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Notes in the Margin

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Levi Strauss

The renowned name of Levi is widely known across the world. It was cemented in the public consciousness by Levi Strauss, the business magnate who made a name for himself through the production of denim jeans.

At the time of his detainment, Primo Levi, in the nude and grasping an index card with his number printed on it, shuffled forward in line with other naked men and women. He recounts a critical decision he had to make.

Should he plead for his life? A small man and a chemist, Levi had joined the partisans in the mountains in 1943, but was not very zealous about it. After a short while, they conceded to the fascists without putting up a fight.

When Mussolini began deporting Jews, Levi found himself in front of the commission that would determine with a single glance if he was bound for the gas chambers or if he was robust enough to keep laboring.

Everyone around him, many of whom were likely begging God for mercy, since they would have been too scared to remain quiet. Amidst all of this, Levi was in a significant internal struggle.

As a nonbeliever, he was lured by the concept of God: “For an instant I felt the need to ask for help and asylum.” However, he refused. The moment passed. “You don’t,” he states, “change the rules at the end of the match or when you’re losing.”

Do you not?

In moments of moderate to severe turbulence, I do not turn to the God I do not believe in for help. Lying on my back on the floor in the dimness of an idea-less late afternoon, I contemplate the courage of Levi, who documented this story in his book The Drowned and the Saved.

It almost makes him, so unlike his usual self, a hero of the tale. He decided not to bow down to a higher power, even with nothing to lose. Perhaps it was the strength he evoked in his physical appearance that made the commission decide to keep him alive.

It could have been the forcefulness they saw in him that made them believe he still had more days ahead of him.

Akhmatova’s Work

The writings of Akhmatova have been venerated and admired throughout the years. Her works have been praised for their insight, beauty, and intricate detail. Her poems have been studied and analyzed, with many finding deep meaning in her words.

Akhmatova’s works have become an integral part of Russian literature and culture.

On Sundays, I come across old magazines someone in Bolinas has left outside the bookstore. I can’t help but fantasize about the person’s house, a magical place full of books and periodicals.

I imagine them clearing out some of the stuff at the bottom of the stack, bringing it to the bookstore, and having to let it go. The items I find are often very old, like the New York Review of Books I picked up this morning that was from August 1973.

It had an essay by Norman Mailer about Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. Rather than read that, I chose to sit on the bench and take in Joseph Brodsky’s piece about the difficulty of translating Anna Akhmatova—anything to avoid Mailer’s writing.

The poet Anna Akhmatova was born Anna Gorenko, but her father encouraged her to change her name so that she would not bring shame to the family.

Unknown if it is possible to quantify, it appears that she had the worst of her great contemporaries–Mandelstam, Tsvetayeva, Pasternack–as she lived the longest and was left mostly alone.

A Stalin-appointed critic deemed her to be a “nun and a whore” which was of no service to the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, she refused to leave her homeland.

In her five-page poem “Requiem”, a thirty year project, she wrote of her dedication to her people: “I was with my people in those hours.”

In his essay, Brodsky both admires and censures Stanley Kunitz for his 1973 translation of Akhmatova’s poems (Kunitz later passed away at the age of one hundred and something).

Particularly, he is angered by Kunitz’s interpretation of “Imitation from the Armenian,” which Akhmatova wrote in tribute to her son who was unjustly sent to the gulag simply for being her offspring.

The poem portrays the poet as a black ewe who visits the Padishah (Stalin) in a dream and inquires: Was your dinner a tasty one?

Brodsky was distressed that Kunitz had to use two additional lines in his poem, despite the fact that words in English are usually much shorter than in Russian.

This was not the only thing that caused him to become angry–the last line had been left out and it was a justified reaction on his part.

In Brodsky’s rendition, the final four lines are rendered as follows:

Within your grasp lies the entirety of the cosmos,

Safe from any harm due to the divine will of Allah….

Did my offspring bring you pleasure

And your little ones?

Below is the Kunitz take on the same set of four lines:

Cradling the orb of the universe,

like a glimmering, icy orb….

