Autographs Don’t Burn, Letters to the Bunins (Book Review)

Pamir Dietrich, Ayşe
This books contains an Introduction and six chapters. In the Introduction, Brauner explains that her research based on three handwritten texts narrated by Ivan Bunin. She examines the life and letters of Bunin’s two close friends, two of the Russian “White” émigré intellectuals who fled the country during the Great Exodus of 1918-1922, Nikolai Karlovich Kulman and Natalia Ivanovna Kulman, both of whom were mentioned in Bunin’s handwritten texts. Both were intellectuals whose prerevolutionary researches were classified as anti-Soviet and were kept in the special storage section of the State Public Library. They are now preserved in the Russian Archive in Leeds (RAL), and are published by Brauner for the first time. The aim of Brauner is to bring out all the detailed memories of the private life of Ivan and Vera Bunin and their close friends Nikolai and Natalia Kulman. In the first chapter, “The People Behind the Autograph”, Brauner states that the brief biographical information on Nikolai and Natalia was mostly obtained from memoires and diaries, and a file bearing the name N.K. Kulman found in the Russian State Archives of Literature and Arts in Moscow dated from 1948. These are the sources that allowed her to correct some incorrect biographical information on Nikolai and his wife and to recreate their lives and their connections with other intellectuals. These texts also provide information about the most turbulent period of Russian history. The second chapter, “Exodus”, provides information about the Civil War and the departure of the Kulmans from Russia, how they ended up in Constantinople, then movede to Belgrade and then to Prague before they arrived in Paris, how Professor Kulman began to teach Russian language and literature at the Sorbonne, and how the apolitical Kulman became a public figure of anti-Bolshevism together with Bunin. These émigré intellectuals tried to do anything they could to get rid of the Bolshevik regime and to keep Russian culture alive by organizing meetings to discuss their mission in this struggle. The author states that Professor Kulman also took an active role in political, social and cultural projects, that he was behind a number of charitable activities to raise money for the education of the Russian children, and that he took up a new mission to conduct a campaign against the new orthography of the Russian language adopted by the Bolsheviks in December 1917. Chapter 3, “Note on Translation of Letters”, contains information about the techniques used by the author in translating the letters. Chapter 4, “Letters of Nikolai Kulman to Ivan Bunin (1922-1935) includes the translations of twenty-seven letters written by Nikolai Kulman to Bunin. Chapter 5, “Letters of Nikolai Kulman to Vera Bunina (1928-1938) includes translations of eight letters written by Nikolai Kulman to Vera Bunina. In chapter six, “Letters to Natalia Kulman to Ivan Bunin (1944-1953) there are translations of five letters written by Natalia Kulman to Ivan Bunin. By translating the letters of the Kulmans to the Bunins, the author of Autographs Don’t Burn: letters to Bunins sheds light on the unknown life of Russian émigré intellectuals and their close friends who had to flee the country during the establishment of the Soviet Union and provides information on what these intellectuals went through during a very turbulent time in Russian history, as well as their life experiences and activities to preserve their culture and language in a foreign country.
International Journal of Russian Studies


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Citation Formats
A. Pamir Dietrich, “Autographs Don’t Burn, Letters to the Bunins (Book Review),” International Journal of Russian Studies, vol. 10, no. 10/2 2021, pp. 147–148, 2021, Accessed: 00, 2023. [Online]. Available: