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The 1920’s were a decade of chaos.

One never would have guessed this from my family’s surviving photographs.  My paternal grandfather, who was in his mid-30’s when the War To End All Wars began, was nearly forty when he married and begat my father during the Harding administration.  He worked for a major oil company in Pittsburgh, lived in an upper middle class commuting suburb, made around three times the average American's salary, and purchased a brand new bungalow in 1922 to house his wife and son.  Dad was taking dancing lessons and wearing white dinner jackets before he hit puberty, and the family had sufficient discretionary funds to pay for trendy Colonial Revival furniture, a nice summer rental at Conneaut Lake, and one of those newfangled radios to pick up the broadcasts from KDKA.

My mother’s family wasn’t quite so prosperous – my grandmother’s habit of expelling a child every year or two between 1909 and 1928 meant quite a few mouths to feed, even after the older boys left school and went to work – but there still enough money for them to purchase the Farm up in Venango County.  The children all graduated from high school, there was a house and a car, and my grandmother’s clothing and extravagant hats were stylish and well made.  My grandparents were on the cusp of the prosperous middle class and they knew it, and they had every expectation that their children would rise in the world.

It’s something of a shock to realize that these same years that saw my father taking riding lessons and my grandmother purchasing real estate were replete with revolutions, famines, ethnic cleansing, the rise of the Soviet Union, and Tea Pot Dome.  

The Twenties might have been the Era of Ballyhoo, Bootlegging, and soaring stock prices, at least in the United States, but the same was scarcely true of the rest of the world.  Europe was still reeling from the fall of most of its crowned heads, the loss of an entire generation of promising young men, and upheavals both political and cultural.  Not only is it no surprise that Europe was convulsed by yet another cataclysmic war two decades later, it’s something of a miracle that it took that long.

New art, new music, new ways of governing, new social mores…it must have seemed that the Great War had remade the entire world.  Americans might complain about feckless youth swigging bathtub gin and slathering paint on their fresh young faces, but compared to the way that Europeans had to carve out whole new countries from the dead empires of the past, they had it easy.  America was still intact, after all, with thriving cities and a rising middle class.  The average Austro-Hungarian, who now might be an Austrian, a Hungarian, a Czechoslovakian, or God only knew what, could only dream of the stability that Americans took for granted.

It’s little wonder that identity was every bit as fluid as the map of post-war Mitteleuropa in those heady, dangerous years.

The chaos of the Great War and the aftermath caused many, many, many people to recreate themselves.  The best known is probably Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish munitions worker who managed to convince quite a few people, including probably herself, that she was actually Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicolaevna Romanova, last survivor of the Imperial family that died at Ekaterinburg in 1918.  However, there were others who achieved fame, fortune, and notoriety in those heady days:

- Hershel Geguzin (aka Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, aka Harry F. Gerguson, aka Mike Romanoff), a Lithuanian-born garment worker who pretended to be a Russian nobleman, eventually opened a restaurant, and invented a dessert called Strawberries Romanoff (which was actually the creation of a Frenchman, but never mind).

- Joan Lowell, a movie actress who wrote an "autobiography" about a colorful childhood at sea, none of which turned out to be true.

-William Cunningham Deane-Tanner (aka William Desmond Taylor, aka William Taylor), an Anglo-Irish squire's son who became an actor, abandoned his wife, acted in several movies, directed many more, romanced a young actress and possibly her mother at the same time, might have been bisexual, and finally was shot to death in his fashionable Hollywood bungalow.

- Opal Whiteley, a genuinely talented naturalist who wrote a dazzlingly precocious, and quite possibly fictitious, memoir studded with gems like her supposed begetting by a French pretender and her habit of naming her chickens after Roman heroes.

- B. Traven (aka Traven Torsvan, aka Hal Croves, aka Ret Marut, probably born Otto Albert Maxilian Feige), the brilliant author of The Rebellion of the Hanged, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and a slew of other leftist books, who did such a great job of hiding from the German authorities after the Great War that despite solid research identifying him as a potter's son turned radical actor, there are still people who maintain that he was either a) an American born to Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco, b) Kaiser Wilhelm II's illegitimate son, c) Ambrose Bierce, or d) Alfredo Lopez Mateos, President of Mexico.

All of these fine individuals, and many, many more, are fun bits of trivia, and God knows most of them had their reasons for taking on a new name and identity.  The 1920’s and 1930’s were a deadly, glamorous, and unstable time.  Most of these people were simply trying to survive, and whatever else they may have done, it’s hard to condemn them for wishing to remake themselves into something better, stronger, and a bit more romantic.

And then there are those whose personal reboots led to Identity Questions So Bad They’re Good.

Tonight I bring you an author who spent most of his working life concealing his true name and origins.  Talented, unscrupulous, and not above making up or altering the facts to suit his needs, he forged a new identity so convincing that it not only made him a fascist favorite, but may have led to his premature death:

Lev Nussimbaum (aka Essad Bey, aka at least part of Kurban Said) - The questions about Lev Nussimbaum are many and varied.  Was he Jewish?  Was he Muslim?  Where was he born?  What was his real name?  Had he stolen someone else's manuscript?  Are his numerous books on the Balkans and Anatolia even somewhat valid?  Was he born on the Snowpiercer as it circled the globe a locomotive somewhere in the Ukraine?

