Excerpt from The Stalin Epigram by Robert Littell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Stalin Epigram

A Novel

by Robert Littell

The Stalin Epigram by Robert Littell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2009, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2010, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Derek Brown

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The expression on the face of the Mandelstam who no longer beat about the bush darkened. I knew what was coming and tried to catch his eye and head him off. No such luck. "The trouble with Soviet films, silent or talking," he allowed, slipping into an exaggerated Georgian drawl that was supposed to remind people of how Stalin spoke Russian, "is that they are marked by a wealth of detail and a poverty of ideas, but then propaganda doesn't need ideas."

Mandelstam might as well have poured ice water from the Moscow River over Ugor-Zhitkin and his entourage.

"What is he saying?" gasped one of the girls.

"He is suggesting that Soviet filmmakers are propagandists," another said.

"It sounds awfully like an anti-Soviet declaration to me," a third girl observed uncomfortably.

Rummaging in his pockets, Mandelstam came up with the receipt the secretary had written out for "One original manuscript of the 1913 edition of Stone." He strode across the room, past the streetcar drivers and conductors who were fortifying themselves for the night shift with stale beer, and flattened the receipt on the table in front of Ugor-Zhitkin.

"I've been meaning to get back to you about this," Ugor-Zhitkin said.

"Have you looked at my manuscript?"

"The value of any given manuscript depends on the writer's specific gravity. Frankly, the general opinion is that you are a minor poet. I am afraid it's not worth more than two hundred rubles."

"Two hundred rubles!" His hands trembling with rage, Mandelstam brought his walking stick crashing down on the table. The tea glasses jumped. Two of the girls sprang to their feet in fright. Ugor-Zhitkin turned pale. "Stone," Mandelstam plunged on, the metal tip of his stick tapping the table top, "is a classic of twentieth-century Russian poetry, so the reviewers concluded at the time of its publication. You paid five times what you're offering me for a piece of shit by -- " Mandelstam named a writer whose three-act drama glorifying Stalin's role in the Civil War was playing to full houses in Moscow.

My great friend the poet Anna Akhmatova claims there are moments in life that are so momentous, it appears as if the earth has stopped dead in its tracks for the beat of a heart. This was such a moment in the life of Osip Mandelstam.

"Who are you?" one of the girls demanded. "Who is he?"

I caught my breath. Mandelstam elevated his chin. "I am the poet Mandelstam."

"There is no poet of that name," another girl declared. "Once, long ago, there was such a poet -- "

"I thought Mandelstam was dead," said the first girl.

The earth resumed rotating around its axis, though nothing would ever be the same.

"The two hundred rubles," Ugor-Zhitkin said, determined not to let himself be pushed around in front of his protégées, "is a take-it or leave-it proposition."

My husband started toward the door, then turned back to the editor. "You are living proof that a man's character is written on his face," Mandelstam said so agreeably it didn't dawn on Ugor-Zhitkin he was being insulted. "Do you happen to have cigarettes?"

Ugor-Zhitkin collected the two partially filled packets on the table and handed them to Mandelstam. "Happy nineteen thirty-four to you, all the same," he said.

I saw my husband nod as if he were confirming something he didn't like about himself. "I accept the two hundred rubles," he announced.

"Come around in the morning," Ugor-Zhitkin said, barely swallowing a smile. "My secretary will have an envelope for you."

Kicking at a drift of snow outside the canteen, Mandelstam managed a cranky laugh. "Mandelstam dead!" he said, making no effort to conceal the anguish in his voice. The words that then emerged from his mouth seemed to be transported on small billows of frozen breath. "Dead -- but -- not -- yet -- buried."

Copyright © 2009 by Robert Littell

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Happiness
    Happiness
    by Heather Harpham
    Of the 53 reviews submitted for Happiness, 49 readers rated it a four- or five-star book for an ...
  • Book Jacket
    My Name Is Leon
    by Kit De Waal
    Kit de Waal's striking debut, My Name is Leon, has inspired this big, long, complicated question: ...
  • Book Jacket: New People
    New People
    by Danzy Senna
    Danzy Senna has spent virtually her entire writing career exploring the complicated intersections of...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
News of the World by Paulette Jiles

A brilliant work of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Young Jane Young
    by Gabrielle Zevin

    From the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes a novel that will have everyone talking.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written--a story about sacrifice and motherhood.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I's A D Before D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.