BAGAZH: Memoirs of a Russian Cosmopolitan by Nicolas Nabokov

BAGAZH: Memoirs of a Russian Cosmopolitan

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Bagazh is the cornerstone of the uncertain existence of ""rootless cosmopolitans"" like Nicolas Nabokov, an anti-Bolshevik composer who fled St. Petersburg while still a small child. He has an excellent memory of these sixty years past and recalls with precision the Christmas gifts, flower gardens and delectables of his fairy-tale childhood on the family estates with all the elegant trappings of aristocracy. After the Revolution, the Nabokovs settled in the emigre community of Berlin, where young Nika was launched as music reviewer for a family publishing enterprise headed by Uncle Vladimir, the novelist's father. It was here that he began collecting celebrities: Count Harry Kessler, Stanislavsky, Chekhov's widow, Rilke, Isadora Duncan. Later in Paris, he received a commission from Diaghilev and collaborated on the ballet Ode with Massine and Tchelitchev. He began a lifelong relationship with Stravinsky, had lunch with Boulez, befriended Prokofiev. When things went from bad to worse financially, he crossed the Atlantic and collaborated on Union Pacific with Archibald MacLeish. He put up Cartier-Bresson in his studio for a week, ate oyster stew with Gershwin, Auden wrote a libretto for his Shakespearean opera. Finally, he fell in with the State Department and Radio Free Europe. Late in life, Nicky organized festivals for the CIA-sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom and the anti-Stalinist crusade became his raison d'etre. In 1962, he revisited Mother Russia, toured Moscow for the first time and taught his old babushka of a char how to clean the chewing gum off the floors of his hotel room. Nabokov is melancholy about the ""Russian Diaspora,"" but otherwise a jovial storyteller. To borrow a phrase from him, it's all tea and jam under an apple tree.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1975
Publisher: Atheneum