American writer, translator, and literary critic. He was born in 1940 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a family of Lithuanian immigrants of Jewish descent. When he was young, he earned his living as a chauffeur for a mafia boss. He studied English philology at the Boston University, where he attended classes conducted by Robert Lowell. However, in the course of education, he decided that he was more drawn to the literature and history of Russia, which made him move to the University of California, Berkeley soon after. There, in 1960, he met Czesław Miłosz, with whom he became close friends. Under the watchful eye of the master, Lourie learned the arcana of the art of translation, and with time – and at the encouragement of the poet himself – he made translation his main source of income. In 1969, he defended his PhD dissertation on Andrei Sinyavsky, and four years later, he published his first novel, Sagittarius in Warsaw, for which he received the Joseph Henry Jackson Literary Award.
Lourie is the author of numerous books and articles dedicated to Russia. First Loyalty (1983) – the second novel in his career – is a spy thriller taking place in the Soviet Union, translated into 11 languages and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Soon after, Zero Gravity (1985) appeared – a witty story describing the rivalry between the Russians and the Americans competing to be the first nation to send a poet to the Moon. The author won international renown thanks to the factual story Hunting the Devil: The Pursuit, Capture and Confession of the Most Savage Serial Killer in History (1993), in which he described the trial of Andrei Chikatilo, a Ukrainian serial murderer. The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin (1999), a best-selling novel combining rich historical knowledge and an attempt at sketching a portrait of the psychopathic dictator, was also successful. His last book, A Hatred for Tulips (2007), presents the story of Anne Frank from the perspective of the man who revealed the girl’s hiding place.
Apart from the novels, non-fiction also has a significant place in the writer’s oeuvre. In 1989, Russia Speaks: An Oral History from the Revolution to the Present premiered, a book constituting a record of many meetings, during which the interlocutors shared their stories with the author. Combined to form a kind of saga, together, the stories make up an unusual portrait of Russia. Lourie is also the author of Andrei Sakharov’s biography (2002), which he wrote making use of the physicist’s memoirs previously translated by himself. He has also had his column in The Moscow Times for years now. His articles appeared in magazines such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic.
Lourie can also boast a long list of translations from Polish and Russian into English. More than 40 titles include Aleksander Wat’s My Century: The Odyssey of a Polish Intellectual, Czesław Miłosz’s A View of San Francisco Bay, Tadeusz Konwicki’s novels, and Vladimir Voinovich’s works.