Russia’s Poetic Troika: Background information when reading The Stalin Epigram

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The Stalin Epigram

A Novel

by Robert Littell

The Stalin Epigram by Robert Littell X
The Stalin Epigram by Robert Littell
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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 384 pages

    Jun 2010, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Derek Brown
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About this Book

Russia’s Poetic Troika

This article relates to The Stalin Epigram

Print Review

Born in Odessa, Russia in 1889, Anna Akhmatova began writing poems at the age of 11, adopting her grandmother's surname because her father would not permit her to publish under his own. As a member of the Acmeist school of poetry, Akhmatova achieved celebrity along with her husband, Nikolay Gumilyov, who was executed in 1921 as a counter-revolutionary. Between 1925 and 1940, all of Akhmatova's work was banned from publication in the Soviet Union. In 1930 she composed "Requiem," one of her finest and most famous poems, in dedication to the victims of the Stalinist Terror. "Requiem" was not published in Russia until 1987. Despite heavy censorship of her work, Akhmatova remained in Russia, and died in Leningrad in 1966.

Boris Pasternak is best known in the United States for the film Dr. Zhivago, based on his novel about the fate of Russian aristocrats after the Bolshevik revolution. For Russians, however, Pasternak is primarily considered a great poet whose work strongly influenced Mandelstam and Akhmatova. Pasternak was himself born into the Russian aristocracy in 1890 to an impressionist painter and a concert pianist, and his childhood home was frequented by great artists of the day. His collection of poems, My Sister Life, was published in 1921 and established his reputation as an innovative and influential poet. Written in a writers' colony outside of Moscow, Doctor Zhivago had to be smuggled out of the USSR by the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin. The book ultimately earned Pasternak the Nobel Prize in Literature which he declined in response to pressure from the Soviet regime.

Osip Mandelstam was born in 1891 in what is today Warsaw, Poland. He published his first poems while a student at the prestigious Tenishev School. Cofounder with Anna Akhmatova and Nikolay Gumilyovof of the Acmeist school of poetry, Mandelstam's poetry favored directness and the concrete use of imagery. His fate was sealed in 1933 when he published "The Stalin Epigram" a 16-line poem lambasting the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Learn more about Mandelstam here. (If you're considering reading The Stalin Epigram, the full biography contains plot spoilers!)

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Article by Derek Brown

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Stalin Epigram. It originally ran in July 2009 and has been updated for the June 2010 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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