural Magazine
Ural Magazine,
published in Yekaterinburg
This essay first appeared in a Russian publication called Ural in October 2002. In the work that follows, Mr. Libov is able, at 50 years' remove, to offer to future generations something that he feels obliged to narrate, something he is uniquely able to write most effectively; that is to say, most evocatively. His not being a professional writer worked to his benefit in giving us the facts of this time as viewed through the prism of his life experience. Even approaching it as a non-Jew and a non-Russian, I found its depth of passion and its prose style so striking that I felt it must be shared with the English-speaking world. This I have done by translating portions of it for readers in the USA and elsewhere.

I should mention that Mr. Libov's work is noted fondly in his native land. I have corresponded with the author and he has graciously shared with me a portion of a letter from a Mr. Hertsman that touched his heart:

I have read your book, and it stunned me. No exaggeration about that...
_____I was reading your book very cautiously. I myself am a man of literature. I was caught from the very first pages... You managed to get to all human values through personal values. This is what makes a book Great.
_____Your book is a fact of literature and not your hard life only.
_____There are many layers to it. A man who yet cannot read books is going to be absorbed and stunned by most terrible events. He will be caught by the plot itself.
_____A different reader will be captured by the ideas described in between the events recounted. A historian could find much value in it. A historian who served for the Communist elite will be surely stunned. Any war veteran will be captivated by it. In any event your book is something new in Russian literature. I have never read anything more heartbreaking.
_____If I had the audacity to write a commentary on your book (one must still grow up to do that!), I would call it A Tuning Fork because, just as a tuning fork can tune a violin, your book Cry, My Heart, Cry! can tune a soul. It makes us to look not even inside the past, present, or future. It makes us to look inside ourselves.
_____Thank you for your book. You blame nobody in it. Its power is in the fact that after one reads it, one begins to blame oneself.

Mr. Libov still does not think of himself as a professional essayist. This is the only matter in which I think he is mistaken, but his mistake is a genuinely humble one. In my opinion, he is so much more professional, with his skill at hanging our hearts on the hook of his reminiscences, than many better-known authors. In addition to that, it must be noted that "official" recognition never meant anything in Russia! Only the recognition of reading Russians ever has true value. S.Esenin, O.Mandelshtam, M.Tsvetaeva, V.Vysotski, L.Maksimov, S.Dovlatov, and J.Brodsky were never officially recognized when they were alive. They were recognized by the reading public only, and that fact brought them fame.

Cover for Cry, My Heart, Cry
I have learned that only in Russia and Japan can you find thick, literary magazines, which publish high quality prose and poetry exclusively, and never publish advertising. These are not magazines published by universities — universities publish different magazines — instead, they are published by independent publishers for the love of good literature. It is very difficult for any author to be published in one of the Russian literary magazines Novy Mir, Znamya, Zvezda, Neva, Ural, Octyabr (October), Arion, Continent, Literaturnoe Obozrenie, Voprosy Literatury, Volga, Druzhba Narodov, Inostrannaya Literatura, Novy Zhurnal. When you ask a Russian, "How can a literary magazine survive without publishing advertising?" you will be answered, "Well, this is Russia." It may be that spiritual values mean for Russians more than anything else. For the Russian literati it is true, even today, when Russia is desperately trying to survive in the free-market economy.

I cannot publish Mr. Libov's entire book: there are many realities within it which can be understood only by Russian-speaking readers. But here I offer excerpts in essay form. You will note that author's ellipses are indicated by three asterisks.

Ronald Bruce Meyer


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