A CAPTIVE OF TIME by Olga Ivinskaya
Kirkus Star

A CAPTIVE OF TIME

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A widow and mother of two, Olga Ivinskaya was 34 and working as an assistant editor at the literary journal Novy Mir when she first met Boris Pasternak in 1946. Despite Pasternak's snagged domestic situation (a wife, a common-law wife, and children from both), their affair kindled quickly, and Madame Ivinskaya took a front-row seat for the next fourteen years of the famous poet's life. She recounts the ""romance by correspondence"" P. carried on with the poetess Marina Tsvetayeva, the writing of Doctor Zhivago and the furor over its foreign publication, P.'s anguished but not totally clarified rejection of the Nobel Prize, and finally his death--with the remarkable display of rebelliousness at the funeral of the ostracized writer. It's a big and dense book, yet, just as with Gladkov's Conversations with Pasternak (1977, p. 968), Pasternak remains almost impossibly slippery. Though not herself present at the time, Madame Ivinskaya goes back again and again to the two great ambiguities of Pasternak's life: his behavior during Stalin's phone call to him concerning the fate of Osip Mandelstam, and the letters of retraction and mea culpa that P. wrote during the Nobel business. The question, then, remains: was Pasternak a complete nÄif or was he a coward? Reading this book, as when reading the great testimonial works of Mandelstam's widow, anyone not Russian must conclude that he or she simply does not have the proper criteria to judge. Pasternak may have (suspiciously to some) been the only major Russian modern writer to escape imprisonment totally, but Madame Ivinskaya did go to the labor camps for years for her association with him--and in her perseverance and faith is embodied a vision of reality no Westerner can fully understand. Her book has a vain and flighty side totally missing from Nadezhda Mandelstam's memoirs (she directs us repeatedly to which poems and aspects of Lara are based directly upon herself), but in the main it is a moving account of tribulation and courage in the face of both Pasternak's feckless genius and a state apparatus that brings down upon its artists especially a brutality so chilling as to numb the mind.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday