THE DEATH OF A POET by Irma Kudrova


The Last Days of Marina Tsvetaeva
by & translated by
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A gripping account of the final months of the Russian poet, who took her own life in 1941, at age 49, following the arrest and imprisonment by the Soviet secret police of her daughter, husband, and friends.

“Where is the truth?” asks Kudrova. And: “How true is it?” Newly translated from the Russian, this 1995 work (her third about Tsvetaeva, none reviewed) endeavors to answer these disturbing questions about the famous poet’s decision to hang herself in a small, somber house near Moscow. The author carefully reconstructs Tsvetaeva’s movements and imagines what she might have been feeling as her personal world imploded, the Russia she knew exploded (Nazi bombs were raining on Moscow), and the NKVD rounded up, interrogated, broke, and executed anyone who’d ever breathed, or even considered, an anti-Soviet sentiment. (Readers concerned about our own Patriot Act will recognize some ominous shadows flickering on the wall.) Kudrova begins in mid-June 1939 as the poet and her 14-year-old son were leaving France to return to the Soviet Union. Her husband, who had been working for Soviet intelligence in France, was already home. Husband and wife had not seen each other for 18 months; the NKVD would shoot him in 1941. Using their son’s diary, the KGB archives, letters (including three suicide notes) and other personal documents, interviews, and visits to key locations, Kudrova imagines the forces at work on Tsvetaeva. The author examines and modifies three published motives for the poet’s suicide: protecting her son, who by her death would perhaps be freed from subsequent government suspicion; yielding to mental illness (her mood had grown ever more fearful and saturnine); avoiding arrest herself by the NKVD and being forced to traduce her friends, even as they had falsely betrayed her family. Kudrova concludes by calling Tsvetaeva “another victim of the Great October Socialist Revolution.”

A grim reminder that tyrants have myriad ways to strangle dissent. (8 pp. b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2004
ISBN: 1-58567-522-9
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2003