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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They commuted his death sentence because he was already dead
The story of Pushkin's death is riveting enough however you tell it. The mixed-race subversive single-handedly forges not only a conscience but a poetry for the Russian people, marries a beautiful dimwit who just loves being queen of the ballroom, and meets his nemesis in a blond blue-eyed dancing boy from well-spoken France. It's Othello rewritten for real: how patriotic...
Published on 28 Sep 2000

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not The Author to Turn To
This book is full of interesting subject matter. Pushkin, the founding father of Russian Literature and its most exemplary poet, is a fascinating figure, embodying the enigmatic Russian soul and character. He was the ultimate Romantic outsider. His African descent was the subject of behind-the-back snickering at the court of Nicholas I. He was, however, held in great...
Published on 30 Nov 2002 by Bruce Kendall


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They commuted his death sentence because he was already dead, 28 Sep 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Pushkin's Button (Paperback)
The story of Pushkin's death is riveting enough however you tell it. The mixed-race subversive single-handedly forges not only a conscience but a poetry for the Russian people, marries a beautiful dimwit who just loves being queen of the ballroom, and meets his nemesis in a blond blue-eyed dancing boy from well-spoken France. It's Othello rewritten for real: how patriotic can a Russian be when his skin is swarthy and his blood's part African? Pushkin the dark poor outsider becomes the father of his nation's poetry, laying down the foundations on which all modern Russia from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to Lenin and Ahmatova were to build. But the cannibalistic aristocracy of his day preferred to go weak at the knees for a charming Frenchman with nimble feet and a few dirty jokes. Even barracks humour - provided it was in in French - sounded more civilised to their francophiliac ears than Pushkin's Russian prose and poetry (alhough their age uncannily presages our own in its sudden ability to recognise its heroes the minute they're dead).
Serena Vitale more than does this story justice, and you certainly don't need to know anything about Pushkin or Russia in order to enjoy it. She unearths new materials that let the dead speak. She unravels the plot as if she's writing a thriller, piecing together Pushkin's insane but seemingly unstoppable drive towards the fateful duel. She lets some of her materials speak for themselves, like Pushkin's roundtrips to the pawnshop versus the unecessarily bountiful gifts from Danthès' repressed and obsessive sugar daddy. Where she does add her own shamelessly opinionated interpretations - witness her exuberant reflection on the missing eponymous button from Pushkin's coat, for example - she might be flamboyant and idiosyncratic, but I bet nobody ever accused her of being boring.
One final irony - the two duellers and Pushkin's second are sentenced to death for their involvement in the illegal but traditionally Russian sport of duelling. All three sentences are commuted, Pushkin's for the splendidly Russian reason that he is already dead.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Pushkin comes to shove, 20 Jun 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Pushkin's Button (Paperback)
I ignored this book when it first came out. I thought: not another one of those Wittgenstein's Poker, Galileo's Daughter, Nathanial's Nutmeg (fill in at will) sort of books that are supposed to signal:
1)middlebrow intentions 2)lots of anecdotes 3)non-serious "serious" books for the non-reader
but... I was wrong. It's very good, minus a slight whiff of purple that has got into the translation. What happened in 1836/37? Well, we don't really know: Vitale turns the available sources in her hand like a crystal, facets briefly catch the light then disappear. Truth? Who knows? The past remains multivalent, fluid, and the characters in the drama refuse to hold their poses for history's final snapshot. Compelling, and it got me reading Pushkin: Eugene Onegin is brilliant!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not The Author to Turn To, 30 Nov 2002
By 
Bruce Kendall "BEK" (Southern Pines, NC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Pushkin's Button (Hardcover)
This book is full of interesting subject matter. Pushkin, the founding father of Russian Literature and its most exemplary poet, is a fascinating figure, embodying the enigmatic Russian soul and character. He was the ultimate Romantic outsider. His African descent was the subject of behind-the-back snickering at the court of Nicholas I. He was, however, held in great esteem as a writer by his contemporaries, yet he did not achieve his heroic status until after his death. It is his death (at the relatively young age of 38) in a duel with the French dandy, George D'Anthes, that is the primary subject of Serena Vitale's investigation.
The main drawbacks to Pushkin's Button are stylistic. Instead of marshaling her facts and presenting them in a forthright manner, Vitale instead resorts to a kind of breathy, gossip-laden, Dominick Dunne for "Vanity Fair," type exercise. She also scatters tidbits of information that she claims will have some significant import later in the story, yet in most instances, this turns out not to be the case. If she is trying to write a mystery, there are way too many red herrings. She claims that a series of letters found in a trunk in Paris in 1989 and viewed for the first time by her, reveal some startling information concerning the events leading up to the duel. Written by D'Anthes to his patron Barron Heeckeren (the Dutch Ambassador to Russia, who later adopted D'Anthes and may have had a more-than-fatherly love for his charge), they convey nothing particularly startling. To those familiar with the background behind the main characters, the fact that the letters reveal that D'Anthes and Heeckeren were shallow, supercilious hedonists is hardly news. Though she constantly hints that "all will be revealed," concerning the identity of the perpetrator of the "cuckold letters" that were disseminated amongst the Petersburg aristocracy, and that directly led Pushkin to challenge D'Anthes to the fatal duel, the identity behind the letters is never established. This is but one example of myriad unsubstantial queries the author leaves hanging.
For those looking for a more carefully reasoned, and infinitely better written book that covers much of the same material, I would recommend Henri Troyat's biography of Pushkin. Troyat, unlike Vitale, doesn't engage in empty conjecture and he has a thorough understanding of Russian history and literature, as he has authored several great biographies, ranging from Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Tolstoy, Elizabeth II, Alexander I, etc.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Account of a Tragedy, 11 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Pushkin's Button (Paperback)
I enjoyed this and would recommend it, despite the flowery style (this may be a fault in translation; not speaking Italian I wouldn't know if what is purple prose in English comes across differently in Italian).

The research is very good and the author is far more objective than T J Binyon in the last chapter in his biography, who seemed to detest d'Anthes for daring to pursue Natalya Nikolaevna, Pushkin's lovely wife (as Pushkin himself did with married women so many times before getting married, an irony which no doubt didn't escape him).

Sadly, as Natalya's letters have been lost and so many accounts of her are biased one way or the other (such as that of her daughter by her second marriage, who was anxious to clear her name)our knowledge of her is very limited. We don't even know what she felt for Pushkin himself, though it is obvious that he was besotted with her; perhaps she had grown to love him (as he said he hoped she could before their marriage) but couldn't resist the romantic allure of the dashing d'Anthes.

Pushkin is an intrigiuing study, a mass of contradictions though finally very much a man of his time and of Tsarist Russia; his courage during his last two days of terrible suffering was remarkable. You feel for him in his mortification and anguish, but feel that in insisting that Natalya felt nothing but contempt for d'Anthes after his marriage to her sister, he was putting about the version o fthe story he wanted to come down to posterity. There is that intriguing snippet of information from Vyazemsky that Pushkin asked her apropos that fatal duel for whom she would weep, and she replied 'The one who is killed'.

This is the first time I have heard mentioned that intriguing copy of a letter (so unfortunate the original went missing) found amongst d'Anthes' possessions from someone with the pen name 'Marie' (that censorship!)who is so anxious that he burn all her old letters. Of course, d'Anthes was, despite his hidden relationship with his benefactor Hekeeren, incredibly popular with women.
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Pushkin's Button
Pushkin's Button by Serena Vitale (Paperback - 2 Mar 2000)
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