THE OAK AND THE CALF

SKETCHES OF LITERARY LIFE IN THE SOVIET UNION: A MEMOIR

Written in installments respectively dated 1967, 1971, 1973, and 1974, these memoirs begin with the critical and official "acceptance" of One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich and end with Solzheintsyn on a plane headed for West Germany, expelled. All of it is set "an octave high," to the key of never-believe-them-for-even-a-minute; and it is absolutely abrim with specifics: dates, circumstances, documents, and dialogue—qualities not surprising in an ex-zek (campprisoner) whose earliest works had to be committed to memory in full. In a Western context, the watchfulness Solzhenitsyn exhibits could even be thought of as selfish, obstinate, calculating. Khrushchev, his champion, is toppled: Solzhenitsyn admits to a certain relief—gratitude can lead to self-censorship. After the arrest of Sinyavsky and Daniel in 1965 and the theft of the manuscript of The First Circle from the magazine Now Mir's safe, Solzhenitsyn consciously goes on the offensive; the ensuing protests, statements, the decision not to go to Stockholm for the Nobel lest the government lock the door behind him—it all seems like something out of Von Clausewitz. And his readiness to score trimmers like Shostakovich, to condemn outright dissidents like the Medvedev brothers, even Sakharov, as intellectually dishonest—there is a certain tone of episcopal hauteur and dictator-ishness in this that's hard to ignore. Yet the "literary life" Solzhenitsyn lived was one he realized from the beginning had to be strategic, given the history of modern Russian letters; and nowhere in the book is this knowledge more forcefully brought home than in its most oddly "human" pages: a portrait of Alexsandr Tvardovsky, the editor of Novy Mir, alcoholic, frightened yet almost hypnotizedly brave, testing, retreating, keeping faith in his "discovery": Solzhenitsyn. Reading the manuscript of Cancer Ward ("You are a terrible man. If I ever came to power, I'd put you away"), Tvardovsky gets blind drunk, asks Solzhenitsyn to rehearse with him his (Tvardovsky's) interview with the KGB that's sure to come if he publishes this. He's a massive, ambiguous, tragic character—and all of Solzhenitsyn's Russian-novelist skills go effortlessly into his depiction. Tvardovsky's pathetic end—removed as editor of Novy Mir, the magazine shut down, a stroke, death—fully justifies the tetchy temple of facts Solzhenitsyn has erected here perhaps as a kind of memorial to him. Unsettling, but compelling.

Pub Date: May 7, 1980

ISBN: 0002721589

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1980

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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