But what of my son,

did you relish in his flavor?

Brodsky poses the question: what became of the infants? The rendering alters the focus to Stalin, which is an extreme misrepresentation of the real significance.

I’ve been pondering the vastness of cowardice recently and how it’s not the powerful but the young who are guilty. So many of them blend into the background when the dust has settled. The infants, too countless to remember, enjoy feasting alongside their leaders.

Someone unknown had Akhmatova’s son detained and then sent away.


A well-known figure, Celine is renowned for her achievements. She has made a name for herself in many circles and is highly respected.

When he was in his twenties, Louise-Ferdinand Celine made his way to the United States, penniless and aimless. He found his way to Detroit and secured employment at Ford. He was tasked with a job he wasn’t confident with, so they gave him a cart to push around instead.

He composed stories in the kitchen of a brothel he frequented, and he fell in love with a prostitute named Molly. She was generous enough to pay for his rent and suggested that they could build a life together.

Celine, however, went on a journey on the tram late at night and noticed how the people who had been working all night were too exhausted to even complain. He wrote that they seemed calmer than people who were awake in the day, as if they had reached the depths of life.

The Jonker Family

On the morning of her death, Ingrid Jonker walked into the Sea Point police station, telling a policeman she had been abandoned.

Later, her body was discovered in the ocean at Three Anchor Bay. Initially, a number of writers wanted to arrange a non-religious memorial service for her, but her parents denied permission.

Religion was not the problem; they refused to let a crowd of Cape Town communists take charge. Since Jonker’s father was a nationalist member of Parliament, it made the news that African-Americans attended the funeral.

Peter Clarke, Amos Langdown, Jerry Mathews, Adam Small and many other authors of the time, such as Uys Krige and Jack Cope (Ingrid’s lover), were present. A photo of an affected Cope beside her grave exists.

The Johannesburg Sunday Times stated that the atmosphere was “tense”.

There are numerous stories about her that have circulated. She is often referred to as South Africa’s Sylvia Plath, and her life has been the focus of many films. She was a revolutionary and unashamedly promiscuous. Prior to her, South Africa had never experienced a barefoot hippie.

Her presence left a trail of destruction in her wake, and she suffered from a severe mental illness. Yet in 1994, thirty years after her death, Nelson Mandela chose to read her poem “The Child Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers at Nyanga” at the opening of Parliament.

He referred to her as both an Afrikaner and African. A recording of his reading can be found on YouTube.

I obtained More Afrikaans Short Stories recently, and the last work included therein, a brief uncategorized sketch, was the last thing the author ever composed. It is regarding a young girl and her grandparent. The opening lines are striking and exquisite:

On that winter morning, much like the others, I heard the top part of the door open quietly and watched her step in, wearing her dark shawl and the pallid light behind her.

I feigned to be sleeping; however, I was aware of the way the pale light shone on her silver hair, and I heard her take out the paper bag of fish-heads and lay them on the table in our chamber.

She can envision the radiance in her grandmother’s locks, even though her own eyes are shut, and those fish heads on the dinner table.

Shapiro’s Work

When Lamed Shapiro, eighteen or nineteen years old and already writing stories about pogroms, went to see Peretz in Warsaw, it was around 1896 or 1897. Upon arriving, the author of “Bontsha the Silent” opened the door himself, leaving the visitor almost stunned.

The conversation between the two then focused on the bright future of Yiddish literature, although in hindsight, it appears to be a rather absurd notion for the time, considering the presence of pogroms.

Following the visit, Shapiro returned to his village in the Ukraine, but not before attempting to take his own life due to a broken heart, and surviving.

He later moved to New York with his mother, where he met Freydl, who was married with two kids, but still managed to fall in love with him. The couple and Shapiro’s mother eventually settled in Chicago, opening a restaurant in 1909.

It is unknown where the restaurant was located, but it is possible it was in West Rogers Park, and that Shapiro may have crossed paths with my grandfather without either of them realizing it.