It is impossible at this point to determine whether Lev Nussimbaum, who later took the name Essad Bey (or Kurban Said, take your pick), was actually one of the poor schmucks raised on Snowpiercer's cuisine de cucaracha born on a train, as he later recounted, or in the Ukrainian capitol of Kiev, as official documents state.  We do know that he was born no kidding, of course he was born, I don't write about ghosts in these diaries, good heavens, I'm not that far gone in 1905 to a Jewish oilman from Georgia (Europe, not the United States) and his Belarussian wife.  The family soon  migrated to Baku, home of the great Russian oil fields, when the future Bey/Said was only a toddler.

There young Lev learned his first lesson about the fluidity of identity when his mother, the former Berta Slutzkin, committed suicide when her son was only five years old.  Berta had long been interested in left-wing politics, and despite marriage to a rising man and the birth of her son, there is evidence to suggest that she lived a double life as a Communist revolutionary who sought to overthrow the Romanov government.  This was clearly not a good thing for either her or her family, since what appeared to be the successful introduction of a constitutional monarchy to Russia after the Revolution of 1905 made left-wing politics seem less and less relevant.  

Lev's father, Abraam, hired a German governess for his son, then set about trying to make a living despite the declaration of war in 1914 and the upheavals of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.  Lev's first book, which he wrote after he started calling himself “Essad Bey,” claimed that they fled Baku for Turkestan and Persia in 1918 thanks to street violence, but since his account of this journey, Blood and Oil in the Orient, is not exactly a reliable source, it is not clear if father and son even left town.  What is known that they departed Baku permanently in 1920 after the Reds took the city, and returned to Abraam's homeland until the Reds moved on to Tiflis shortly thereafter.

The family somehow ended up in Azerbaijan, then Istanbul.  Although Nussimbaum/Bey/Said wrote rapturously about how the departure from Azerbaijan meant that “[a]t that moment, Europe began for me.  The Old East was dead,” they did not stay long in the former Constantinople.  Within a year they had reached Berlin, where young Lev managed to enroll simultaneously in high school and university.  Although he did not take a diploma from either, he boasted afterwards that he had the equivalent of a Master's degree from Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (originally the University of Berlin or the Universität unter den Linden, now Humboldt University of Berlin).   Whether attending a multi-named educational institution gave the budding litterateur the idea that he, too, should have many names is not known, but if not, it certainly is quite the coincidence.

Regardless, by 1926 Lev had begun writing for literary journals under the name “Essad Bey.”  He was prolific (over 120 articles in the next four years), politically conservative (he joined the Social Monarchist Party, which advocated the restoration of the Hohenzollerns to the Imperial Throne, and how his Communist mother avoided rising from her grave and slapping him silly is beyond me), and was considered something of an expert on the Caucasus, the oil fields, and what was then viewed as the Romantic and Mysterious Near East.  He cemented this reputation by publishing no fewer than seven books in rapid succession, all allegedly non-fiction.  

That these books (Blood and Oil in the Orient, Twelve Secrets of the Caucasus, Stalin:  The Career of a Fanatic, The Caucasus, Mohammed, White Russia:  People Without A Homeland, and OGPU:  The Lot Against the World) all appeared between 1930 and 1932 should have been a clue that Bey/Said/Nussimbaum did not precisely take his time researching his subject.  He had been there, after all, in Russia and Azerbaijan and Istanbul and all those other fascinating, little-known places.  That genuine experts later found so many errors in his books that most were quietly allowed to go out of print, or that the rate at which they flew off the presses might call into question whether a single person had written them without assistance, was not really a factor.  Essad Bey was a minor but definite star in the literary firmament, and he liked it that way.

And his star only continued to rise.  Not only did Bey/Said/Nussimbaum continue to churn out entertainingly written, barely factual books about his childhood, his putative homeland, modern political figures, etc., his agent begged him to take a brief hiatus in 1934 to quell rumors that “Essad Bey” was actually a script doctor/editor who published other people's books under what was a de facto house name.  He had, after all, followed up his first septet of hastily written tomes with an additional six (Russia at the Crossroads, Nicholas II:  The Prisoner in Purple, Lenin, Reza Shah, Allah is Great: The Decline and Rise of the Islamic World, and End of Bolshevism) between 1933 and 1936, a pace that could (and likely has) killed lesser authors.

Nussimbaum/Said/Bey considered his agent's request and eventually agreed, and so published nothing in German in 1934.  He did, however, produce two novellas in Polish (the intriguingly titled Love and Petroleum and the boringly titled Manuela) during his alleged sabbatical.  A man had to keep his hand in, after all.

