Sunday, May 07, 2006

Reading. (it's all a coincidence).

My life, my literary one, is full of coincidences, chance meetings, things suddenly remembered that come back from the distant past. I wrote last night about The Master and Margarita, but I didn't mention how I started reading it. If I remember correctly, my high school put out a little pamphlet of book recommendations submitted by students and teachers every year, and it had been amongst the entries. After I had been reading it for a while, it occurred to me that a classmate had mumbled something about how, if I was interested in Russian literature (we had been talking about Solzhenitsyn, I think, who I had discovered the year before), I should read Bulgakov. Only I didn't understand him, and I didn't know who Bulgakov was, and I was too shy to ask him to repeat the name. (I may have had a bit of a crush on him). And then I found a letter from three years before, from a Russian friend, who mentioned how her favorite novel was The Master and Margarita and she had used it as her text for her Literature final exam and how it had been censored and never translated. (She was wrong about it not being translated. It has been, and there are at least three or four different translations out there). It hadn't registered with me before. It is so strange to look back and find these coincidences, things that might have been different had you been aware of them at the time.

Last weekend I was at the Burning Word poetry festival, where I was introduced to the poetry of Ilya Kaminsky. I was there at the recommendation of a friend, who I think had found Ilya's writing through another friend. When I came back I could not resist the temptation to find out more about him (where would we be without Google?). And here I found a surprise. When Ilya and his family emigrated to the United States in 1993, they went to Rochester, New York, where there is a significant Russian (and I'm assuming, Ukrainian) émigré population. He studied as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, as did I, a few years behind (how long ago this all seems). There is no way of knowing whether our paths crossed or not, but they could have. How strange that we have this shared connection, but at the same time it is not so strange, given my long-standing passion for Russian literature and poetry, which started even before I was at university, and the large Russian community in Rochester, where Ilya arrived over a decade ago. And yet I found him through a chance remark from a friend. Several years and three thousand miles from where we both began. Everything is all a matter of timing. And fate.

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