D.Barton Johnson: Review of Thomas Urban's NABOKOV IN BERLIN Novel with Cocaine which was published in Paris in1936 under the pseudonym “M. Ageev.” The work was quickly forgotten until a 1983French version became a best-seller and was translated into several otherlanguages. Two years later Nikita Struve (Sorbonne) published the first of twoarticles arguing that Nabokov was the real author—a claim that was hotly rejected by the Nabokov family. It was soon determined that “Ageev” was one Mark Levi, a Russian émigré from Moscow who lived for some years in Berlin before moving on to Istanbul. Lidiia Chervinskaya, a young woman on the fringes of Russian literary circles in Paris claimed that she had become Levi’s mistress on a visit to her parents who lived in Istanbul. She also asserted that Levi had later sent her his Paraguayan(!!) passport so that she could renew it at the Consulate in Paris. She lost both the document and contact with Levi but was later told that he had returned to the USSR. Another report surfaced that Levi had not returned to Russia but had died and was buried in an Istanbul graveyard. Eventually two Russian researchers, G.G.Superfin and M. Yu. Sorokina found Levi’s name in the records of a Moscow gymnasium and eventually determined that Levi had indeed returned to Russia
after being expelled by Turkey for suspected complicity in an assasination attempt to Franz von Pappen, Hitler’s Ambassador to Turkey during WWII.. It was also determined that the novel Romance with Cocaine contained the names of two of Levi’s fellow student in his 1916 Moscow gymnasium class-- as well as other verified autobiographical details. The available information suggests that Levi was (inter alia) a Soviet agent. After his return to Russia, he settled in Armenia where he taught German at the Institute of Foreigh Languages in Erevan. He died in 1973.There is no evidence that Levi and Nabokov were acquainted in Berlin, but it has also been (unconvincingly) suggested that Romance with Cocaine might have been a collaboration with Levi supplying the characters and plot and VN doing the rather hallucenogenic prose. The grounds for this implausible scenario lie in certain perceived similarities between Nabokov’s 1934 novel Glory (...more>>)
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