On my mother’s side, I am related to the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was born in Dessau, Germany, in 1729. By the age of six, despite many health problems, which included scoliosis, he had learned the entire Bible by heart.
Susan Sontag, in an essay called “Afterlives” published in The New Yorker in 1990, called Joaquin Maria Machado de Assis, who, along with journalist Euclides da Cunha, was Brazil’s most famous nineteenth-century literary figure . . .
Because I was the eldest child in my family, and because my father was off fighting in the Pacific, my mother kept an elaborate Baby Book, recording my earliest this and latest that. A few years ago, in a forgotten attic box, she discovered the book and sent it to me.
I hesitate before starting with this particular detail. I want to begin with what for me was a simple fact but what to others may seem a tiresome metaphor. The psychiatrists didn’t invent this metaphor, but I suppose they helped popularize and therefore trivialize it.
For generations, or so I’ve heard, Brooklyn families have shrugged off the city swelter, crowding I-87 North en route to the Catskills for summer weekends. In July 2016, partly in search of traditions that might bind our family to a community, Ginger and I joined the exodus.
After three decades, the adventure of a young Midwesterner learning French, entering with passion into centuries of borrowed habits and rituals, seems like ancient history–so radically has the place of French in the world changed, along with the place of France.
On the last day of summer in 2015, after giving a lecture in Knoxville, Tennessee, I rented a car and drove across the state line, over the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge, to visit the picturesque town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, better known nowadays as Mayberry, USA.
What does Russia–or Russian literature–have to say to Americans concerned with the environment and sustainability, with how small corners of earth like a single farm might thrive, and what role they might play in seeding hope within our larger communities?