The subject of this book is unusual and deceptively simple: two authors, one young, one old and ailing, maintain a conversation over a period of five years.  The setting is the city Vilnius – known before World War II as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.” As the meetings take place, the young author records on cassette the confessions of a man preparing to die. The dying man is the Jewish-Lithuanian intellectual Jokubas Josade, and his revelations are often distressing, for his life consists of a series of betrayals (including that of self and of his talent) and of limitless fear and apprehension…

Long Conversations in Anticipation of a Joyous Death has been published in Russian (Jewish Museum of Lithuania, Petro Ofsetas, 1996; Daat/Znanie, Moscow, 2001; Franc-tireur, USA, 2009, 2010; «Алетея», С. – Петербург, 2012), in Lithuanian (Vaga, Vilnius, 1997), and in German (Rowohlt, Berlin, 2000). The work has been extremely well received in the press.  Critics, philosophers, psychologists, historians, and writers alike have noted the book’s unusual character. Long Conversations reads like “an exceptional novel,” its subject mesmerizing, and at the same time it is a documentary record of a particular life – one which embodies the common fate of Eastern European Jewry of the twentieth century. Many reviews can be read on Yevsey Tseytlin’s site:


“One can page through Long Conversations in Anticipation of a Joyous Death in any direction, forwards or backwards – it doesn’t really matter – because each and every passage reaches out to touch the soul of the reader… This is a remarkable, impressive book, deserving of esteem and exhilaration.”

(Barbara Piatti, Der Kleine Bund, Bern, Switzerland)


Tseytlin’s book Long Conversations in Anticipation of a Joyous Death is a tragic account, taken from the lips of a man who awaits death as a redemption from the torment of his conscience.  The philosophical aspect of narrating one’s own death is worthy of its own discussion, which should include Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich, as well as the academic Pavlov, Nikolai Ostrovsky, and perhaps, that American intellectual who invited all who wished to observe his throes of agony via the Internet.”

(Lev Anninsky, Druzhba Narodov Magazine, Moscow)


“…Yevsey Tseytlin is no novice to the world of literature; he has more than 15 books to his credit, in addition to numerous published articles… Anyone who lived in the former Soviet Union knows how difficult it was for an author to publish if he or she happened to be Jewish.  Yevsey Tseytlin was published everywhere; there was something exceptional about his work… Nonetheless, this particular book is without a doubt a kind of literary breakthrough, and not only because the author spent years on his interview with an singularly interesting person.  In this book a unique literary and psychological experiment is taking place before our eyes.

Tseytlin, in fact, reconstructs the labyrinths formed by human consciousness over many years under the conditions of a totalitarian regime.  The paths and tunnels lead one astray into dead ends and seemingly infinite horrors.  There are also profound insights.  Together with his subject the author very carefully, and at the same time quite daringly, unravels the tangled yarn of memory.”

(Ilya Kuksin, The Jewish World, New York.)


“For more than five years, Tseytlin converses with a writer who comes to inner freedom precisely at the moment of his physical demise … The book’s innovative construction allows us to approach and comprehend the uncommon personality revealed within its pages.  The author regards him with understanding and respect, yet always maintains a certain distance… Courage and cowardice, the creative flashes and the failures of an individual glimmer on the screen of a fearsome era… It is a rare occurrence in the field of literature; the infinite force of terror and intimidation is so completely captured in the tight, miniature sketches of which this book consists…”

(Karl-Markus Gauss, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Zurich, Switzerland)


“It would not be entirely fair to assign Tseytlin’s composition to the documentary genre. Of the kilometers of taped dialogue, Tseytlin seized upon, cited, and expanded on precisely that which was most significant…

This book, as Tseytlin knew from its very onset, had to be about more than the destruction of Jewish culture in the USSR, arrests, firing squads, betrayals and the

burning of archives.  It is about the self-destruction of talent, the devastation of one’s own genius as a means of survival.

…By means of dialogue, reflections, and a collection of chance remarks is constructed so genuine a whole, illuminated by so tragic a light, that this book could be termed a novel, and not just any novel, but an exceptional one.”

