Page 103. " This morning I finished The Street of Crocodiles "

The Street of Crocodiles is a collection of short stories by Bruno Schulz, first published in Polish in 1934 (the original title was Sklepy Cynamonowe, which translates into English as The Cinnamon Shops). Revealingly, Bruno Schulz is also the name of Leo Gursky's best friend in The History of Love.

The real Bruno Schulz also deviated from reality in The Street of Crocodiles by using mythical elements to tell the story of a merchant family from a small Galician town similar to Drohobycz in western Ukraine where Schulz grew up. Tragically, the Jewish writer, artist and art teacher was shot and killed by a Gestapo officer following the outbreak of World War II.




The German-Czech Jewish writer Franz Kafka suffered from tuberculosis, which eventually made it impossible for him to eat and caused him to die of starvation in Vienna in 1924.

Although Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to destroy his unfinished manuscripts when he died, most of his work was published posthumously, including The Castle, The Trial and Amerika. An exception is Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, which was first published in 1915 while the author was alive.

Kafka is considered one of the great writers of the 20th century, and his influence on other authors has been profound.



Russian writer Leo Tolstoy is best known for writing War and Peace and Anna Karenina – two ‘realist fiction’ works that describe Russian life and society during the 19th century.

Born in 1828 into wealthy Russian nobility, Tolstoy’s experience in the army caused him to reject his life of privilege and become a devoted Christian anarchist later in life. He married Sophia Andreevna Bers in 1862 and the couple had 13 children together, five of whom died during childhood.

Considered one of the world’s greatest novelists, Tolstoy died of pneumonia in 1910, aged 82.  

War and Peace on Book Drum


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Public DomainWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Page 117. " Osip Mandelstam, who died at the bitter end of 1938 "
Osip Mandelstam 1891-1938
Public DomainOsip Mandelstam 1891-1938 - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Osip Mandelstam was a Russian poet who was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Warsaw in 1891. After moving to Saint Petersburg, Mandelstam attended the prestigious Tenishevsky School, the Sorbonne in Paris for a year, and then the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In 1911 he converted to Methodism so he could enroll at the non-Jewish University of Saint Petersburg. That same year he formed the "Poets' Guild" with a group of other Russian poets, and two years later his first collection of poems, The Stone, was published.

Mandelstam wrote several books and essays in the years that followed, and made no secret of his non-conformist, anti-establishment ideals. However, it was his 1933 poem Stalin Epigram, which openly criticised Joseph Stalin, that sealed his fate. Six months after the poem was published, Mandelstam was arrested; miraculously, he was exiled to the Russian city of Cherdyn with his wife, Nadezhda Yakovlevna, rather than sentenced to death or the Gulag (labour camps where prisoners were worked to death). However, such leniency was not to last. In 1938 he was arrested again for "counter-revolutionary activities" and sentenced to five years in correction camps. He died not long after in the Vtoraya Rechka transit camp, with an unspecified illness  the official cause of his death.  

In 1956 and 1987, Mandelstom was exonerated of his 1938 and 1934 charges, respectively. A new planet discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh was named after Mandelstom in 1977.

Page 121. " A regular Vladimir Horowitz "

Vladimir Horowitz
Public DomainVladimir Horowitz - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Vladimir Horowitz was a famous Russian-American pianist and composer. Born in Kiev in the Russian Empire in 1903, Horowitz honed his musical talents from an early age and entered the Kiev Conservatory in 1912. He performed his first solo recital at Kharkiv in 1920 and then toured Russia before crossing to the west in 1925, never to return.

Horowitz later played in Berlin, Paris and London, and made his United States debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1928. He soon began making recordings of his music for studios in Europe and the United States, all of which have since been released on CD.

Despite his marriage to conductor Arturo Toscanini’s daughter, Wanda, in 1933, Horowitz was plagued by rumours of homosexuality and he sought psychiatric treatment through much of his adult life. In his last years, Horowitz was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan and embarked on his final tour of Europe in 1987. He died two years later of a heart attack in New York, aged 86.