Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thursday, January 7, 1960

"Marina found herself thinking, how odd, that when Khrushchev visited Minsk while she was living there with Lee, there were strong rumors of an assassination attempt."

--Don DeLillo, Libra (Penguin, 1991), p. 451

According to Norman Mailer's Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery (Random House, 1995, p. 64), on January 7, 1960 Lee Harvey Oswald left Moscow by train for Minsk, Belarus, where he would be employed in a factory. Hence Oswald, living in Russia at that point for about three months, probably didn't have any knowledge of the fact that five days earlier, on January 2, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy had announced his intention to run for President of the United States.

Until the publication of Mailer's book, not much was known about Oswald's time in Minsk, but it is a fascinating tale (indeed, as is Oswald's tale in general), and Mailer devotes almost the first two hundred pages of his book to Oswald in Russia, referencing interviews consisting almost entirely of Oswald's Russian friends.

It was in Minsk, while he was employed there in a factory, that he would meet his future wife, Marina Prusakova, on March 17, 1961 ("...a girl with a French hairdo and red dress with white slippers" wrote Oswald about her in his journal, qtd. on p. 167). If it weren't for the fact that his name is Lee Harvey Oswald, his and Marina's story would by now have formed loosely the basis of a stormy, steamy Hollywood Romance. Having met her in mid-March, by April they are going steady; when she refuses his attempts to seduce her--"to put him off" in colloquial American English--he proposes marriage to her instead--which she accepts. They were married on April 30, 1961, six weeks after they'd met (the picture above was taken in Minsk a month or so after they were married). Marina soon became pregnant, but way before that, Oswald had already decided to return to America.

Of course, Mailer would, I think, caution against "fitting Oswald into one or another species of plot. Perhaps it would be more felicitous to ask: What kind of man was Oswald? Can we feel compassion for his troubles, or will we end by seeing him as a disgorgement from the errors of the cosmos, a monster?" (p. 197). Has any modern historical figure been the subject of so much speculation? Has any figure been so carefully studied, had so much written about him, had so many narrative emplotments constructed, so many hundreds of details scrutinized and re-scrutinized, as Lee Harvey Oswald? I have no idea of the number of websites devoted to Oswald and Kennedy assassination conspiracies, but they must number in the dozens. I'm not a believer in the conspiracy theories, all of which, as is well known, received renewed interest after Oliver Stone's JFK (1991). I for one think Mailer is right: rather than ask, Who killed John F. Kennedy? the more difficult and more daunting question is, What kind of man was Oswald?

"Who among us can say that he [Oswald] is in no way related to our own dream?" Mailer asks at the end of his long and disturbing mystery (p. 791), a reminder to us that the Other is not entirely different than ourselves. And as the story of Lee Harvey Oswald also reminds us, some mysteries are even more disturbing to us because they have no reassuring answers, no comforting revelations.

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