The early 1930's were momentous for Kiev/Baku/the railroad's gift to the world in other ways, too.  In  1932 he married Erika Loewendahl, the daughter of a wealthy German shoe manufacturer.  That the marriage didn't last (she eloped three years later with an Austrian journalist named  René Fülöp-Miller (born Philip Müller to an Alsatian father and a Serbian mother, he ended up in, my hand to God, Hanover, New Hampshire, and those of you who've been to the home of Dartmouth College will know exactly why I'm so surprised that a cosmopolitan journalist with at least two names would come within two hundred miles of the place...but I digress), and that the Loewendahls eventually paid a tidy sum to have the marriage annulled, didn't seem to matter.  Lev Nussimbaum had a new name, a new country, a new (if temporary) bride, and a thriving career.  

He even had a possible commission writing a biography of that exciting new political leader Benito Mussolini, which would have put the founder of Fascism in the same company as Lenin, Stalin, Reza Shah, Mohammed, and Tsar Nicholas II.  Not only that, his works on the Caucasus, oil, Islam, Communism, Russia, etc., were so firmly conservative that the exciting new political elite in Germany included “Essad Bey” on its list of recommended authors for rising young Nazis wishing to know more about exotic foreign lands.

That's right.  You're not hallucinating.  The Nazis actually recommended the potted histories and biographies of a Ukrainian/Georgian/Belarussian/German Jew as suitable reading for their tender jugenden.  That they did this for a non-Aryan at all, let alone a Jew, is so remarkable that one is forced to ask what the putschers and shovers of the Mighty Reich had been smoking.

The answer is simple, obvious, and non-addicting:

They didn't know.

That's right.  Lev Nussimbaum not only had managed to acquire a new name during his years in Germany, he had shed his old religious/ethnic identity with the sort of ease a molting snake might envy.  He had first become acquainted with Islam during his adolescence in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Istanbul, and found much to admire in its connections to Judaism.  So taken was he with what he saw as the Muslim stand against the horrors of the degenerate West that he later claimed that the mere sight of the old Islamic buildings in Baku produced the following vision:

I saw the broad expanse of the sandy Arabian desert, I saw the horsemen, their snow-white burnooses billowing in the wind, I saw the flocks of prophets praying towards Mecca and I wanted to be one with this wall, one with this desert, one with this incomprehensible, intricate script, one with the entire Islamic Orient, which in our Baku had been so ceremoniously carried to the grave, to the victorious drumbeats of European culture.... Throughout my entire childhood, I dreamed of the Arabic edifices every night... I do know that it was the most powerful, most formative feeling of my life.
This sort of romantic feeling toward a mysterious and unknown land is not uncommon among dreamy adolescents – just look at how many people long for Middle-Earth, Narnia, Katmandu, St. Petersburg, etc. -  but Nussimbaum/Bey/Said claimed that he'd actually put his money where his mouth was and converted to Islam in 1922.   He even  had a certificate from, of all people, the former Imam attached to the Ottoman Embassy in Berlin, Imam Hafiz Shuku, stating that it would serve as a “document of proof” that he had become a Muslim on August 13, 1922.  

This not only satisfied the exciting new German regime, it normally should have been enough to satisfy the authorities and the Muslim community in general that the former Jew Lev Nussimbaum was now a Muslim named Essad Bey, especially when coupled with Bey/Nussimbaum/Said's work founding an Islamic study and advocacy group called, naturally enough, “Islamia” in 1924.  Alas for the former Azerbaijani/Ukrainian/Persian/Ruritanian, his writings about his new religion were tinged with the sort of delicately racist Orientalism that would have made Edward Said weep quietly into his tea.  This in turn led to accusations that that he was trying to “pass for a born Muslim” and had only converted as a way to attract attention to himself.  

Said (not Edward)/Nussimbaum/Bey promptly stopped attending Islamia meetings.  He still claimed to be a Muslim, though, and did nothing to discourage reports that he either a) was, in fact a “born Muslim” whose ethnicity had only been confirmed by the good Imam, or b) that he AND his father Abraam had actually converted in 1913 and the certificate from Imam Shuku simply affirmed an event that had taken place nine years earlier.  Western ignorance about Islam was such that many people (including, presumably, his wife and in-laws) were satisfied with this or some variant thereof, and shrugged off Nussimbaum/Bey/Not-Edward's consumption of alcohol (oops) and pork (eek) and failure to pray in the direction of Mecca (uh oh) as irrelevant.  He said it, they believed it, and that settled it.

Alas for the multi-named writer, eventually the carefully constructed persona began to crumble.  Reviews of his biography of Mohammed were merciless in pointing out that the book contained more errors than facts, to the point that one reviewer openly speculated that Bey/Not-Edward/Nussimbaum not only wasn't a Muslim, he'd never even bothered to read the Qur'an, either in Arabic or translation.  It was a “potpourri of bad history, distorted facts and naïve interpretation.  It never should have been  fact, [the reviewer was] impelled to go still further and state further that there is hardly a fact in this 'biography' which is free from error.”


