I am going to write about myself alone though. . . I am really concerned less with myself than with the scraps of experience...



I am going to write about myself alone though. . . I am really concerned less with myself than with the scraps of experience I have stored up during my life"" is the way that Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of poet Osip Mandelstam, introduces this sequel to Hope Against Hope ambiguously entitled Hope Abandoned. (She's had, by her own admission, several ""lives"" -- her girlhood and heedless adolescence, the twenty years she spent with ""M.,"" the decades of wandering widowhood, and the old age in which, having cast her message on the waves and seen it come to port, she can calmly wait for death.) But it is impossible to disentangle her own and her husband's stories. ""From me he wanted only one thing: that I should give up my life to him, renounce my own self and become a part of him""; after a brief and half-hearted rebellion she acquiesced to this as well as to his demand that he be taken as he was, unchanged. Although she dreamed of stability, peace, fine clothing, a home, perhaps a family (if the times were different -- she couldn't bring children into the world she knew), he led her a hand-to-mouth, gypsy-like existence where the nighttime crunch of tires in the courtyard was often followed by a rough knock upon the door. In the better days there was a somewhat gusty moment-to-moment life on the fringe of the (most unattractive) Soviet intelligentsia in the company of other very ardent spirits (Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva, Gumilev, Zoschenko, Pasternak, Ehrenburg), sometimes a portion of the Writers' Union's viands. Mandelstam, in the moments free from fear and hunger, composed his verse and she, his admiring amanuensis, wrote down, memorized and interpreted his every word. ""It is hard to look truth in the eye, whether you were an active participant in events or just a well-disposed onlooker receiving your share of crumbs from the master's table,"" Nadezhda admits: ""Fifty years later nobody will ever be able to clean up this gigantic mess."" Nadezhda, however, makes a very gallant try. We can bear with the digressions, repetitions and discursiveness and listen to this hardy lady, who, after years of isolation in a darkened room, still hopes.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1973


Page Count: -

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1973