From the Cincinnati Reds to the Moscow Reds: The Memoirs of Irwin Weil

From the Cincinnati Reds to the Moscow Reds: The Memoirs of Irwin Weil

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Irwin Weil
Compiled and Edited by Tony Brown

Series: Jews of Russia & Eastern Europe and Their Legacy
ISBN: 9781618113948 (hardcover) / 9781618113962 (paper)
Pages: 244 pp.; 25 illus.
Publication Date: May 2015

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This book brings together a lifetime of experiences told by a beloved member of the field of Slavic languages and literature—Irwin Weil. During the Soviet era, Irwin frequently visited and corresponded with outstanding Russian cultural figures, such as Vladimir Nabokov, Korney Chukovsky, and Dmitrii Shostakovich.  His deep love of the Russian people and their culture has touched the lives of countless students, in particular at Northwestern University, where he has taught since 1966.  It is these stories of an unassuming Jewish American from Cincinnati, Ohio who rubbed shoulders with some of the most prominent thinkers, writers, and musicians in the Soviet Union that are presented for the first time in this volume.


  • Podcast: Listen to Professor Weil share stories from his remarkable encounters with some of the most prominent thinkers and writers of the Soviet Union. Listen here.
  • Milt Rosenberg Show: Listen to Professor Irwin Weil discuss his memoirs with Milt Rosenberg. Listen here.
  • Visit Professor Weil's website here.

Irwin Weil was born in 1928 in Cincinnati, Ohio of German Jewish and Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. His father Sidney was a former owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Initially majoring in economics at the University of Chicago, he was drawn to Slavic studies after discovering Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in a required literature course and being (in his words) “knocked for a loop.” He reports that he ran to a bookstore, picked up a copy of Crime and Punishment, read it in two days, and resolved to learn the language of such a great body of literature.

Weil received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1948 and his master’s degree in Slavic Studies in 1951. After three years of working on a Soviet census for the U.S. Library of Congress, Weil began his PhD at Harvard University, where he had received a Ford Foundation fellowship to work toward his doctorate in Slavic Studies. After receiving the degree in 1960, he taught at Brandeis University.

While at Brandeis, Weil was a professor of Russian literature and linguistics. He was influential in the development and growth of the Slavic Studies program at Brandeis. Weil’s first major work – a dissertation on the development of the writing style of Maksim Gorky – was completed in 1958.  His other works include Notes on the Contemporary Soviet Literary Scene and Literary Activities.

Tony Brown is an Associate Professor of Russian at Brigham Young University where he has taught since 2004. Brown received his MA and PhD degrees in Russian and Second Language Acquisition at Bryn Mawr College. His research interests include second language acquisition, language policy, and the cultural history of Russia. Brown also is the author/co-author of articles published in venues, such as Modern Language Journal, Foreign Language AnnalsSlavic and East European JournalRussian Language Journal, and Language Policy. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the American Council of Teachers of Russian.


In an engaging and moving way, Irwin Weil reflects upon his almost ninety-year existence (including half a century as professor of Russian at Northwestern University). Indeed, the most salient feature of Weil’s memoirs is that when he talks about his personal and professional life, he speaks not only about himself but also about two generations of scholar-teachers who, like Weil, had no idea that they would fall under the sway of Mother Russia, or that they would spend their lives professing her charms. . . .In writing his recollections, Weil expresses the hope that he has affected “for the better” the lives of both Russians and Americans. As evidenced by From the Cincinnati Reds to the Moscow Reds, he has. Indeed, Weil’s examined life has been well worth living.
— Thomas Gaiton Marullo, University of Notre Dame, The Russian Review (April 2016, Vol. 75, No. 2)
Irv Weil’s congenial oral biography is a cameo of Midwestern Jewish-American life in the 20th century, in which baseball, theater, music, literary classics and the heroic achievements of Russian culture emerge as anchors in a displaced and increasingly globalized era. Its thumbnail sketches of famous émigrés and glimpses of Soviet life in the 1960s help explain why Weil has been so successful as a Russian-American mediator for so many decades, from strolls with Kornei Chukovsky outside Moscow to hosting Shostakovich and Lina Prokofieva at Northwestern. Weil’s distinctive mark on the Slavic field, personal and organizational, has been wonderfully captured.
— Caryl Emerson, A. Watson Armour III University Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Princeton University
Irwin Weil has written a vibrant, nostalgic, strikingly sweet account of a life deeply enmeshed in Jewish, American, and above all Russian culture. Anecdote after heartfelt anecdote, he offers portraits of exemplary incidents and famous people, from Renato Poggiolo and Philip Rahv to Kornei Chukovsky and Dmitri Shostakovich. When others engage in ideological quarrel, we watch Irv spread good will. By the sheer power of warmth and charm, he passes unscathed through morally fraught situations. For those in the field of Russian Studies, the memoir will powerfully evoke what it was like in decades gone by.
— Gary Saul Morson, Frances Hooper Professor of the Arts and Humanities, Northwestern University

Table of Contents

Editor’s Note

1. The Lives of Sidney and Florence Weil Ancestry
Sidney Weil
Florence Levy
Joining the Army
After the War
The Roaring Twenties
Faith and Family
Great Depression
Baseball Players .
The Move
Life Insurance
Raising Money
Zionists and Education
The Horrors of World War II and Life After
Baseball versus Academia
Growing Up
Early School Years
Vivian’s Family Background
Musical Background
Adolescent Politics and Experiences
First Impressions of Russia
University of Cincinnati
University of Chicago
Experiences with Russian History and Literature
Life in the Theater
Marriage to Vivian

3. Entry into the Soviet Union Going to the Soviet Union
A Welcome to Remember
Literary Endeavors
Trip to Leningrad
Malyshev and Alekseev
Jewish Father and Son in Leningrad
Firsthand Learning Experiences
Aunt Olga
Back in the United States
Days at Brandeis University
Returning to the Soviet Union—1963
Vitya, My Roommate and Advisor
The Search for Chukovsky
Meeting Chukovsky
Discussions in Chukovsky’s House
Additional Thoughts about Gorky  

4. Social and Political Reform in the Soviet Union Evtushenko
Not Discussing Politics
Judge Not
Marina Rafailovna Kaul and Rosalia Semyonovna Ginzburg
Being Cautious
American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European
Languages (AATSEEL) American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR)
Changes in Soviet Politics
Cold War Rhetoric
Prejudices and Privileges
Favorable Aspects

5. Letters from the USSR Tues. Sept. 6, 1960
Wed. Sept. 7, 1960
Thurs. Sept. 8, 1960
Tues. Sept. 13, 1960