As bad as that sounds, worse was to come.  The German government finally figured out that “Essad Bey” had begun life as “Lev Nussimbaum,” and the former Jew/alleged Muslim decided that life would be easier if he moved to nice, safe, neutral Austria.  He also stopped publishing anything under the name of “Essad Bey” despite his former (and, in non-Nazi countries) continuing popularity, likely on the theory that the less attention he attracted to himself, the less chance that the National Socialists would notice where he was and take revenge for thinking that he and his works were fit mental nourishment for loyal little Nazis.

However, he does not seem to have stopped writing entirely; the 1937 novel Ali and Nino, which came out under the name “Kurban Said,” seems to have been written either wholly by Said/Bey/Nussimbaum, or was partially plagiarized and reworked from an earlier manuscript by an Azerbaijani statesman named Yusif Vazir Chamanzaminli (aka Chemenzeminli, born Yusif Mirbaba oghlu Vazirov).  If that weren't peculiar enough, recent analysis hints that whomever wrote Ali and Nino stole at least part of the book from Georgian author Grigol Robakidze's The Snake's Skin.  That Bey/Half-Said/Nussimbaum actually knew Robakidze only makes this hypothesis more intriguing, even if two other people, the Austrian Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels and the Italian Bello Vacca (aka Ahmed Giamil Vacca-Mazzara), also claimed to be the author of Ali and Nino.

Whoever was behind the name “Kurban Said,” the author did not stop at Ali and Nino.  S/he/it wrote at least two more books, the 1938 Girl from the Golden Horn and the unpublished The Man Who Knew Nothing About Love.  I have yet to discover any authorship controversies connected to either of these books, but given how many people laid claim to Ali and Nino, I wouldn't be surprised to find they were actually written by B. Traven, Opal Whiteley, Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh, Archie Goodwin, or JRR Tolkien in a moment of whimsy.

Alas for Lev Nussimbaum/part of Kurban Said/Essad Bey, his life did not end well.  He had scarcely settled in Austria when the Nazis annexed the country in 1938, forcing him to flee to the Italian coastal town of Positano.  There he lived until his death in 1942, only thirty-seven years old, of a blood disease that eventually caused thrombosis and gangrene in his hands and feet.  Doctors at the time, unaware that he was actually an Ashhkenazic Jew and not a Persian/Azerbaijani/Latverian/etc., diagnosed him with Reynaud's disease and treated him accordingly, even though it's far more likely that he actually had Buerger's disease, which afflicts primarily male Ashkenazim, especially heavy smokers (which Lev/Essad/Not-Edward really, truly, indisputably was).

As awful as this sounds, it's oddly fitting that this enigmatic, talented, and ultimately unknowable man died at least in part thanks to twenty years of living as something he was not.


Have you ever considered taking on another identity?  Did you write Ali and Nino?  Has anyone other than CFK even heard of Lev Nussimbaum?  Now is the time to confess all...


Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
Sun (occasional) 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
MON 1:00 PM Grokking Republicans Mokurai
Mon 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
TUE - alternate weeks 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
Tue - alternate weeks 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left Kit RMP, bigjacbigjacbigjac
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
alternate Fridays 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
SAT 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 06:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Man from Mars (13+ / 0-)

    This is not directly connected to your theme for this week, but I'm currently reading a biography by Fred Nadis titled The Man from Mars.  It's about Ray Palmer, the controversial editor of Amazing Stories during the 1940s and '50s.  A diminutive hunchback with a vivid imagination, he felt that science fiction was becoming moribund and sought to liven it up with an infusion of mysticism and more than a bit of sex.  He basically retooled Theosophy for the 20th Century.

    He is perhaps best known for something he called "The Great Shaver Mystery", (and which his critics called "The Great Shaver Hoax"), based on the writings of William S. Shaver; a strange man who had bounced from job to job and in and out of mental institutions.  Shaver claimed to have encountered strange demon-like creatures he called deros who lived under the earth and who used mind-control rays to corrupt humans.  Palmer reworked Shaver's treatise explaining his unique cosmology into a pulp adventure novel titled I Remember Lemuria and claimed that everything in the story was factual and based on "racial memory".  

    For the next several years, Shaver and Palmer provided a steady stream of stories and paranoid speculation  based on the Shaververse.

    Many fans were outraged that Palmer was breaking one of the cardinal rules of SF, as laid out by Uncle Hugo Gernsbeck himself:  There must be some kind of scientific fact in each story!  Palmer was more interested in sensationalism and story and was chucking Hard SF in favor of moonshine and balderdash.  What's more, this was the period where John W. Campbell, over at Astounding, was trying to raise the literary quality of SF; and here Palmer was churning out trashy pulp adventure and catering to the kind of kooks... well... that people in the mainstream associated with Sci-Fi.

    As the Great Shaver Mystery began to taper off, Palmer jumped onto a new gimmick, the Flying Saucer Craze, and promoted UFO sightings and abductees.

    In Nadis's biography, Palmer comes off as a likable, enthusiastic fellow, who might well have been a role model for Stan Lee; he had the same editorial style of talking to the reader that was part breathless hype and part self-deprecating humor.  How much of his own malarkey he actually believed is difficult to say; but comments in his letters seem to suggest that he really did take the deros seriously.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 06:51:05 PM PDT

    •  Wasn't he the inspiration for the Atom? (9+ / 0-)

      And yes, I definitely should devote a diary to him.  Palmer (and Shaver) were something else.

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:03:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Name's the Same (8+ / 0-)

        Editor Julie Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox, who created the Silver Age Atom were both members of First Fandom and had known Palmer.  Fox had written for Amazing Stories under Palmer's editorship, and Schwartz had been active editing fanzines at the time Palmer was starting off in the industry.

        Nadis' biography quotes a passage from Schwartz's autobiography, Man of Two Worlds:

        "...the Atom, I gave him a thorough revamp as well.  The original Atom was Al Pratt, a small, regular person who was exceptionally strong, and I changed him into a hero who could shrink his size down to atomic size (his normal height as a hero would be six inches) ... I called up Ray and asked his permission to appropriate his name for the civilian identity of the new Atom, and he graciously assented.  (An added bonus of the call was that it inspired me to come up with one of the Atom's unique powers, where he could travel from place to place along the phone line as if he was one of the trasmitted sound particles.)"

        Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

        by quarkstomper on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:53:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thought so! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, quarkstomper

          Seriously, Palmer is due a diary in this series, as much for his editorship of Fate as for the whole Shaver/Lemuria nonsense.  I mean, DEROS??????

          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 06:34:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Lost Saucers (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            He has also been called "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers."  Which is something of an exaggeration, but he was influential in popularizing the Flying Saucer Craze

            Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

            by quarkstomper on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 04:42:53 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  He was more than influential (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RiveroftheWest, quarkstomper

              Wasn't Fate the magazine that published Kenneth Arnold's story about flying saucers back in the late 40's?  

              This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

              by Ellid on Tue Aug 19, 2014 at 08:59:58 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yes indeed (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Ellid, RunawayRose

                From The Man from Mars -- Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey

                The paranormal was a broad canvas on which to paint, but Palmer decided that for the public of 1948, flying saucers offered something new, startling and potentially apocalyptic.  The first issue of Fate had a cover painting of flying saucers stacked in the clouds above a small red airplane, illustrating Kenneth Arnold's "The Truth About the Flying Saucers" -- the actual title in the magazine was "I Did See the Flying Disks!"  The article was Kenneth Arnold's full report of his by-then famous sighting on June 12, 1947, of nine strange aircraft skimming over the Cascade Mountains near Mount Rainier in Washington State, an event that served as the birth notice for the modern flying saucer craze.

                -- The Man from Mars by Fred Nadis

                Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

                by quarkstomper on Tue Aug 19, 2014 at 06:42:17 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  the first part of the 20th Century was an (19+ / 0-)

    amazing time.  My grandfather grew up an orphan, traded to family to family for the work he could do every summer and kicked out in the cold, literally every winter.

    Later he shotgunned a man to death over a woman.  The guy attacked him with a Bowie knife but the family wanted retribution so the judge sentenced him to 5 years in the pen for involuntary manslaughter(!!!).

    After a year the same judge told him if he volunteered for the military they would expunge the rest of his sentence so he found himself first at Ft Jackson with the Stonewall Jackson Brigade (name was later changed) and then in the fields of France as a muleskinner for an artillery unit.  That persuaded him that foreign travel was dangerous.

    He managed to purchase a few farms along the way, neglected, abandoned farms which he then cleared with a mule, dynamite, axe, and his own sweat.  I could not do what he did but whatever I accomplished I did so because of him.

    The effects of his life still resonates in our family today even though he died in 1971 as I was preparing to go to Ft Jackson for my own induction physical

  •  Sometimes the weirdest details jump out at me (11+ / 0-)

    "Humdolt" University?  That sounds like something I'd invent for a story about a university to make people into dolts.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:37:17 PM PDT

  •  As far as identity goes... (13+ / 0-)

    For reasons that really don't make a lot of sense, I was sufficiently confused about my own full name as a child that I went by my middle name for about the first 8 or 9 years or so. Once it was explained to me what the actual story was, I decided to go by my first name.

    Needless to say, this confused a number of people and gave me a somewhat fluid sense of identity.

    And then of course, the eventual rise of the internet was preceded by things like dial up and AOL, where I settled on xaxnar as a name because I didn't want to be one more [name] plus a number  I pulled xaxnar out of the dark recesses of my mind; I hadn't run across it anywhere else, to the best of my recollection.  In a sense, it's since become an identity in its own right or so it seems at times.

    And then there are all those other markers of identity that keep changing, i.e.: jobs, education status, age, marital status, parenthood, hobbies, avocations, interests…

    But like Buckaroo Banzai says, "No matter where you go, there you are."

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:49:00 PM PDT

  •  I've read Ali & Nino + Girl from the Golden Horn (10+ / 0-)

    I read them about 8 or 9 years ago after reading the book The Orientalist by Tom Reiss. I loved Ali & Nino, though I was less impressed with The Girl.

    One interesting nugget in the first identify switch was that Lev=Lion, which in Arabic is "Asad" or "Essad." Essad Bey could be roughly translated as "Mister Lev."