(Prof. Anatoly Liberman, Noviy Zhurnal, New York).


“Yevsey Tseytlin, literateur and author of 14 books, who returned to religion at a mature age, felt the call of destiny to commemorate those who were ‘the salt of Eastern European Jewry’.  With this intent he emigrated from Russia to Lithuania and began to record the stories of the last Lithuanian Jews…

Tseytlin has produced, in my view, a unique phenomenon in literature.  I had not heard the name Josade before, and, judging by the words of my colleagues, he was considered a typical, ‘progressive’ critic and playwright in Lithuania… a well-known author in the fast-flowing current of national life, but of little interest to anyone after but a brief passage of time.  After his death, however, Josade wrote, through Tseytlin’s pen, the foremost book of his life – for whose very writing he was born, but could not himself accomplish.

…The true greatness of this work is that it exceeds not only the living Josade, a successful Soviet author who dared to give an accounting of himself before the world, and surmounted the “fear of posthumous censure”.  Like any true creation, the book surpasses the author himself, as well as his original idea…  In my opinion, Tseytlin has achieved an epic – it is the story of the soul of a typical Soviet man, which built up 70 years of control over the twentieth-century world…

Tseytlin’s book would be worth little if it did not reflect with such incredible power the Fear which marred the lives of every socialist author and artist, and which eventually made futile all of their victories.

Tseytlin’s book displays in microcosm the self-destruction of Soviet society.  That society suffocated itself, for it neither allowed its talented proponents to discover their calling nor to develop their potential. .. I know of no other work which, with such artistic skill, and with such absence of pointless reproach, portrays this suicidal tendency, a tendency which followed its course and culminated in perestroika and the demise of the USSR.

(Mikhail Heifetz, Vesti, Israel).


“Yevsey Tseytlin’s book discovers the deeply concealed, inner life of Josade.  ‘I am entirely fictional,’ he admits to Tseytlin at the beginning of their discussions.  Josade tells the anguished tale of self-abnegation amid the fear and treachery that pervaded Stalin’s last years.  At that time Josade stopped speaking in Yiddish even with his own wife; he burned Jewish books from his own library…  Such actions most likely preserved his life, but they also asphyxiated and extinguished his talent.”

(Mikhail Krutikov, Forward (Yiddish), New York).


“He exists like a seismograph, defining the movements of the System whose enemy he is.  And he thirsts for an earthquake, a fissure, which must needs take his own life, as well as his enemy’s.”

(Moritz Schuller, Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin).


“I opened Long Conversations, and since then I find myself under the spell of its strange, disquieting magnetism…

“Long Conversations is a work that took six years to produce.  It is a work that recalls Balzac in the very best sense: a scrupulous, even pedantic, selection of facts, guided by the awareness of that which one is seeking, wisdom and conscience, love, responsibility… From out of all of this, little by little, emerges a substance which ferments the chaos, and shapes the result — a literary genre… but this is a term which in this case has no meaning.

Genre has no meaning when a person is resolving for himself the essential problems of existence.”

(Sigitas Geda, from the afterword of the first edition)


“The book which I now hold in my hands has a peculiar quality.  Having read a few pages, I suddenly notice that those already-fathomed episodes are now unexpectedly altered not only in meaning, but also in content.  They continually establish new connections among and between one another.  And I notice: as the narrative continues, other, different layers are exposed.

It is like a crystal.  So bright and interesting the world is, refracted through its facets!  But it is enough just to tilt the crystal slightly to another side, and everything changes.

In the book, the life and fate of the protagonist already appear complex and many-sided.  Nevertheless, I believe that over time they could be understood by us in still a different way, for before us is a moving mosaic.  Before us is a shape that is constantly changing, never hardening.  The author takes into account the psyche of the reader.  More than anything, the reader is a part of the book.  The book, and the reader, too, are both in the process of becoming.”

