In my recent article ‘Books: from one writer came another’, I described a trail of paper friends, authors whose works have come to inhabit my bookshelves. Along this trail, I have formed many real friendships. Some of these friends I have never seen. We have yet to shake hands! We know each other through the power of the written word and the occasional long-distance telephone call. One of these friends is Stuart Dodds.
In ‘Books,’ you will have read how I came across the works of F.C. Terborgh, a pseudonym for the former Dutch diplomat Reijnier Flaes, and how my friendship with his son Reijnier led me to his father’s diaries, 1932-1948. Through these diaries I became a virtual witness to events of the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese occupation of Peking and to daily life in the spy-ridden free city of Lisbon in neutral Portugal during World War II. The diaries also took me to war-torn Warsaw during the post-war Communist take-over of Poland. It is during these ‘travels’ with Terborgh that I learned of Gino, Count Giacomo Antonini, an almost life-long friend of his. This led eventually to my meeting, in person, with Gino’s widow, Karin Antonini, in the South of England in February of 2001. I made a brief reference to this meeting in my story ‘Women.’ Karin put me in touch with a wonderful couple in Berkeley, California: Natasha Borovsky and Stuart Dodds.
Natasha, the daughter of Maria Sila-Nowicki and the celebrated Russian pianist, Alexander Borovsky, told me of her father’s friendship with Serge Prokofiev which began during their studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Borovsky was one of the first to hear and play Prokoviev’s innovative piano music, including Visions Fugitives. Maria Sila-Novitzka would meet Prokofiev occasionally in the United States during the period 1918-1922. At the Lyric Opera in Chicago in 1922, she went backstage at a performance of “Love for Three Oranges,’ when Prokoviev was conducting his own work. When she told Prokofiev that she was going to Paris, he urged her to look up his friend Borovsky which she did; they were married within a year. Natasha was born in 1924. The Prokofievs also went to Paris in 1923 and the two families were close friends until 1936 when the Prokofievs left for the Soviet Union.
Maria and Alexander were divorced in 1937 and when Maria married Gino Antonini, Natasha acquired a very interesting and dear stepfather. A few years after Maria’s untimely death in Boston in 1959, Gino married Karin Barnsley.
Italian by birth with a Dutch mother, Gino was raised in Holland. A true European intellectual, a lover of opera, he was a critic in the field of literature and movies. He even acted in a film—Sacha Guitry’s “Napoleon” in the role of Pope Pius VII! He knew all of the Dutch literary elite during the interbellum years and some of them became his friends, like Jan Slauerhoff, Eddy du Perron and F.C. Terborgh. Thus, much is known about him through the biographies of a number of Dutch writers of that time. The most detailed and accurate biography of him was written by Ronald Spoor. It can be found in the Biographical Dictionary of The Netherlands, 1880-2000. Mr. Spoor visited Karin Antonini several times in connection with his study.
In France, Antonini interviewed amongst others Paul Léautaud, Marcel Jouhandeau, Jean Paulhan, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Robert Brasillach, Henry de Montherlant and André Malraux, who dedicated his book La Condition Humaine to their mutual friend Eddy du Perron. Antonini contributed his personal recollections to the ‘Hommage’ in the Nouvelle Revue Française to André Gide and Albert Camus, both of whom whom he had met in person. Gino Antonini was a most interesting man who became truly alive for me in the last ten years through the contacts mentioned above.
All of these people have enriched my life in some way, directly or indirectly, through their creative work or through the gift of their friendship. Whatever it is they shared (unknowingly in some cases) with me, I would like to share with others—across time zones and continents. This is what I am going to do in many of my blogs to come.
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Natasha Borovsky was brought up in French schools in Paris and in Lausanne. Forced to leave France at the outset of World War II, she came with her mother to the United States where she spent two years at Sarah Lawrence College and where her extraordinary language skills landed her a job translating wartime broadcasts from around the world for CBS News.
Natasha is the author of two works of historical fiction spanning the first half of the twentieth century. Their predominant themes are the shattering effect of war on families and the decline of the European aristocracy. Her first novel, ‘A Daughter of the Nobility’, was translated into ten languages, including Russian and Polish. Her second, ‘Lost Heritage,’ is a sequel with many new characters, completing a drama that began during the Russian revolution and ends at the time of the Yalta conference. Her published poetry collections are ‘Drops of Glass,’ ‘Desert Spring’ and ‘Grasp the Subtle Lifeline,’ the latter two with drawings by her daughter Malou Knapp.
Natasha died on May 31, 2012. Stuart Dodds, her husband, has agreed to contribute to my blog from time to time, with his poems and film notes. He is a former editor and syndication director at the San Francisco Chronicle, an award-winning poet and film buff. He has given me permission to publish some of Natasha’s poems and reminiscences, in English and French.
This is going to be fun. A most amazing beau hasard: Stuart and I share the same name. Both Dodds and Doets mean: the son of Doede, of Dodd, an ancient Frisian and Celtic name meaning ‘rounded.’ He calls me his ‘Frisian cousin.’ I call just him Stuart. It suits him for there is a princely ring to it.