    I was also less than impressed by Reiss' book. I'm not a big fan of history books where the author inserts himself as a character in the story. Either boasting of their heroic sleuthing, or recounting the impact the process of writing the book had on them ("Holding the dusty manuscript in my hands, I was overwhelmed by the thought that this very paper was held 100 years before by....").  If the author wants to share those thoughts, they belong in the afterword or acknowledgments--not in the fabric of the story.

    The one forgivable exception is the masterful HHhH by French author Laurent Binet.

    Revenge is a dish best served on White House china.

    by RickBoston on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:56:47 PM PDT

  •  Yes, I've used a pseudonym/pen-name (8+ / 0-)

    And not just "Dbug" (which is what I use here on Daily Kos). And I'm not gonna tell you my real name -- not that anyone here would recognize it.

    Way back in the 1980s, I was an editor and writer at COMPUTE! Publications. Mostly I wrote about Commodore computers (VIC-20, Commodore 64, and 128), but later I got an Atari 1040ST and wrote about that. So when I wrote articles or software reviews or contributed to books, my real name was on almost everything I wrote. And every month, I was listed in the magazine masthead (moving up from associate editor to assistant editor to just plain editor).

    At the same time, I was a assistant sysop on CompuServe -- in the 1980s, which was before the internet took off. I could cruise around CompuServe for free (with my sysop credentials) instead of paying $12/hour or whatever it was. But my bosses at COMPUTE! said I couldn't use my real name on CompuServe. So I used a pseudonym. Which was fine. I was saving twelve bucks for every hour I was online.

    Then COMPUTE! killed my Atari ST magazine (it cost extra because it included a disk) about the same time that I was offered a job at Microsoft. I moved from Greensboro, NC, to Seattle, WA, to work for Microsoft as a technical writer. When I started working at MS, I discovered that my name would not appear anywhere on any of the documentation. As far as the users were concerned, every piece of documentation was written by Microsoft. I wrote about the C compiler, the QuickC compiler, and the MASM assembler. But I was still working as a sysop at CompuServe. And Microsoft didn't care if I used my real name. So I worked (anonymously, a work-for-hire writer) at Microsoft. But I came out of the closet and started to use my real name on the CompuServe Commodore Forums. Also, I wrote a monthly column for a Commodore magazine in Canada (where I used my real name).

    So I went from writing with my real name (at work) and using a pseudonym for outside work to being completely anonymous at work and using my real name for freelancing.

    Given the choice, I'd rather use my real name, but if I'm getting paid enough I'll be anonymous or I'll use a pseudonym.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 09:24:39 PM PDT

  •  I'm reminded of the writer Anna Kavan (8+ / 0-)

    Born Helen Emily Woods, she took the name Anna Kavan from the characters in of her books.

    She was a lifelong heroin addict. However, she lived in the British Empire, where heroin was not illegal although its use was definitely not encouraged; during her lifetime the practice was to register addicts & provide them with the junk so they would not turn to a life of crime to support her habit. Because of that, she was able to lead a relatively normal life. (The UK since criminalized heroin due to pressure from a certain country -- we all can guess which one.)

    Kavan's best known novel is Ice, an almost hallucinogenic tale of one man's hunt after a girl he obsesses over, while the world around them succumbs to another ice age. Brian Aldriss proclaimed it the best novel of 1967. According to her Wikipedia article, it was inspired by her 22-month stay in New Zealand; I never thought Antarctica was that close to New Zealand. I have read Ice; it is a very gripping & surreal read.

    •  I tried to read "Ice" when it was new. (7+ / 0-)

      (Based on the Aldiss plug)

      It was good, but a bit beyond mid-high-schooler me, and I had to bail. Congrats!

      I got a similar vibe from Lem's Solaris a bit later.

      Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

      by MT Spaces on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 10:12:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Solaris has been made into what, two movies? (5+ / 0-)

        I remember the Clooney version from a few years back, but wasn't there another, earlier one from Russia?

        This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

        by Ellid on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 04:42:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  sure (8+ / 0-)

          The 1972 Tarkovsky film is the classic. It's often seen in contrast to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. As I recall it the space ship was somewhat unkempt and scattered with junk. Later, U.S. scifi certainly picked up on that, but in the days of tidy Star Trek and 2001 it was cool. The main contrast though was between the magical realism of the eastern European lit and the practical realism of the English & American works. And it was all caught up in a Cold War desperation to assign categories to East/West pop culture, as you can see. Lem's novels are full of jokey parables, like Borges, if you've read him. They are fables, not realistic. At a time when the Soviet Union was trying to mold reality via state sanctioned culture (and the West was doing so via commercialism), you can see the nature of fictional reality might become a fraught topic. And it's all downhill from there!

          Tarkovsky's film is quite moving though, and really about one man's inner life as expressed by another intelligence trying to find a common language.

        •  According to Wikipedia, there were three (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, ER Doc

          The first one was a 1968 two-parter made for Soviet television & directed by Boris Nirenburg. Not much more details than that, Since I know Soviet cinema can produce some good stuff when given half a chance, it could be worth watching -- or utter crap.

