Monday, 24 September 2012

Nadezhda Mandelstam

Nadezhda Mandelstam
We were four, wrote Anna Akhmatova, meaning herself, Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetayeva and Boris Pasternak. Osip was the first to die. He perished in the Gulag for writing an anti Stalin poem. Tsvetayeva hanged herself in 1941. Akhmatova wrote about those years in her poems, her personal sufferings mingling with those of her people

...Son in chains, husband clay,

Her first husband Gumilev was shot for anti Bolshevik conspiracy in 1921 and her son was  imprisoned in 1940s. While lining up in a queue to meet her son, she was asked if she could cast this experience into poetry. Her best works followed.

Yet it was Nadezhda who  produced in her "Hope Against Hope", the definitive work on life under Stalin, complementing Alexander Solzhenitsyn's three volume Gulag Archipelago.

'Nadezhda' in Russian means Hope. It is difficult to believe that the photograph of Osip Mandelstam on the  cover is that of a man in his thirties. It is unacceptable that a human being should be subjected to such terror that he is reduced to such a wreck.

Apparently Stalin was in awe of 'genius'. The physicist Lev Landau was on way to Gulag with a broken rib, when intervention of Pyotr Kapitza saved him. Immediately after Osip was arrested, Stalin rang up Pasternak and asked him if Mandelstam was a genius. Pasternak lectured Stalin about love etc.. Stalin banged the phone down. Pasternak was left with guilt feeling for the rest of his life that he could have but did not save Mandelstam.

A book written without bitterness. It restores ones faith in what human spirit is capable of.

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