(Alfonsas Bukontas, from the afterword of the first edition)


“Yevsey Tseytlin’s book Long Conversations in Anticipation of a Joyous Death was published in Russian by the Jewish State Museum of Lithuania in Vilnius five years ago.  Its genuine historical and artistic value began to reveal itself, however, only recently…

The book’s protagonist is no invented character, but an actual person: a Lithuanian writer of Jewish descent, a playwright and critic, whose daily conversations with the author over the period of five years were recorded and remarked upon by Tseytlin.  Tseytlin, a product of a different generation, was free of those distinct fears and illusions which had determined the life of his colleague.  Now that life is unraveling in the face of death.  Preparing to meet his fate, the eighty-year-old Josade recollects and attempts to give meaning to everything that happened to and around him.  He tries to find an escape from the moral and intellectual maze into which he was hounded by fear.  The fear of being a Jew, the fear of being a Lithuanian, the fear of being a subject of the Soviet Empire.  The fear of simply being.

This fear extends even to his own name.  The child “Yankel” becomes “Yakov” in his youth, and in post-war Lithuania Josade becomes “Jokubas,” taking on the Lithuanian form of the name together with the language into which, as both a writer and a private person, he shifts.  (This is not to say that it was an easy change, but one that required an appreciable, concentrated effort, as when a person immigrates to a new country.)  He had begun his literary career before the war writing and thinking in Yiddish, but in the winter of 1948, at the zenith of the anti-Semitic campaign, he betrayed his native tongue and already (…) identifies himself as a Lithuanian, Soviet writer.  And as such, he is anonymous.

Similar to K., the hero of Kafka’s novel “The Castle,” Jokubas Josade is represented in the text Long Conversations as an author, as a rule, only by one letter of the alphabet.  The letter, on its own, is (in Russian) unpronounceable – j— it is small, lower-case, never capitalized.  These are the conditions for the physical survival of our hero, the symbol of

his total disintegration as an individual person in the text of the super-human, imperial history.

… “Josade” in Hebrew means “foundation”, yet before us is the history and tragedy of a man who based his existence on fear for his life.  ‘Fear,’ writes Yevsey Tseytlin, ‘is the foundation of the country whose citizen j was for half a century.  But with the years, the character of his fears change: In the ‘40s and ‘50s it is the fear of prison, labor camps, physical annihilation; from the 60s to the 80s, it is the fear of losing spiritual consolation, the opportunity to write…’  It was precisely Fear that bound together entire decades of j’s life.  This fear had arisen much before the time of the war, long before the Holocaust and the Stalinist purges.  If one believes j’s stories, he began to experience a certain, stirring horror of “the men in black,” agents of the secret police, already when he was between 13 and 15 years old.

[Between the two world wars, newly won Lithuanian independence lapsed into authoritarianism.]  Faceless people in black bowler hats and austere suits appeared on the streets.  They drew attention to themselves in the same tormenting way that a snake attracts its prey.  By the end of the war, the abbreviations NVKD, MGB, and KGB induced just such a horrific attraction in the hero of Long Conversations…  Passing by the gloomy building of the KGB in Vilnius, j always stopped, even if he was in a hurry.  The lighted windows, behind which so much grisly work was being performed, seemed to hypnotize him. They pulled him to them, provoking in him an indefinable feeling of his own inevitable guilt.  During the 1940s he was recruited to the MGB as a secret agent.  He confesses this to his biographer as if to something quite ordinary and much less consequential than his own fear, and despite his assertion that he never pointed the finger at anyone, j’s deathbed revelation leaves unpleasant, mixed feelings in its wake.

Tseytlin’s book as a whole generates mixed and contradictory feelings.  Its very genre – an odd, explosive mixture of Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe, the essays of Nietsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra),  the novels of Kafka, and the discourses of the Chassidic tzaddikim – is eclectic, ambiguous, provocative.  But this is by far no arbitrary postmodern mix.  The genre of Long Conversations is derived from the life and personality of the main character, and in a certain sense the unusual form of Tseytlin’s book is simply the most suitable expression of the complicated moral-ethical and social situation in Lithuania (and, more broadly, in all of Eastern Europe).  It is a situation to this day not fully transcended and one that could conceivably engender new conflicts, and new human tragedies.

