• Sensational news for Koestler watchers. A German graduate student, Matthias Wessel, was searching some files in the Zurich Central Library last July and stumbled across a manuscript that turned out to be nothing less than the long lost original German text of Darkness at Noon. Few people realize that the only version of the novel available till now has been a translation into English, an odd...

  • When I wrote and published my biography of Arthur Koestler, I was completely unaware that Koestler’s work had so narrowly failed to make it to the screen in Hollywood. I knew that soon after Koestler’s one and only visit to Hollywood in 1948, a small studio called Pioneer Pictures had briefly considered making a movie of Darkness at Noon, but gave up when Koestler refused to let them to...

  • Though I am more interested in prose than poetry, I seem to spend a lot of time writing about modern Russian and East European poetry (Pasternak, Milosz and Brodsky are relatively recent examples), so maybe it's no surprise that my latest review for the NYRB, "The Bad Boy of Russian Poetry" (see Essays page for details) is about a new biography of the neglected Futurist poet, Vladimir...

  • Last Sunday (June 21) the Culture supplement of the London Sunday Times published a special feature with the self-explanatory title, "100 biographies to love," that included the two by myself, Solzhenitsyn and Koestler. The list is "eclectic," to say the least, featuring books by or about Muhammad Ali, Patti Smith and Tina Fey, among others (autobiographies are included), but it also has...

  • 27 June 2014

    The CIA and Pasternak

    Long term suspicions that the CIA had a hand in publicizing Doctor Zhivago have just been confirmed in a new book, The Zhivago Affair (see my article on Pasternak for the NYRB of July 10 and my Essays page). The unexpected appearance of this book, by American journalist, Peter Finn, and Dutch Slavist, Petra Couvee, was an unpleasant surprise for me at first, because I too had acquired copies...

  • 24 June 2014

    My First Medal

    Well, well, I've just been awarded my first medal. On June 5, I was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, "for outstanding services rendered to the promotion of Poland's transition to democracy." I haven't received it yet, because I was unable to go to Warsaw for the official ceremony, and I...

  • 5 January 2014

    Daniel Weissbort RIP

    A delay in putting up my new website makes this a little later than I would wish, but I'd like to mark the death of my good friend and fellow translator, Daniel Weissbort, in London on November 18. Danny and I met in London a couple of years after I had returned from graduate school in the USA in 1963. We were both translating from Russian, he mainly poetry and I prose (I had just finished...

  • 21 December 2013

    Natalya Gorbanevskaya RIP

    It may seem odd to write two obituaries in a row, but by a strange coincidence, Daniel Weissbort's death was followed less than two weeks later by the death of the former Soviet dissident and Russian poet, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, who inspired some of his best translations. They were both members of my generation, and while I'm getting used to bad news of this nature, it's always a shock to lose...

  • "Under history, memory and forgetting,
    Under memory and forgetting, life.
    But writing a life is another story.
    Incompletion."

    These lines by the French philosopher and poet, Paul Ricoeur, are a good introduction to my next topic, a two-day conference on biography I attended in Mexico City in October. The conference was the brainchild of Daniela Spenser, a historian at the Centro de...