Irwin Weil, professor emeritus in Slavic Languages and Literatures, will present an account of his newly published memoir, "From the Cincinnati Reds to the Moscow Reds" at the Evanston Public Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14.
The book includes highlights of Weil’s 50 years of teaching at Northwestern University—and 55 years of teaching and research in the USSR/post-Soviet Russia ranging from 1960 to today. It features a number of well-known literary and public figures such as Vladimir Nabokov, Korney Chukovsky and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Weil was born in 1928 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of German Jewish and Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. His father, Sidney, was a former owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team.
Initially majoring in economics, Weil was drawn to Slavic studies after discovering Dostoevsky's “The Brothers Karamazov.” After devouring “Crime and Punishment” in two days, he resolved to learn the language of such a great body of literature.
"Growing up in my father's house, I naturally had a lot to do with baseball," Weil said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, noting that even after losing the Reds in 1933, his father maintained a close friendship with legendary baseball exec Branch Rickey and was "a second father" to White Sox owner Bill Veeck. "But I gradually got away from it as I got more education — and eventually fell into the hands of the Russians."
Weil traveled to Soviet Russia during 1960 during a cultural exchange arranged by President Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. He was working on his dissertation on the development of author Maxim Gorky's writing style at the time, but equally interested in learning all he could about the lives of average Russians.
"In the beginning I was a little nervous, having heard all about these horrible Communists, but after a couple of days I realized they were wonderful people," Weil said, recalling a group of Russians he met during his first night alone in Moscow, who asked him to send their best wishes to the American collective farmers. "I was expecting hostility, but there wasn't a word of it."
Through his work, Weil has provided thousands of Northwestern students and colleagues knowledge gained from his experiences — some of the most interesting ones are expressed in the book. For example, Weil was the interpreter and guide for Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the greatest musical composers of the twentieth century, when he came to Northwestern to accept an honorary degree.
Credited with over 100 visits to the former Soviet Union, Weil hopes readers will come away with a better understanding of Russia and the countries that comprised the former Soviet Union.
The book is available through Amazon.com, and will be available for signing at the event.