A beautiful, felt, moving tribute book the one written by Sasha Abramsky to his beloved, appreciated grand-dad Chimen Abramsky: The House of Twenty Thousand Books.
Hillway, we are in London was a special place. The house bought in 1944 by Chimen Abramsky and his wife Mimi, became The House of Books with the time as Sasha Abramsky calls it.
Substantially, tells Abramsky in the house of his grand-dad there were piles of books everywhere apart in the kitchen (where, true, books shouldn't be kept) and other little few places kept books-free. The story of Chimen Abramsky is singular.
He was the son of a very estimated rabbi and they lived in Russia, when he was born in 1916. Then his dad was incarcerated for political reasons and also sent in Siberia where he spent hallucinating moments. Chimen once he saw all of it, became an atheist, starting to fall in love for Communism and socialist ideology. Contradictory behavior considering that his dad was put in jail by the Communists? It's the power of being young and a thinker. Just this.
Not only: somewhere in the House of Books was found after the death of Chimen Abramsky a letter signed by him and written by his wife Mimi (when they were very young) where there is written he thinks it was more than corrected what the Communist party did to his dad, sending him to Siberia, because his dad was a reactionary.
Sasha Abramsky remembers his grand-father not too proud of these old radical first political positions.
With the age Chimen Abramsky's radicals ideas became more mitigated and acceptable.
In that house, empty now, there was the biggest collection of socialism written books existing in the world. Starting from the books by Karl Marx and possessed by the same Marx, and then books owned by Lenin, plus Morris's books, all first editions of the most, prestigious books you can think at, the house of Chimen Abramsky was incredibly...Plenty.
Chimen loved to attend every week the most prestigious auctions from Sotheby's passing through Christie's for buying always new old books. With the time his house became the Temple of Books and the whisper of souls that had written them. Of course he also collected letters, documents and wagons of other material inherent Socialism.
You mustn't think that Chimen and Mimi Abramsky were people without sense of hospitality because of all these books.
No: all the opposite!
If the author remarks that the house was plenty of thousand books, at the same time, maybe they have received in their kitchen the same amount of people or more with the decades writes Sasha Abramsky.
Very social people sometimes with some friends shared different ideologies.
Chimen Abramsky was opened at a direct confrontation with opposite opinions all the time cultivating friends with diversified ideas as well, and these discussions, pretty warm could bring at long silences per months, because each part "offended" by the other one.
More in general if the house became "property" of the books accumulated by Mr. Chimen with the years the kitchen remained the temple of Mimi where she prepared her famous teas to share with her guests and succulent dishes and the dining room the intellectual place where to sharing ideas as well.
Not everyone could access at the immense library Chimen Abramsky built in his house with the years. Not because Chimen didn't want to share, remembers his nephew Sasha but because he wanted to feel a connection with the other person. The person requested to seeing a document hadn't to feel curiosity for his house or his books and what he created with it. If he felt that the person was genuinely interested to seeing certain documents and she/he was nice, cordial, he wasn't surely someone who would have neglected the vision of books and documents although he could strongly refuse it when he felt that it wasn't the case.
Sasha Abramsky since very little loved to spend in his grand-dad's house a lot of time, and he went there as often as he could for breathing the atmosphere of culture that only his grand-dad could present him.
Sasha remarks that when he was little he thought that in every house there were books by Leibniz for being read and discussed as he did with his grand-dad and that books were part of every house and every person.
When his grand-dad fell sick with Parkinson, his wife Mimi died a lot of time before, he spent most of his time in that kitchen and the author remembers the long hours spent with his grand-dad in the kitchen talking with him during these fading moments of his existence. The kitchen became the most important part of the house.
Chimen and Mimi's Abramsky's bedroom contained of course the most beloved books of the house. Nested there.
It was another place characteristic and crowded of books. From the bed to the rest of the bedroom there wasn't a lot of space left for the couple. Little Sasha once remained in the house of his grand-dad when he was just 5 years old and slept there or tried to, but as all the rest of the children of this world, although his love for his grand-father and grand-mother so badly asked for his parents all the time and before 5 o'clock Chimen Abramsky re-accompanied him home. I guess, exhausted.
Sasha remembers also when once dreamed that his so loved grand-father was dead and the House of Books completely empty by books. He was terrorized by this nightmare.
The book is also a cultural history of the Abramsky family and the motivation brought them to London, with only, when they escaped from Russia just two children because the other two still kept by the government in Russia and just after various years and thanks to the pressure of many important people who knew the reputation of the Abramsky family, they re-joined the family.
The book is also the story of Socialism seen through the books and documents accumulated by Chimen Abramsky.
It was an enchanting world the one of Chimen Abramsky lost as he was in his reading, in his books, in his ideology, in his friendships and in his way of life. A way of life that leaves to the author, his nephew, all the melancholy of beautiful years and conversations spent with his grand-dad in the House of Books.
For the first time Sasha Abramsky shared in a book what he feels for his grand-father, what a terrible loss has been this one to him, and firstly the honor and privilege that has been to be the nephew of Chimen Abramsky.
Highly suggested, it's a moving, interesting and sweet book. Written with great love, passion, dedication.
I thank The New York Review of Books for the physical copy of this book.
Anna Maria Polidori