Elaine Feinstein was the first translator of Marina Tsvetaeva into English, and has written an acclaimed biography of Anna Akhmatova. In this vividly imagined part memoir, part novel, she revisits that tragic generation of poets and writers who suffered, and many of whom perished, under Stalin. Beginning in contemporary Saint Petersburg, she embarks on a Dantesque journey through the underworld of the past, with Marina Tsvetaeva as her Virgil. The effect is mesmerising, as we overhear conversations between Isaac Babel and Ilya Ehrenburg, watch as Mandelstam freezes to death in a transit camp in Vladivostok and visit the stetl where Feinstein’s own grandfather was born. In a final sequence, she returns to her own real life, and recounts various meetings with poets who survived, notably Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Bella Akhmadulina and Joseph Brodsky. Interspersed with these dream sequences and recollections are several of the author’s own poems. Although this is a short book, less than 150 pages in length, its themes, and its emotional impact, are immense, and it will remain in the memory for a very long time.
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Published by Carcanet Press Ltd
29 May 2008