My mother grew up in a big ol' house on the Street of the First of May
, the capital of the then-Soviet
Republic of Azerbaijan
. The street was at the epicenter
of a large and very well established Jewish
neighbourhood, and it was practically a local mark of aristocracy
to have been born onto it - as well as an immediate identifier of your racial origins.
She has this elderly relative, my mother, an uncle once removed or somesuch, let's call him Uncle Boris, who, in his capacity as a lecturer in maths and engineering at the Baku Politechnic Institute had access to lots and lots of books; this you need to understand was aluxury in the USSR, as all consumer goods were in extremely short supply (most notoriously bread, of course), but under whose jackboot books and information were particularly restricted in their circulation. Among his most prized posessions was a chess primer for young children, which he was careful never to lend to anyone lest it should vanish out of his library for good..
One day Uncle Boris' schoolfriend, Mr Winestein from down the road, whose little boy my mother and her cousins bullied mercilessly, came to him with a very delicate request: to borrow the chess primer for his only son. Uncle Boris showed a not surprising reluctance to part with the volume, but old Mr Winestein pressed him so long and so earnestly that, in some exasperation, he finally gave in.
Thank you so very much, said Mr Winestein, I swear to you I will give it back as soon as my little boy is done with it. Yeah, yeah, said Uncle Boris. No, really, so Mr Winestein, I do solemnly promise to you the safe return of the precious volume. Enough already, said our impatient and cynical Uncle Boris, resigned to having lost the cherished manual to an equal in the stubborn old git stakes. When your son wins the world championships, then give me the book back.
(As an aside, you'll need to imagine the above exchange with the most Mel Brooksian Jewish accent in creation, which Uncle Boris, bless him, has always had even in his native Russian).
And what do you think, but that twenty years later, when Mr Winestein's son won the World Championships for the first of many times, Uncle Boris telephoned the proud father and demanded his book back!
The above is a true story. My mother really did beat up the world's best chess mind when he was a small boy. Apparently he was quite fat and very spoiled. Oh, and Uncle Boris, still alive and cheerfully writing his memoirs, really did make that call. That's the sort of chap he is, and it should teach you not to mess with anyone in my mother's family as their memories are longer than a very long thing indeed.
Garry's mother was Armenian and Kasparov was her maiden name. When he was about to represent the USSR in an international tournament for the first time (as I recall he was still a boy), the establishment refused to let him do so with such a blatantly Jewish name as Winestein, and he was forced to use his mother's. By all accounts it broke Mr Winestein's heart.