Reyes Monforte's "Historical Novel"
The book by Spanish journalist Reyes Monforte entitled "A Russian Passion" that tells the story of Lina Prokofiev has been surreptitiously copied from another book first published in 2008 in Moscow with the title "The Twentieth Century of Lina Prokofiev" ("XX vek Liny Prokˇfievoi"). In 2009 it was published in Spain (as a first edition) under the title "Lina Prokofiev. A Spanish Woman in the Gulag". The author was Valentina Chemberdji.
Monforte's novel includes all the information that appears in Chemberdji’s book, including many fragments that are literally the same or told in her own words, with the addition of invented, misrepresented or distorted information. She wrote the book in a very short period of time, not having carried out the required research when making reference to specific historical data as she does in the text. The fact that Monforte has been awarded the "Alfonso X the Wise" award for best historical novel of 2015 raises serious questions about the degree of competence of the jury.
Very little has been written about Lina Prokofiev. Thanks to a "miraculous" coincidence, the first book on her was written by Valentina Chemberdji, resident in Spain, which was published under the title "The Twentieth Century of Lina Prokofiev," edited by "Klassika XXI" in Russia in 2008. Shortly after, it was translated into Spanish by Natalia Novosilzov and edited by "Spanish XXI Century Editors" with the title “Lina Prokofiev. A Spanish Woman in the Gulag" (Lina Prokofiev. Una espa˝ola en el gulag) in 2009. It was successful and a second edition appeared in 2010.
Thanks to this work, Lina Prokofiev’s life became better known as well as details about the great composer’s personality and musical creation, and his family history. In the house where Lina Prokofiev was born in Madrid a memorial plaque was placed by Mayor Ruiz Gallardon and the author of the book in Spanish, Valentina Chemberdji, was invited as the guest of honor. This author is an expert on classical music, having published several successful books and having also worked on translations of the classics. Despite their difference in age, she had enjoyed a great friendship with Lina Prokofiev, whom she admired and appreciated a great deal. She maintained a great friendship for many years with Prokofiev’s children and eldest grandchildren.
In her work, Valentina Chemberdji used a series of documents belonging to the Prokofiev family archives and, with the permission of the descendants, published a book containing several personal letters of Lina, fragments of the diary of Sergei Prokofiev and forty of the composer’s letters addressed to his wife or others. Clearly, Valentina Chemberdji came to know firsthand the facts that appear in her book, as well as through testimonies of Lina’s descendants. There is no possible way anyone else could have had this information (referring to Reyes Monforte). All events described in Valentina Chemberdji’s book appear in one form or another in Reyes Monforte’s novel.
Another of the books on Lina Prokofiev is the one written by Simon Morrison, an expert on classical music, professor at Princeton University in the United States, and author of several serious works on Sergei Prokofiev’s musical creations. It came to light in 2013 in the United States published by the "Houghton Mifflin Harcourt" publishing house under the title "Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev". A few months later it was published in Britain by the "Harvill Secker" editors under the name "The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev".
It is quite obvious that Monforte took some elements from this book for her own novel as Morrison had made a very detailed and thorough investigation on the life of Lina and, in particular, the period of time when she lived in New York and met with Prokofiev, things which had not been published in such detail in any other book before. Indeed, in the preface to Morrison’s book Valentina Chemberdji's work is mentioned as a source of information, just as any decent writer would do and according to the norm which honest researchers follow.
The third material copied by Monforte and sometimes quoted directly (without indicating its origin) is Serguei Prokofiev’s "Diary" which was first published in Russian in the year 2002 and later published in English as a complete work in "Faber and Faber" in 2006. It was also published in German with certain omissions. The journalist Reyes Monforte has distorted and altered many extracts from this Diary—in which a large number of names, dates and facts appeared—by not quoting them literally or failing to provide the reference of the document of origin.
It is also evident that the author has not used any of the original documents as there is proof that she has not consulted the archives in Russia (RGALI, Glinka Museum) where key documents related to the life and compositions of Serguei Prokofiev are kept as well as material related to his family. On the other hand, Monforte has not been in contact with any of the wide circle of relatives and friends of Lina Prokofiev neither in Spain nor in any other country.
The discussion as appeared in the pages of the digital version of the newspaper "La Razon" shows that people who have read the book written by Valentina Chemberdji in Spanish also consider Monforte’s book as plagiarism. As some of those who have participated in the discussion had not read Chemberdji’s book, they therefore fiercely defend Monforte’s book, saying it is an honest piece.
And last but not least, it is important to note that Reyes Monforte is not a specialist in classical music or, particularly, on compositions of the early twentieth century. Therefore it seems very suspicious that she had been able to present such a dense text, full of specific information on these issues. She has written about personalities of whom she knows nothing, and has done so in record time, apparently, full of ambition to succeed. She has found support in a series of articles appeared in the media and, from our point of view, these must have been written upon request.
To summarize, we must say that Reyes Monforte has acted in an inappropriate manner—if we express ourselves diplomatically—exploiting for her own benefit the hard work of others who are respected by colleagues and readers because of their professionalism and sense of honesty. She has also contributed to dishonor her own profession, which already suffers from a somewhat tarnished reputation.
A historical novel is something very different from what Reyes Monforte imagines. Clearly, she was awarded this undeserved prestigious prize in a precipitated manner and with an evident lack of knowledge of the culture, customs and history of Russia. Undoubtedly, the author deserves something more severe and negative as appreciation rather than respect or recognition of her talent.
Serguei Prokofieff Junior
Grandson of Serguei and Lina Prokofiev