Editor’s note: Leon Bell, a Soviet-trained nuclear physicist who later became a world-class plant physiologist with an expertise in photosynthesis, was born in Texas in 1918, and moved with his family to Moscow in 1931. His life reflects the tragedy of the Soviet Union and the situation of an American-born Jew in Stalin’s Russia. In his unpublished autobiography the author gives an inside view of what it was like to live in constant fear and poverty in a totalitarian state. . .
Today is December 23, 1987. I am now sixty-nine years old. You can twist that figure around anyway you wish to, but you will always get sixty-nine—there is no escape. In a year’s time (if I am still alive) I will be seventy, and that is real old age. Time is running out, and if I expect to write about my life, as daughter Natasha has asked me to, it’s time to begin.
Of course, I have my doubts whether it is worthwhile writing. I can’t write a memoir as usually understood—a narrative of the life of a person of fame or one who had experienced a particularly interesting life. I am not famous and, strictly speaking, there were no extraordinary events in my life Then why write? First of all, as I have mentioned, Natasha has asked me to, and wife Ira has supported the idea. Secondly, in my opinion just about anyone’s life can be interesting as a mirror, albeit a small one, of the times in which the person lived.
I am a person of the twentieth century, a stormy and at times, maddening, century. Possibly, in the future some people would like to know how ordinary, not widely known people lived in those times.