This situation is examined in Long Conversations from various angles and is interpreted sometimes from a traditional, psychoanalytical perspective, sometimes through hermeneutics, sometimes through the prism of religious, metaphysical, or concrete, historical experience. j’s personal path, by his own admission, was predetermined by a

classic Oedipal complex.  As a teenager he discovers that his father has a mistress –  she is to blame for all the misfortunes in the family.  He experiences the desire to kill his father, or at least to kill the woman who is destroying their family.  He comes to her with a knife, but ends up in her bed.  He becomes the lover of his father’s mistress and, in order to break this vicious circle, flees his native, provincial Kalvaria for the capital Kaunas.  And this is the first in his lifelong course of betrayals and flights.

At the end of his life, j recounts them all without regret or condemnation of any kind; he is simply releasing himself from the past, trying to understand not only his father, but also those who murdered him.  To relive not only the destruction of his brethren in the Vilna ghetto, but to apprehend the motives of the Lithuanians who helped destroy them, driven by a sense of national outrage no less sharp or powerful than that with which the Jews themselves lived.  And each point of view brings forth a common sense of agitation, and a common pain.”

(Viktor Krivulin, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany; Novoe Literaturnoye Obozrenie Journal, Moscow)


Leafing through Tseyltin’s book, I once again recall A. A. Ukhtomsky’s wise and sad thought:

“Each of us is merely a splashing wave in a great ocean, carrying water from the great past into the great future.”

But every splash is special, inimitable; everyone is a prisoner of their own unique traits, discerned by the singularity of their whole expression. The problem is in getting a good look at somebody’s FACE, even if their name is a lowercase letter.

Yevsey Tseytlin managed to do this very successfully.

(Semion Reznik. Internet journal “Sem’ iskusstv,” International Jewish journal, Moscow.)


I wrote “…in anticipation of a joyous life,” and realized that I made a mistake, after which I quickly fixed it, but mentally returned to it. No, it wasn’t a typo. It was my interpretation of Long Conversations, which seemed to me to be laconic, succinct, piercing discussions on life.

(Berta Frasch. “Literaturnyy evropeyets,” Germany.)


The book’s composition is wonderful. The author modestly identifies it as a “journal without dates.” But to me it seems that the reader is instead faced with an astounding free verse poem. I would compare Long Conversations with a polyphonic musical composition. I even read the book while listening to Beethoven’s 15th quartet (in A-minor). In his later quarters, Beethoven employed an entirely new method of composition, experimenting with instrumental parts in the score. On the whole, it created a sense of removed polylinearity – something mystical. And simultaneously something endlessly tragic and emotional (the 15th quartet’s finale has a part where my heart simply soars away). And that too was written under the shadow of death. And “Conversations” has a couple of themes: life/death, good/evil, conscience/contrition, individualism/close friends and family, fear/overcoming fear, Jewish/not Jewish, j’s monologues/acute commentary on the part of Tseytlin… These themes coincide contrapunctually, intersecting, renewing, forming fantastic canons. The dates, which appear every now and then, remind the reader that they are witnessing a real person’s life unfold before them… We are witnessing a unique investigation of human nature and its universal characteristics… We can only imagine what psychological load Tseytlin took on himself, what emotional price he had to pay… I’ll return to the thought with which I began these comments: Yevsey Tseytlin’s book is unique.

(Boris Kushner. Vremya i mesto. New York.)


Yevsey Tseytlin’s book, Long Conversations in Anticipation of a Joyous Death, has no analogues in Russian literature. As far as world literature is concerned, it could be compared to Eckermann’s work on Goethe, if the main character of Tseytlin’s book could be compared to Goethe in anything other than longevity.


This is an assiduous, long-lasting, and talented experiment in investigating the history of the human soul, its fears and its torturous struggles with them, the history of defeat and courage, and finally, as demonstrated by the main character himself, loneliness.

(Dina Rubina, published in Long Conversations in Anticipation of a Joyous Death. Aleteya. Saint Petersburg, 2012.)