IN A WRONG BODY. THE SECRET LIFE OF NICOLAI DE RAYLAN
Moscow.: IDRIS publisher. 2021; 416 p. 16+
This book tells the true story of the adventurous life of transgender Nicolai de Raylan, an extraordinary person who lived at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Russia and the United States.
A girl named Anna was born in Odessa (1872) to an impoverished noble family. Since childhood, she’d felt herself to be a boy who, by a mistake of nature, was imprisoned in the body of a girl. At the age of nineteen, after faking her own suicide, Anna escaped the control of her parents, fleeing from St. Petersburg to Moscow, then through Finland and Belgium to arrive in America transitioned into a man—Nicolai de Raylan. Prominent figures became involved in the story of her escape, including Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Konstantin Pobedonostsev and the distinguished lawyer Fyodor Plevako.
When he set foot on American soil in July 1892, Nicolai de Raylan completely broke with his past. Thanks to his numerous talents and the opportunity to live in accordance with his sense of self, it wasn’t long before Raylan achieved considerable success. He became right-hand man to the Russian commissioner of the World’s Fair and a secretary at the Russian consulate in Chicago; opened his own law office, which was profitable, though in many ways crooked; translated Leo Tolstoy’s works into English; married twice; joined the ranks of the Chicago Hussars; and was known to be a thoroughgoing funseeker and conquerer of ladies’ hearts. Dying in 1906 from consumption, he left behind diary entries resembling something out of a captivating adventure novel.
This book recounts not only de Raylan’s incredible personal story, but also the historical events in which he took part, such as the Chicago World’s Fair and visits to the US by grand dukes and Russian revolutionaries. The narrative is filled with details about everyday life in this era.
A BOOK REVIEW OF "In a wrong body..."
Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist.
Kirill Finkelshteyn is one of the most knowledgeable and meticulous researchers of one of the most populous and tumultuous periods of Russian and world history: the end of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century, the Silver Age. The period’s singers and painters, heroes and witnesses, frontmen and secondary characters, its center stage and the dark corners utterly untouched by the researcher’s flashlight – these are the subject of his books and articles. References to his works can be found in, for example, the recently published guide to Odoevtseva’s memoirs, On the Banks of the Neva, by Oleg Lekmanov. The protagonist of the popularized historical work In the Wrong Body lives in this time that was rich with both possibilities and dangers – the end of the old and beginning of the new century.
But he is not a poet; rather, he is an international adventurer with the kind of biography that would appear to be a wild fantasy had it been the product of the author’s imagination. However, the author claims to have spent nearly ten years searching for witness accounts, documents, and photographs and doing archive research in order to find and organize information about the life of a person who left Russia for America with a new name, gender, and appearance, established a career in the Russian Consulate in Chicago, earned a fortune on nonlinear commercial schemes (let’s call it that) involving Russian diplomats, and was married twice.
The book is reminiscent of Patricia Duncker’s famous novel James Miranda Barry, which was recently published in Russian – the same adventures with cross-dressing, a heroine building a career in a field where women had no place, and who paid for her success with loneliness and the constant fear of discovery. The same unrelenting emotion governs the hero of Kirill Finkelshteyn research, and over the course of the book, the reader sympathizes with him more and more.
Olga Khoroshilova - costume and fashion historian, writer.
He could have become an icon of Russian LGBT culture. He could have been the subject of a feature film or even a series. His life is a real adventure novel. But Nicolai de Raylan, also known as Anna Terletskaya, is still almost unknown in Russia. A person of mystery, a person of many faces, half-man and half-woman, he attracted the attention of renowned European sexologists at the beginning of the 20th century. Magnus Hirschfeld and Havelock Ellis, as well as the Russian psychiatrist Vladimir Bekhterev, were seriously interested in him. Sadly, his name was forgotten.
Only after the passage of a hundred years after de Raylan’s death did he gain a talented a biographer. Having learned about this extraordinary person, Kirill Finkelshteyn was able to find extremely valuable archival documents and witness accounts from contemporaries as well as journalists. He wrote a highly interesting and detailed history of Nicolai de Raylan’s life, a Russian transsexual born in Russia who built a career in the USA and who dared to go against the laws of a conservative society and was able to live in accordance with his unusual nature. Written in beautiful literary prose, Kirill Finkelshteyn’s book will be of interest not only to experts and culture scholars but to a very wide circle of readers.
