Past Events

Past EventsSunday, March 2

Stalin: Literature and Survival: Nathalie Babel, Shimon Markish, Evgeny Pasternak

Nathalie Babel
Shimon Markish
Evgeny Pasternak
Chair: Clive James
Readings: Janet Suzman

Isaac Babel, Peretz Markish and Boris Pasternak were among the greatest Russian writers of the 20th century. Markish wrote in Yiddish, Babel and Pasternak in Russian. All were persecuted by Stalin: Babel and Markish were executed; only Pasternak survived.

This session offered an unprecedented and unique opportunity to hear the writers' children, Nathalie Babel, Shimon Markish and Evgeny Pasternak, discuss with writer and broadcaster Clive James their fathers’ enduring legacies. In an often moving encounter, they gave a unique insight into the lives and worlds of their parents, and explored the impact of their Jewish backgrounds on their individual fates. The session also featured actress Janet Suzman reading extracts from the works of all three authors. 

Nathalie Babel was born in 1929 in Paris. She emigrated from France to the USA in 1961. A professor of Russian and French literature, she has edited several volumes of her father’s works including: The Lonely Years: 1925-1939 (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux 1964), You Must Know Everything: Stories 1915-1937 (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux 1966), and The Complete Works of Isaac Babel (W.W. Norton and Co. 2001). 

Shimon Markish was born in Baku in 1931 and studied Classical Philology at the University of Moscow. He left the USSR for Hungary in 1970, and moved to Switzerland in 1974. He lectured in Russian literature at the University of Geneva for over 20 years. His books include Erasmus and the Jews (University of Chicago Press 1986) and Babel and Others (ArtStudio, Kiev, 1996).

Evgeny Pasternak was born in Moscow in 1923 and studied engineering in a military academy. He worked as an engineer for the Red Army until 1954, later lecturing at the Moscow Energy Institute. He lives in Moscow and has published several volumes of his father’s writings and a biography,Boris Pasternak: The Tragic Years:1930-1960 (Collins Harvill, 1990).

“In the case of those who disappeared so mysteriously ...and what a waste... how come now there is kind of a renaissance? ...It’s the human condition, I think, that is expressed in some of those writings and that is how I explain the renaissance which is taking place now: theatre, movies, novels and a biography [of Babel]... It’s very comforting to know that that man has survived, so to speak, at least in spirit.” [Nathalie Babel]

“My father, already in August 1941, at the very beginning of the war, he came to the Pravda newspaper where one of his poems had to be published in Russian translation. The editor-in-chief of this newspaper said to him: ‘To publish you now is a question of high politics.’ And that was that. That was the beginning of antisemitism, I mean official antisemitism.” [Shimon Markish]

“I would say that the terror began in Russia not in the 1930s, but rather in the 1920s, just after the Revolution. But in the 1930s the terror was not more revolutionary. It was something which had one sense: to destroy people, to destroy the Russian peasantry, to destroy the Russian intelligentsia, to destroy the Russian army. And it was because Stalin was chief of a criminal band, and the one thing he thought seriously was to divide and to rule.” [Evgeny Pasternak]

Experience the event as it happened:


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