There is a moment in The Shipping News (by E. Annie Proulx) where Billy Pretty tells Quoyle about something his father used to say, how there were different women in a man's life. The Demon Lover, the Stout-hearted Woman, the Maid in the Meadow, the Tall and Quiet Woman. Later he realizes that he has all these women in his life, his former wife, his aunt, his daughters, his new love. For me it is like that with writers. The first love. (Forster). The master. (Bulgakov). The poet. (Ferlinghetti). The wild sage. (Levertov). The professor. (Eco). The unexpected lover. (Bukowski). The dreamers. (Calvino and Borges). The heartbreaker. (Milosz). Others, too many to name. And then there is Brodsky, who in a brief period of time I have come to love completely and absolutely in a way I can't even begin to define. The mind-reader, perhaps I shall call him, as his words seem to anticipate and mirror my own thoughts.
When sorting through various papers I came across one I had written several years about the concept of homeland for Russian writers, particularly Soviet ones, and how despite censorship and exile the writers I mentioned (there are references to Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak, and I think Babel) could not imagine an existence outside of their homeland. It was not until recently that I began to understand that this attachment one's homeland is at the root of everything I love most about Russian literature, and it was not until I began reading Brodsky that it became clear to me that in the words of Russian writers I could find what I was searching for in myself.
You were born without a country, my mother said. I don't remember how old I was, but I was old enough to understand what she meant, and to understand that she was right. Years later I would hear her rage against a friend who accused her of not being Taiwanese. I wished I had that same connection to a country, that complete assurance of belonging; instead I never felt that I belonged to the one where I was born, the one of my parents, or the one where I was raised and educated. I think now if someone were to tell me again that I was born without a country I would tell them that I am my own country.
This sense of isolation and general uncertainty about my own identity that has been with me all my life seemed to disappear as I fell into the words of writers who believed in their own sense of identity as Russian writers so strongly that even when swallowed up by the vast archipelago of the gulag the falling darkness could not obscure them, could not erase them. As though even fire could not burn out their thoughts even if the paper they were written on was left as ashes. It was as though their own absolute sense of self gave me something of my own.