My love affair with Pushkin began, as many such relationships do, accidentally. It was 1998 (I believe) and I had just decided to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia.* A freshman in university at the time, my English professor suggested that I enhance my first ever trip abroad by writing an essay on a topic of Russian origin.

I’m not exactly sure how Pushkin first came to my attention. What I do know is that once I discovered him, I was hooked. Here was a man whom many consider the Father of Russian Literature who, let’s be quite blunt, does not exactly resemble the majority of his countrymen. America may be the land of opportunity, but it is a place where people like Jackie Robinson become heroes because of their status as something different. Nowhere did I see that Pushkin was the Greatest Ever Not-Quite-so-European-Russian Writer. He was simply regarded as the benchmark.

Pushkin wrote and loved his way into, out of and back into exile. He wrote about duels long before he quite poetically met his end as a result of one. His words inspired Lenin to launch the Communist era and Yeltsin to finish it. He was a man who fought wars with a quill and not a sword. I firmly believe we could use such a man today more than ever.

All these reasons to love and respect the man and I haven’t even mentioned the prose. Pushkin’s short stories are amazing. My personal favorite is the Shot, though this is only an amuse bouche to his masterpiece, Eugene Onegin. Onegin tells the story of a maladjusted aristocrat who yearns for a love for which he is wholly ill-prepared. It is told entirely in a kind of stanza created by Pushkin for this novel and in this way is one part Pride and Prejudice and another part Ulysses. It really must be read to be experienced and while many different translations exist, the version by James Falen is exquisite (unless one is sadistic enough for the two volume Nabokov version, compared to which my novels must seem little more than greeting cards).

This is not remotely the last you will hear of Pushkin on this blog, but, for now, I believe I’ve said enough.

*While it has become far more romantic to explain my trip to Russia as a kind of pilgrimage, my discovery of Pushkin was a result of my impending vacation, not the other way around.