11 October

I wrote to you impelled by the need to share the emotion aroused in me by your talent, which affected me like the sound of sad, sublime music. Why does it exist, this need for sharing? I have no idea and neither have you, yet we both know perfectly well that in some way it is burned into the human heart, that there’s no life without it and that it contains a great mystery. After all, when you write your books you too are merely responding to this need, and what’s more- you abandon your whole self to it completely.

I’ve always read a great deal- and kept many diaries, in common with all those whose lives are unfulfilled- and I still read widely, I’ve read your work before, but not very often, I mostly knew you by reputation. And now this latest book of yours… How strange! Somewhere, somehow, a hand puts pen to paper, a soul reveals a tiny particle of its secret existence by the tiniest possible hint- for what can words express, even words such as yours!- and suddenly there’s no space, no time, no differences of fate or circumstance, and all your thoughts and feelings are mine, are both of ours. Truly, there is but one universal soul on earth. And doesn’t that make my impulse to write to you understandable- to communicate my feelings and share something and complain a little? Aren’t the works you create and the letters I write to you one and the same? For you too are trying to reach someone, to express some kind of feeling, when you send your lines through space towards some invisible person. You know, you too are complaining- more often than not, only complaining!- for our complaints are synonyous with that cry for understanding which is so fundamental to every human being: how often it occurs in songs and prayers, in poetry and outpourings of love!

Perhaps you’ll answer me, if only briefly? Please answer.

Ivan Bunin, “An Unknown Friend,” 1923, translated by Sophie Lund