Tomas Venclova – Friendships and acquaintances (79/88)

Tomas Venclova – Friendships and acquaintances (79/88)


I used to associate with Poles a good bit, well, firstly, because right up to Brodsky’s death
I was friends with Brodsky, and up to Miłosz’s death I was friends with Miłosz. And through them you get into many other émigré circles. With regards to American society, well,
my colleagues, my colleagues at Yale. Well, we, of course, our department, our lecturers socialise together, there is a permanent circle, constant socialising – whether that’s within the university or in each other’s homes. Lately, one of my good friends is Professor Timothy Snyder. I don’t know if his name is familiar to you
but yesterday I went into a bookshop in Paris and the French edition of his book “Bloodlands”
or “Kruvinosios žemės” was on sale there. It’s probably the best book written recently
on the crimes of Hitler and Stalin. I sometimes say that that is
the most terrifying book in the world. Because there are lots of books, let’s say, about the extermination of the Jews in Hitler’s concentration camps, and there are lots of books about
how Stalin exterminated people and nations, there are books, let’s say, about the siege of Leningrad
when over a million people died of starvation. Those are terrible, terrible events. But there had been no book where all of those events
were included in one book. And that is precisely what Timothy Snyder’s book does…
and I got to know him as an academic. Before writing that book, Timothy Snyder published
another book about contested towns in Eastern Europe. About Vilnius… this belongs to Lithuania but
the Poles laid claims to it and to some extent still do. Another town like that is Lviv in Ukraine
to which the Poles and the Ukrainians lay claim. It belongs to Ukraine. The Poles have in fact relinquished their claim, but it still persists in wider society. That book on the history of Vilnius and Lviv
was given to me to review the section on Vilnius, since I am more or less an expert on Vilnius. Well, I did review it. I was very surprised that Timothy Snyder is extremely well versed in those matters; there was hardly anything I could pull him up on. I wrote a positive review and
we became friends from that time. That’s one of those relationships where we are friends,
visiting each other’s homes. He visits us, we visit him. Not only does he speak English very well but also Polish. When we get together we sometimes even
speak to one another in Polish. He’s now one of the most prominent American historians. A relationship with him is something you can be proud of. Well, I live in that academic world in America,
but I wouldn’t say that I am a very social person. I very often have to be on my own for me
to write something, to do something. And for me to be accepted, as it were, in fashionable society, that isn’t really very important, even though I have made the acquaintance of some of them, with the intellectual aristocracy. I made the acquaintance of Susan Sontag,
I made the acquaintance of Arthur Miller, well, and with some other people
but those were acquaintances… we certainly didn’t see each other every day,
perhaps once a year, perhaps twice a year. That’s probably all I can say in response to your questions.

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