    •  I've never heard of either book or author (6+ / 0-)

      You'd think that a rec from Brian Aldiss would have boosted its popularity - I wonder what happened?

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 04:41:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Any number of things (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, ER Doc

        The book is written in a detached style, & Kavan wasn't interested in technology or explaining how this Ice Age came about, so that would be off-putting to the average SciFi reader of the time.

        Then there's more practical issues: distribution, marketing, & the simple fact that SciFi in the 60s was considered predominantly male-oriented & a woman's name on the byline was the kiss of death. And Kavan wasn't an SciFi writer: the other book of hers I read -- Julia & the Bazooka -- is about her life with heroin. (She called her syringe her "bazooka".)

        My taste in literature has always been a bit unusual. I used to read issues of New Worlds, when I could find them, for example. Which is probably how I was led to Kavan.

        •  Oh good God, New Worlds! (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ahianne, llywrch, RiveroftheWest, ER Doc

          I hadn't thought of that magazine for a long, long time.  This may have been yet another reason for the book not getting its due in the United States; if you weren't named Harlan Ellison (who was a long-time fan as well as a brilliant writer), you wouldn't cop the big awards in 1960's SF writing anything that smacked of the New Age

          And yes, sexism almost certainly factored into as well.  Allie Sheldon had to rename herself as James Tiptree, Jr., to get published, and not long afterwards Roger Elwood refused to pay Chelsea Yarbro for a story on the grounds that "if you need money, you should ask your husband."  Even the female SF writers who were successful played into the general sexism of the day; I still remember the shock I felt when I read an essay about romance in SF by Anne McCaffrey where she advised young women not to get into politics, but to latch onto a rising young man and "convert him to her way of thinking - in bed."


          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 10:27:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  An Age of Imposters and Hucksters ... (6+ / 0-)

    ... as if any age hasn't had its share of phonys, eccentrics, and opportunists.

    Wiki sez: Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance (December 1, 1890 – March 20, 1932), born Sylvester Clark Long, was an American journalist, writer and actor from Winston-Salem, North Carolina ...

    Long served in the Canadian military during WWI, and some of his papers are in the Glenbow Museum -- a sister institution of my former museum in Montana. His tall fanciful tales of Blackfeet and the plains made him a character of regional color. These stories fooled nobody who knew the Blackfeet and their well-documented families, but the book sold elsewhere.

    He parlayed his and his mother's Cherokee heritage into an opportunity to escape a society where everything was denied to an African-American family like his own. I can't blame him for that, but he coulda maybe owned up to his past himself before telling one whopper too many.

    Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

    by MT Spaces on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 11:00:38 PM PDT

    •  Sounds like the Education of Little Tree (7+ / 0-)

      Which turned out to be written not by a Cherokee, but a Klansman.  

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 04:44:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  ... and a bit like "Grey Owl." (5+ / 0-)

        A English writer and conservationist of the same time named  Archibald Stansfeld Belaney who somehow chose to use a false story about being Native American that didn't really help his well-intentioned work in the long run.

        I personally think that the allure of Hollywood, and notoriety which Long got from his exaggerations, led him to undo himself and publish the "autobiography."

        I looked into his journalism around Calgary, home of the Glenbow Museum -- he helped the Bloods/Blackfeet politically, which was a very good thing, but doing a cut-and-paste into his own story from their families and lives was a very bad decision.

        The saddest thing was that his African American heritage alone closed all the doors that this gutsy handsome man should have been able to open by his intellect and abilities -- in Canada and the USA.


        Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

        by MT Spaces on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 09:01:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wasn't that the book that was filmed (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MT Spaces, RiveroftheWest, ER Doc

          with Pierce Brosnan in the lead?  I remember reading about it at the time but can't recall the details.

          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 10:28:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Haven't heard about that! (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ellid, RiveroftheWest, ER Doc

            Brosnan's an excellent leading man -- that choice alone is quite an honor.

            I'm all for his idea about choosing to be Cherokee, because he was, but I can only wish that he lived in a society where he could have just been himself.

            Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

            by MT Spaces on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 11:14:26 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It wasn't a success (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              MT Spaces, RiveroftheWest

              Reviews were generally negative despite Brosnan in the lead and Richard Attenborough as the director.  It was a real shame it didn't do better, but I guess people were unwilling to accept Brosnan as anything but James Bond.

              That's another piece of the whole identity question, BTW:  once one has established a public persona, how can one avoid being trapped by it?  Writers can simply adopt another name (e.g., Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb and J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbreath), but actors who are well known for a single role either have to make themselves unrecognizable (Chris Evans in a greasy wig and a Fu Manchu mustache in The Iceman), undergo a drastic physical transformation (Charlize Theron packed on thirty pounds for Monster), or gamble on a role that is radically different from anything they've done in the past (Daniel Radcliffe shucking his clothes in Equus).   Sometimes it works - Radcliffe in particular seems well on his way to a fine career as a serious actor despite eight Harry Potter films - and sometimes it doesn't (Leonard Nimoy finally said the hell with it and played Spock again), but you have to admire the ones who actually try.

