on 4 July 2009
In May 1934, the poet Osip Mandelstam was arrested after reading to a few friends a poem highly critical of Stalin. He was sentenced to exile - to be "isolated but preserved". In May 1938, he was arrested again, and died at the end of that year in a transit camp in the far-eastern gulags.
During their exile together, and after his death, his wife Nadezhda somehow managed to preserve his manuscripts, and then in 1964 she started to write this book about Osip's arrests, their exile and his death. Ironically, Nadezhda in Russian means hope, so her title for the book, as she looked back, has a strange poignancy.
Nadezhda's memoir is a vivid account of everyday life under Stalin's repression, of terrible poverty and hunger, and of fear. It is a testament to her husband, as a gentle person and as a poet, and to relatives and friends who helped them, and at the same time unsparing of others who joined in the repression. It is a deeply humane and truly wonderful book.
This easily stands comparison with Solzhenistsyn's works and with others such as Rybakov's fine 'Children of the Arbat' trilogy.
on 5 September 2012
When reading Osip Mandelshtam's poetry, especially the later work from the 1930s, is one of the most challenging, literary experiences of the first half of the 20th-century. In the later work, the literary allusions become more hidden, images become more loaded, references turn more personal. Fortunately for the reader, Nadezhda Mandelshtam's memoir of her life as companion to the poet goes a great distance in elucidating many of the difficulties encountered when opening a poem by the poet and bridges the at times impenetrable gap between author and reader.
Aside from the informative accounts of how Mandelshtam used to create poetry and descriptions of the poetic and social landscapes of 1920s-30s Russia, we find out about the self-sacrificing and tireless efforts made by Nadezhda Mandelshtam to protect her husband's legacy and name for future generations (Mandelshtam never wrote wrote much poetry but recited it to Nadezhda Mandelshtam, and a few select others, who then wrote down the poems and made sure the Russian reader got hold of them, for in Soviet times it was not a wise idea to have poetry written by a non-conformist artist in one's possession).
This is a memoir of artistic quality and brings the reader closer not only to the great poet Osip, but also to the great writer Nadezhda Mandelshtam.
on 15 July 2012
Published in 1970, Hope Against Hope is the author's memoir of her husband, the Russian Jewish poet, Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938). Osip was one of the leading lights of the Acmeist movement in poetry and he helped to form the `Poet's Guild' in 1911 with Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921) and his wife, the celebrated poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966). Osip married Nadezhda Khazina (1899-1980) in 1922 in Kiev, Ukraine and they moved to Moscow.
In 1934 Osip read his satirical poem about Stalin to a small group of friends and within days he was arrested and sentenced to be `isolated but preserved'. Osip and his wife, who chose to go with the poet, went into exile in Voronezh where he continued to write his poetry. In 1938 he was arrested once more and he died in a labour camp near Vladivostok on 27th December 1938.
This remarkable book (the title by the way, is a play on the author's name Nadezhda, which in Russian means `hope') is a harrowing account of the poet and his wife's last four years together and the persecution they underwent, as indeed many suffered, under Stalin. Each of the short chapters, translated by Max Hayward, fully holds the attention throughout and this book stands as a testament to the human spirit and confirms Osip Mandelstam to be one of the great poets of the last century and should be remembered as such! Amazing!