CRITIC AT LARGE
Soviet Bookman Keeps Busy Assembling Foreign Works - Twain Still a Favorite
By BROOKS ATKINSON
Special to The New York Times
Since B. P. Kanevsky enjoys the books of Mark Twain he is naturally in a jovial frame of mind.
He is a tall, bespectacled bookman with a warm personality and an obliging grin who inhabits a plain office somewhere in the maze of Moscow's Lenin Library. It takes a guide to get there in this vast city of books. As chief of the International Book Exchange he has to assemble foreign books in many fields. Moscow's libraries have been exchanging books with American libraries for exactly 100 years, and the Lenin Library now sends Russian books to and receives American books from 216 American institutions. Like bookmen all over the world, Mr. Kanevsky consults New York's Publishers Weekly for the books he would like to have.
The particular subject of Mark Twain arises because Bradley Kelly of King Features Syndicate in New York is enthusiastically promoting exchanges of Mark Twain books. So far Mr. Kelly has arranged 10 exchanges; they include the libraries in Hannibal, Mo., where Mark Twain grew up; Elmira, N.Y., where his wife lived, and Hartford and Redding, Conn., where he lived at various times. Mr. Kanevsky and Mr. Kelly maintain a steady correspondence on a lively subject that fascinates both.
Favorite for Years
In Russia, Mark Twain has been a favorite author for years. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are as familiar to Russians as to Americans. There are more than 100 Russian editions of "Tom Sawyer" alone. No one knows how many thousand scholarly theses on Mark Twain have been written and filed away by Russian students.
The earliest Mark Twain book in the Lenin Library dates from 1886 when "The Satirical and Humorous Stories of Mark Twain" was published in Russian. Apart from hundred of individual books, his complete works have been translated and collected in several editions since 1910. The latest in 12 volumes was published two years ago. Mr. Kanevsky says that Russian professional translators keep working over the texts, trying to make them more exact and readable, and every now and then a new edition is published.
Apart from the Russian catalogue, the Lenin Library has a Mark Twain collection in many other languages - Polish, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Czechoslovakian, French, German, and, or course, English. The English collection includes an 1882 edition of "Mark Twain's Celebrated Jumping Frog, and Other Sketches." Van Wyck Brooks' "The Ordeal of Mark Twain" is on the shelves, as well as Bernard DeVoto's spirited rejoinder.
In other words, the Lenin Library, which occupies two huge buildings on Marx Prospekt, can supply the scholar as well as the general reader with everything he needs to know. Although the scholar can take a political attitude if he wants to the material represents every point of view.
American Books Plentiful
American Literary classics are generally well represented in the Lenin Library. There are a lot of Fenimore Cooper books there. Russian children especially, regard Cooper's stories as wonderful adventures in the forests. Last year Melville's "Moby Dick" was published in an edition of 50,000 copies with the powerful Rockwell Kent illustrations. It won the first prize for typographical excellence that year and has been sold out for months. On the other hand, the collection of Henry David Thoreau is comparatively meager, and lays emphasis on his nature writing. The author of "The Necessity of Civil Disobedience" is presumably not a Soviet hero, and will never appear on a Soviet postage stamp, as Mark Twain has.
Russians love Mark Twain, Mr. Kanevsky believes, because of his humor, his optimism, his democratic interest in all sorts of people and his love of justice. They have not forgotten that in 1907 he publicly defended Maxim Gorky who had carelessly come to America with a woman who was not his wife. That was one of our most enjoyable national scandals, and Mark Twain pitched in with gusto. In his desk drawer Mr. Kanevsky is currently harboring a fresh copy of Mark Twain's "Letters From [the] Earth," edited by Mr. DeVoto and published in New York last autumn. When he has had time to read the whole of it he may change his belief that Mark Twain was an optimistic writer. But perhaps not. Mr. Kanevsky is an optimist. Books on Mark Twain still keep coming to Soviet Russia's great library.
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