There was a changeover in the head of the trade department at that point; and there are these guys who have to throw their weight around. The first thing is: “Perestroika: who knows what that means?” We’ve got to change the title. I said, “That is the title.” “Well, we’ve got to change it.” “You can’t change it: that’s the title.” “Well, who knows what it means?” I said, “Two months ago you didn’t know what glasnost meant. It’s now part of the American language.” Finally, I lost my patience. I said, “Fellows: have you noticed: he’s a head of state!” (Laughs.) Silence in the room.

Later, since the press couldn’t reach the author, the calls from all over the world came to us. This started during the time while Michael was in London, and I and my assistant were the full might of Bessie Books. We got very good, very quickly, at handling the hard questions. On the one hand, we wanted it to have as much exposure as possible; on the other hand, we didn’t want to give away the book. What we were doing was presenting it as an event, which indeed it was.

This is, again, comic relief: When we were sitting in that plane as it took off from Leningrad, I said to Michael, “You know, we won’t get lucky twice. We had one bit of luck when we had Sadat’s book3 in proof when he went to Jerusalem--”


MICHAEL BESSIE: Which is to say: we had not known he was going; we had the book.

CORNELIA BESSIE: We had it, and so we could publish at that time. I said, “Gorbachev won’t come to America. We won’t get lucky twice.” Well, that was exactly the time when he came and when there was ‘Gorby-mania’; do you remember when he was getting out of the limousine in the middle of Washington and shaking hands?

MICHAEL BESSIE: Footnote: we tried to figure out -- obviously, a lot of other things happened in this story -- we tried to figure out why we were selected; indeed, we asked the Russian ambassador in Washington. He said, “Partly because it was your idea, you were first.”

But in the back of my mind was that we had published a lot of Russian stuff up until then: Solzhenitsyn, Mandlestam, all dissident literature. I thought this was going to queer us for the Gorbachev book; but quite the contrary. Nobody could say we were captive publishers.

3 Anwar el-Sadat, IN SEARCH OF IDENTITY (Harper & Row, 1978)


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