Individuals

My conclusion was that [Vladimir Pozner’s] communicative skills depended upon his genuine love for American culture, reflected in his enthusiasm for our literature and folk music, and then upon an imaginative projection that was essentially disingenuous—that he was a free western-style commentator in a country that, at least until recently, did not know such creatures. This last illusion depended in turn upon a story-telling propensity that was known to his childhood friends in New York and has nothing to do with politics, even though it could be adapted to political ends.

The excellence of his prose persuaded me that the real tragedy of Pozner’s life—it’s the implicit theme of his book—is that he should have been an English-language author, writing both nonfiction and fiction about a variety of experiences; but coming of age in Moscow, where such a career was impossible, unable to emigrate to an English-speaking country, he was steered into what he could do best for the state—talk to Americans, initially for Soviet Life, then on Radio Moscow, eventually on American networks. His career epitomizes the tragedy of talent in a closed economic system. Now that he is trying to enter ours, the publishing business requires that first he write a good-seller about his exceptional experience. In this respect, he resembles the African-American writer of, say, fifty years ago who couldn’t expect a contract for second book unless he first wrote one about being black. Since Vladimir Pozner has paid those dues, so to speak, I for one look forward to his future work.

—“Vladimir Pozner Again” (1990)

I suppose it could be said that book publishers, much like theatrical producers and magazine editors, inevitably disappoint more individuals than they please, beginning with those who are “dumped”; but what appears to be different about Laughlin was his appetite for shamelessly disappointing those close to him, beginning with wives, lovers, and employees.

How will biographers deal with the question of which came first—the desire to publish books or the predisposition to disappoint?

—“James Laughlin” (2006)