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Bogrov, Grigorii Isaakovich

(1825–1885), pioneering Russian Jewish writer. Born in Poltava, Grigorii Bogrov was a typical maskil who rebelled against tradition and his family, first learning Russian and devouring secular books on the sly, then divorcing his wife. In 1863, he finished half of Zapiski evreia (Notes of a Jew), a semiautobiographical novel that ultimately was 600 pages long. It was completed and published serially in Otechestvennye zapiski (Fatherland Notes), a popular liberal journal, in 1871–1873. Bogrov then wrote stories and novels on Jewish themes and worked on two Russian Jewish publications, Slovo (Word) and Russkii evrei (The Russian Jew). Shortly before he died, he converted to Christianity to marry a gentile woman.

Bogrov’s reputation rests on Zapiski evreia, the first full-length work by a Jewish writer published in the Russian mainstream. Ivan Turgenev admired it, Fyodor Dostoevsky owned it, and it was mentioned in Bogrov’s obituaries in Russian journals and newspapers. For Russian readers, the book was a fascinating travelogue to the exotic world of the Jewish shtetl, with details about food, clothing, family life, education, attitudes toward non-Jews, and religion.

Bogrov’s Jewish readers felt more ambivalent about Zapiski evreia. For the generation of Sholem Aleichem, it was a classic: the latter’s own autobiographical narrator asserts that he knows Bogrov’s book by heart. For a later generation, though, Bogrov’s assimilationism went too far and his criticism of Jewish traditions seemed extreme, especially considering that he wrote in a non-Jewish language. Some called him a self-hating Jew. The novel does not justify this reputation: Bogrov’s depictions of Jews are no more hostile than those of Mendele Moykher-Sforim, and he criticizes Russians, especially officials. Undoubtedly some of Bogrov’s reputation as an excessive assimilationist resulted from his apparently difficult personality and his politics, including his sympathy for a Jewish group that advocated adopting Christian practices and his hostility to Zionism.

Some of Bogrov’s other texts merit attention as well, including “Poimannik” (Captured; 1873), about a Jewish boy taken from his family to serve in the Russian army; Evreiskii manuskript: Pered dramoi (The Jewish Manuscript: Before the Drama; 1876), on the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising; and “Maniak” (Maniac; 1884), a skeptical portrait of Jewish settlement in Palestine.

The Bogrov family name became notorious when Gregorii Bogrov’s grandson Dmitrii Bogrov assassinated Prime Minister Petr Stolypin in 1911.

Suggested Reading

Grigorii Isaakovich Bogrov, Sobranie sochinenii (Odessa, 1912–1913); Olga Litvak, “The Literary Response to Conscription: Individuality and Authority in the Russian Jewish Enlightenment” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1999); Gabriella Safran, Rewriting the Jew: Assimilation Narratives in the Russian Empire (Stanford, Calif., 2000).