Fading voices of Bush House
I heard his voice and his name on the short radio waves before I met him in Bush House.
It's a strange relationship indeed: human voice versus human look.
Zinovy Zinik - one of the acclaimed Bush House writers is fascinated by this relationship.
He recalls that once he asked his listeners to describe the iconic figure of the BBC Russian Service of the Cold War era Anatoliy Goldberg.
"Some said they saw him with a military crew cut and smoking a pipe, others with slicked down hair and a neat parting, and others with whiskers and a permanent walking stick.
"In short, each saw in him as his own favourite type.
"Goldberg's intonation - like Bach's immortal Variations - still echoes in the voices of BBC radio announcers. That legendary baritone, the tone, embodied an entire political attitude. This was the BBC ID card too." - remembers Zinik and continues: "All of us, especially at the time of the Iron Curtain, led a kind of ethereal existence. We existed for Russia on the air only, in a bodiless state."
Liberty, anonymity, travelling beyond borders, creating a new world, which is free of your past - all these characteristics which could be applied to the radio voice, are also in the centre of Zinik's latest book 'History thieves', which has just been published by 'Seagull' publishing house.
The annotation to this beautifully produced and written book says:
"Coming from a thoroughly secular Soviet background, the Russian-British novelist Zinovy Zinik became aware for the first time of his 'Jewishness' when he emigrated to Israel in the 1970s. In this stylistically innovative autobiographical tale, Zinik describes how an experience in Berlin--of seeing for real the house he dreamed about many years before in London-led him to investigate the chequered and enigmatic past of his Russian-born grandfather, who, while ostensibly practicing as a doctor in Lithuania, was building the Soviet empire from which Zinik tried to escape 50 years later. In the manner of the classic detective story, Zinik's meditation on 'assumed identity' and 'plagiarized past' culminates in the notion of recognition as a redeeming factor, suggesting that it is central not only to the twentieth-century Jewish experience or even the wider world of émigrés, exiles and migrants of all kinds but to the human condition itself."
Being quite sarcastic about the stereotypes of what is called nowadays 'profiling', Zinik shows on many examples the ephemeral nature of the foundation on which we assume strangers' identity.
For instance, explaining what we consider as the orthodox Jewish dress now, Zinik tells that it "came from a region in Poland where one of the chief rabbis sent his emissaries to Paris every year so that his flock could keep up with the current French fashion. This habit lasted until the rabbi's death sometime in the mid-seventeenth century. According to the Talmudic interpretation of the Law, a Jew should follow his father's way of life, death and dress strictly. Therefore, the Parisian fashion of black hats trimmed with fur, silky caftans and white stockings (...) had been preserved unchanged by subsequent generations up to now."
"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," - said famously James Joyce. In Zinik's interpretation history might be stolen, plagiarised, constructed, invented and reinvented, but ultimately it's a dream, which hints towards recognition.
And as he ends his book: "Every act of recognition conceals both the desire and the fear of being recognised. And it was recognition that was the miracle. The rest was storytelling."
Next week when the BBC Russian radio cease to exist in its traditional form and Zinoviy Zinik will leave the Bush House, where he spent more than 35 years, as farewell he can say the same words to his listeners, including myself.
And his voice will be travelling as ever beyond boundaries, creating a new world, which is free of the past...