Even if they had, my grandfather likely would not have been impressed, as the idea of a famous Yiddish writer would not have been anything noteworthy to him.

Shapiro composed “The Cross” while in Chicago, which tells the story of an elderly Jewish person who was fatally attacked with an ax by a sixteen-year-old.

In 1921, Shapiro, Freydl, and Shapiro’s mother relocated to Los Angeles. He then proclaimed he would no longer write stories regarding pogroms, leaving unsaid that he had nothing else to say if he did not write these stories.

He endeavored to create a new form of color photography, however, this attempt was unsuccessful since the Germans had already invented the technique. His mother passed away two years later, followed by Freydl’s death.

When a friend asked what Freydl had died from, he responded that it was due to poverty, squalor, and his compassion for Shapiro.

In spite of his grief and suicide attempts, he persisted. He returned to New York in his early fifties, still a passionate communist, and hoped for Stalin’s plan of relocating Jews to Manchuria.

This offered him new motivation to write about the potential perils of America and he subsequently published a collection of stories titled New Yorkish.

He was mostly supported by his friends and was considered to be the greatest Yiddish master by some. Irving Howe’s The World of Our Fathers, a history of Yiddish culture in America, compares him to Flaubert, yet he is relegated to a footnote.

He eventually passed away, while inebriated, in a friend’s garage in Los Angeles and was buried next to Fredyl.

Joyce – A Notable Figure

Joyce is an individual who has earned notoriety for their accomplishments. They are held in high regard for their efforts and achievements.

Rudy Bloom is a thought in the mind of his father, Mr. Bloom, as he prepares to leave the house for the day. He remembers sending for the midwife and the fact that she knew immediately that Rudy wouldn’t live.

Eating breakfast, Mr. Bloom reflects on the idea that “God is good”, before he begins his walk around the city. He looks at women, attends a funeral, recalls his daughter and his father, and eats again.

He then declares himself an Irish patriot and a Jew, only to be met with a biscuit tin thrown by the Citizen. As he meanders, thinking and wondering, he also masturbates on the beach and stares at Gerty MacDowell.

Despite only being on page 374 of the book, it is clear that the grief of Rudy’s passing is the real drive for Mr. Bloom. Stephen’s father calls him the saddest man he has seen and Gerty considers him the most “December man as ever wore a hat”.

His thoughts of Rudy, now 11 years gone, accompany him on every step.


He is a person who is well-known.

Anne Frank detailed to her diary, named Kitty, that she and Peter had taken the dentist’s cushion from the divan on the second floor. They wanted it to have something to sit on in the attic, which they planned to return.

Yet, when Dr. Dussel noticed it was gone, he informed Mr. Van Daan immediately. Anne and Peter responded by putting hard brushes in his bed. On the same night, there was a burglary on the first floor, prompting everyone to hide on the third floor.

To make matters worse, they were unable to use the restroom, leading Mr. Van Daan to lay across Anne’s feet to keep them warm.

The next day, Mr. Koophuis was informed and everyone was relieved to hear that the footsteps downstairs were Miep and Henk, not the police.

Following this, everyone was so exhausted that they slept for a few hours before Anne and Peter met and embraced in the attic, listening to the sirens as the weather was lovely.

It is a no-brainer that she was still just a child.

The child who was inclined to books was writing in a diary, but had an audience in their imagination that could have included you and me.

The ultimate ambition was to be a notable scribe, as italicised by them. They were consequently talking not only to Kitty, but also to a larger group. However, there was also a young person in an attic, developing a romance.

It was five days after April 16th when the first kiss occurred. Describing it as going through her hair, with half on her left cheek and half on her ear.

On April 18th, a new smooch was bestowed: “It was just about where my lips met…”

On the 11th of May, 1944, Anne reflects on the fact that she has to wrap up the work on her book about Galileo, as it needs to be returned to the library in three months.

Could be of Interest

It is possible to eliminate plagiarism by altering the structure of a text without compromising the original meaning or context. This can be achieved by reshaping sentences and phrases, so that the overall message remains the same.

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