Thursday, September 3, 2009

Correspondence from London

Michael Sherbourne is a correspondent from London, a British WWII veteran, and, in my opinion a British national treasure. Below is his correspondence with another writer, which I thought worth sharing with you. Michael kindly gave his permission.

Dear Don,
It was good to hear from you, and I found the time to look up your website.

I hadn't heard of you as a writer as we in this little island don't get much information about literature "across the herring pond" (i.e. the Atlantic Ocean).

It's a pity, as I am a great fan of mystery novels, and years ago both Mickey Spillane and
James M. Cain were among my favourites. I shall make enquiries at our local bookshop to see if I can get any of them over here.

Your website is quite interesting, but unfortunately I don't have one, partly because I don't feel that it would contain much of interest and partly because I am quite a novice to this contraption they call a computer, and at age 92 I don't find it easy to get used to all its capricious (seemingly independent) activities!

In addition I have so much here to read, that it will take me two lifetimes to read all that
I would like to read, both fiction and non-fiction, especially world history, politics when I am in a mood to be cynical, language as well as languages, particularly the origins and growth of the English language, and as a fluent Russian speaker I have translated quite a lot of material.

It's quite interesting how I learnt Russian, of which I had no knowledge whatsoever until I was 32! When I was a boy of 14, in 1931, I attended a meeting in East London, addressed by 4 people who had just come back from visiting the Soviet Union. They were the playwright Bernard Shaw, the Novelist H.G. Wells, and two politicians (Socialists of course) Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

They were full of enthusiasm for the wonders they had seen. The Sun seemed, in their eyes, to shine out of Stalin's anus, as they described the "Workers' Paradise". At question time a man in the audience, asked for more information as he had heard that there was famine in Ukraine. Bernard Shaw stood up and most indignantly declared (and these are his exact words, which are burned into my brain):- "Famine! Nonsense! I've never eaten so well in all my life!" As a boy of 14 I was astonished at such a stupid remark from such a famous writer, and I became suspicious and discovered that 1930-31 was just when Stalin was exterminating ("liquidating" was the term used) the small farmers and small landowners, known as the "Kulaks" and that many MILLIONS died of starvation. The figures vary from 8 million to 12 or 13 million deaths from starvation.

My anti-Soviet and anti-Communist feelings culminated in the notorious Non-aggression Pact between Hitler and Stalin in August, 1939 (Molotov/Ribbentrop).

After the War (WW2) I found that several of my friends were active communists and I was constantly at loggerheads with them, and one day I was with one of them in our local public Library, still arguing, when suddenly he looked at a shelf and pulled down a book titled "Teach Yourself Russian", and he challenged me to learn Russian. I did, and became quite fluent, even took a degree at London University in Russian Language and Literature (Upper 2nd Class Honours) some years later. It changed my life.

Enough for one night, I'm going to bed.

Best wishes

Michael Sherbourne

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