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Meet the WritersImage of Robert Littell
Robert Littell
Good to Know
About his past, Littell told us, "No account of my education would be complete without mentioning my four years in the Navy; I served on board the USS John R. Pierce (DD753) where I was, variously, the ship’s navigator, antisubmarine warfare officer, communications officer and deck watch officer. These years were extremely formative for me."

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Interview
We asked author Robert Littell about some of his favorite things -- books, writers, and what he enjoys when he's "off duty." Here's what he told us:

What was the book that most influenced your life?
In the early 1970s, Nadezhda Mandelstam, the wife of the famous Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, managed to have two manuscripts smuggled out of Russia to the West, where they were published under the titles: Hope against Hope and Hope Abandoned. These books recount the story of her husband and herself after the Bolshevik Revolution and during the subsequent Stalinist twenties and thirties.

Osip Mandelstam eventually wrote a poem denouncing Stalin and read it to a roomful of people, knowing full well that he would be denounced and punished. He was arrested and would have been executed but for the intervention of Boris Pasternak, who actually spoke to Stalin on the phone and defended Mandelstam as one of the great Russian poets of the century. The result was that Osip and Nadezhda were exiled from Moscow for five years under very difficult conditions, but the poet was not killed.

In the late thirties Osip was arrested again. He went off to the Gulag with a copy of Pushkin in his pocket and Nadezhda recounts in one of her books how she heard that he was last seen reading Pushkin to real criminals (as opposed to political prisoners) around a campfire in Siberia. After which he disappeared. It was Nadezhda, who had memorized all of his poems, who saved her husband from oblivion.

The life and writing of this woman inspired me endlessly in my quest to understand the Soviet Union, about which I have written a great deal. During one of my many trips to the Soviet Union, I had the honor of meeting her. I brought a box of candy to this old and lovely woman who was living in a remote suburb of Moscow, attended by young poets who never left her alone. As I left her flat, she saw me to the door and said, in an undertone, “Don’t speak English in the hallway.” This chilling remark -- it was during the period of Perestroika, Stalin was long dead and one could speak English in the hallway -- epitomized for me the heart of Stalinist Russia. Nadezhda died a year or so after I met her.

What are some of your favorite books?

  • Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, a glorious book about the battle of Stalingrad and, again, about Stalinist Russia.
  • All of F. Scott Fitzgerald. For me, Fitzgerald was one of the great American writers of the last century; a wordsmith, a storyteller, a perfectionist.
  • Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler, an absolutely brilliant tour through all the dozens of theories that attempt to explain how Hitler became Hitler; endless food for thought.
  • The poetry of Walt Whitman. I can return again and again to these magnificent poems and still get pleasure from reading them.
  • The Bible. I am not conventionally religious but I am an ongoing student of the Old and the New Testament and the history of the Jewish people and the birth of Christianity.
  • Shakespeare’s tragedies. Again, one goes back to them again and again and never exhausts the discoveries one makes in the texts.

What’s your favorite way to unwind?
I am an amateur mountain climber. Once or twice a year I go off to Chamonix in the French Alps, under Mont Blanc, and with a guide do treks that include rock climbing at high altitude. It is probably the only place where I forget the faults of the book I am working on at the moment.

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In the Works
"I am currently finishing revisions to a new novel set in Jerusalem, a city where I have spent two winters recently," says the author.

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About the Writer
*Robert Littell Home
* Good to Know
* Interview
* In the Works
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* Signed, First Editions by Robert Littell
Chronology
*The October Circle, 1977
*Mother Russia, 1978
*The Debriefing: A Novel of Deception, 1979
*The Amateur, 1981
*The Revolutionist, 1988
*The Once and Future Spy, 1990
*An Agent in Place, 1991
*Visiting Professor: A Novel of Chaos, 1994
*Walking Back the Cat, 1997
*For the Future of Israel, 1998
*The Company: A Novel of the CIA, 2002
*Legends, 2005
*Vicious Circle: A Novel of Mutual Distrust, 2006