I like to occasionally celebrate the overlooked heroes of literary history, and I recently ran across a fine example in the Faculty Of Useless Knowledge post Thank You Asya!, about Anna Berzer (Russian Wikipedia). Here’s an excerpt:
The woman I am talking about was a literary critic and the editor of the literary submissions in Novyi Mir (1958-71), – Anna Berzer (1917-1994). Novyi Mir was a literary journal that published some of the most challenging works during Khrushchev’s Thaw period in the 1960s USSR.
I myself came across Anna (or Asya as she was affectionately called) when studying for my PhD. There was always some confusion surrounding my thesis, why did I choose two authors that are so different? Well, as it turns out they have more in common than it seems. One thing they have in common is their close relationship to Anna Berzer. After the publication of For a Just Cause she became very close to Grossman and has written an autobiographical narrative about his last days Farewell (Proshchanie). There, she describes her visits to his hospital bed and how she receives his final novel Everything Flows. She narrates all the details of what was happening in the editorial offices of Novyi mir and what was said about Grossman at a time when his novel Life and Fate was under “arrest”. It is a unique document from the perspective of the person that was closest to Grossman towards the end of his life.
Equally, her impact on Dombrovskii was immense. It was in great part thanks to her that his novel The Keeper of Antiquities was published at all. She edited the novel into the great work of fiction that we know now. Her skills are impossible to underestimate as it is largely because of her that the novel has such an uncanny feel. It depicts the very feeling of the 1937 terror, yet it withholds it from the reader. This is exactly what she wanted to maintain – the suffocating fear of the terror. When the novel was published Dombrovskii dedicated it to her with the words: “To dear Anna Samoilovna, without whom this novel would certainly not have seen the light of day.With love and gratitude, Dombrovskii.” Even when his novel The Faculty of Useless Knowledge was published abroad in 1978 (as it would have been forbidden in USSR), he also dedicated it to her: “The author dedicates this book to Anna Samoilovna Berzer with profound gratitude on behalf of himself and all others like him.”
Now I want to read her memoirs.