Vassili Molodiakov - historian, political scientist (LL.D), writer.
Secrets, in the wrong body… “Is this about reptilians again?” a casual reader who has never heard of Nicolai de Raylan might think – and that will include most readers. No, it’s not about reptilians. But the fact that “a dead man turned out to be a woman” made a much stronger impression on American newspaper reporters and their readers in 1906 than news of reptilians could today.
The book is an excellent historical study, more precisely, an investigation about the life and adventures of one of the most mysterious characters of Russian-American relations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It is simultaneously a literary work, because Kirill Finkelshteyn is not just a historian (Part 1) but also a writer (Part 2) who can make up a fact-based story very well. And he doesn’t forget to note where truth ends and imagination begins. As a biographer and a biography lover myself, I haven’t read anything this captivating in a long time.
Marina Balueva - an English and journalism teacher, writer.
My friend Kirill Finkelshteyn book has, after many adventures, finally seen the light of day and is available to readers. The adventures arose mainly because of the author’s perfectionism and his love of exactness and exhaustive fact-checking. Kirill writes works of cultural-historical research and documentary prose. But it’s one thing to write about famous people and another to pave the way, revealing the details of a life nearly unknown, and immersing oneself in the criminal, high-society, and mundane realities of the 19th and 20th centuries. An adventure documentary – that is perhaps the best way to define the genre of this work.
The protagonist, to use contemporary language, has gender identity issues. That would surprise no one today. But in the 19th century, those words themselves didn’t exist, yet such people always did. The book’s protagonist is clever and energetic, inventive and brave. He is able to self-actualize in accordance with his own views and to overcome much. In addition, the book contains oodles of fascinating details of the daily life at that time.
Eugene Nikiforov - writer, literary critic.
I have visited "a wrong body", that is, I visited someone else's book. Thank you! It was very interesting. I tried to remember what other book I had read from cover to cover lately, and did not remember. The book gave me real academic pleasure. Only a person who is involved in research work can appreciate the work invested in every footnote, every date, every initial, every caption under a photograph (which also had to be found!). And all this data is arranged in a not boring form. The book is an excellent evidence of how two authors, an academic researcher and a talented fiction writer, can get along under one cover without fighting each other.
And the reader who, perhaps, is a little tired of looking at the footnotes in the first part of the book, receives a reward bonus in the form of a "diary", which, it turns out, is in the most important chronotopic markers, and is just as scrupulously and conscientiously accurate.
Konstantin Kropotkin - journalist, blogger, author of the telegram-channel, dedicated to queer books and films.
<...>Kirill Finkelshteyn is frequently distracted by the biographies of people tangentially connected to the main character (and for a screenwriter, this would be extremely useful). Nowadays, when you pitch a screenplay, you must provide references. The political scientist Ekaterina Shulman, who praised this work, mentioned the novel James Miranda Barry. As for me, while I was reading In the Wrong Body, I was reminded of the excellent British miniseries Gentleman Jack. Kirill Finkelshteyn would like to see his protagonist on the big screen. I think it would be a hit.
Denis Zakharov - journalist, writer, literary critic.
I would like to thank you for your wonderful book, In the Wrong Body: Secrets of the life of Nicolai de Raylan. I accidentally stumbled on someone’s review online and immediately ordered myself a copy on Ozon.ru. I read the first part in half a day and am now on de Raylan’s diary. I am delighted! Great research, excellent prose, the whole scientific approach, the illustrations. Everything is done with such love and expertise! I sincerely congratulate you on this wonderful work. It’s a pity that there were only 300 copies printed and that the binding is soft cover.
This story deserves a super cover and the sale of international publishing rights! And what a movie it could make for!! It’s gratifying to know that researchers like yourself are constantly looking for and finding incredible stories and sharing them with others. Bravo, bravo! Please continue to delight your readers with new plotlines.
Video of a creative meeting with the author of the book "In a wrong body. The secret of the life of Nicolai de Raylan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GinDmn78FpM&t=2009s