              This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

              by Ellid on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 06:46:14 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Not that special a pair of stories, but (9+ / 0-)

    it's either tell them or go to bed, so…
    When I was in college one of the required readings was the Tao Te Ching. Unfortunately, the Tao was rather difficult to acquire, since the school bookstore couldn't carry it, as the publisher was tired of shipping books and not getting paid. So, left to our own devices, we did the best we could. Personally, I took up a collection and drove 140 miles to Chicago to find a bookstore who carried 20 copies of the Tao, but one student had his own copy already. But, as the punch line, it was an English translation of the Tao - as done by a German. An odd  uh, very odd, uh, well, it read like a marine drill sergeant reciting Emily Dickenson.
    Also in college, one of my teachers had made a small reputation for himself by translating Japanese haikus - except that he didn't know Japanese. He took a book of haikus translated by someone else and retranslated them into poetry. Supposedly the original poet, who did not like the first translation, praised him.

  •  You lost me at: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    my grandmother’s habit of expelling a child every year or two

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. I scroll with my middle finger.

    by ZenTrainer on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 08:50:45 AM PDT

    •  Well, she did, ably assisted by my grandfather (6+ / 0-)

      Julius:  1909

      Oscar:  1911

      Louis:  1913

      Charlie:  1915

      Daniel:  1917

      Robert:  1920

      Betty:  1924

      Martha:  1928

      A nurse practitioner I know pointed out this is an absolutely classic pattern for a sexually active couple in the pre-birth control days:  a child every two years while the woman was young, then longer and longer intervals as she aged, possibly due to miscarriage, possibly due to perimenopause.  My grandmother was 25 when her first child was born and 44 when my mother arrived, so it's pretty clear that my grandparents were still getting frisky - and Grandma was still, yes, pushing out the results - long after most couples would have made the man sleep on the roof.

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 10:34:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Being a writer is like being in the Mafia. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Limelite, dewtx, RiveroftheWest

    Everyone's got at least one other name.

    Conferences can be confusing.

    'How's it going, Susan the Romance...hey, there's Mystery Cathy. Yo, Billy the Serial Killer! You seen Time-Travel Tina  around?"

    The Eno the Thracian Fantasy Series by C.B. Pratt. Hero for Hire

    by wonderful world on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 09:22:00 AM PDT

  •  Before WW2 Jews Were Considered An "Oriental Race" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, ER Doc

    This was used as an argument that they could never really assimilate.

    Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

    by bernardpliers on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 01:32:18 PM PDT

    •  Oh, no kidding (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, bernardpliers, ER Doc

      A LOT of groups we now consider to be white were only seen as such just before or right after the war.

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 06:46:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Such as the Ethiopians? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, bernardpliers, ER Doc

        Late into the 19th century, they were considered just another "primitive" African people. Then in 1896 they defeated the Italians in a stand-up fight known as the Battle of Adwa. Had Emperor Menelik wanted to, he could have driven the Italians into the Sea afterwards, but for reasons still not understood, he declined to take that next step.

        For the next 30-40 years, they were considered White folk, sorta like the Arabs & those other Middle Eastern types. The Serious People claimed their skin was not as dark as other sub-Saharan peoples with a straight face. They were still sold out to Mussolini, allegedly to prevent World War II.

      •  "The Jewish Problem In America" (1941) (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ER Doc, RiveroftheWest

        Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

        by bernardpliers on Sun Aug 17, 2014 at 11:38:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Good GOD (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bernardpliers, RiveroftheWest

          How did you get through it without either throwing up or pitching the book out the window?

          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 03:54:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Everything Is Less Shocking After Fox News (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            What used to be shocking antisemitism is now familiar tropes on Fox

            Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

            by bernardpliers on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 11:26:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  And it's only going to get worse (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I'm willing to bet that the dog whistles against Jews will increase dramatically as soon as Eric Cantor is no longer in Congress.  

              And no, I don't mean the whole Israeli/Gaza/Hamas/Palestinian/Fatah mess.  I mean Jews in general.  The sole reason the Christian wing of the Republican Party puts up with Jews at all is because they want to convert them and thus usher in the Second Coming.

              This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

              by Ellid on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 12:11:33 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Oh my God, what pretentious TWADDLE (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I just read that article and was appalled by the racism, pretentious attempt at scholarship, and reliance on "some of my best friends are ___" arguments to support his positions.   It's especially bad because word was starting to filter out of Europe about just what Hitler was doing to European Jewry - was he really that dense?

          And what is this "Oriental/Occidental" nonsense?  

          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 01:13:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I Don't Know Where The Ori/Occi Comes From (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            When I wrote that diary, I expected someone to pop up and tell me.

            Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

            by bernardpliers on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 03:39:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  If you find out, let me know (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Because the last thing I want or need right now is to wade through the toxic cesspit of racism that I'd need to engage with to find out on my own.

              This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

              by Ellid on Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 07:36:24 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

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