ANNA AKHMATOVA by Roberta Reeder


Poet and Prophet
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 By meticulously tracing renowned Russian poet Akhmatova's tortuous life, this extraordinarily detailed biography builds up a panoramic view of Soviet cultural history. Reeder (Russian Literature and Culture/Univ. of Marburg, Germany) edited the acclaimed bilingual edition of Akhmatova's collected poetry published by Zephyr Press in 1990. Here she offers a historical chronicle rather than a psychological analysis of Akhmatova (18891966) or a reinterpretation of her poetry. Glossing over the poet's childhood, Reeder plunges into a lively account of avant-garde St. Petersburg in the decadent years preceding the Russian Revolution; Akhmatova, departing from the reigning symbolist aesthetic, pioneered the modernist style of ``Acmeism,'' which stressed everyday language and experience. After the revolution, Akhmatova, often poverty-stricken and at odds with the emerging regime, kept a low profile. Symbols and allegories--more often than not prophetic, Reeder contends--would reemerge in Akhmatova's work as she struggled to express her alienation from Soviet rule and at the same time keep her citizenship and her life- -a task at which most of her fellow writers were less successful than she. Reeder depicts a long series of state crimes, from the murders of Akhmatova's first husband, Nikolay Gumilyov, and her close friend Osip Mandelstam to the hounding of Boris Pasternak and Joseph Brodsky, even after the supposed ``thaw'' of the Khrushchev years. Reeder interprets Akhmatova's poems and those of her contemporaries almost exclusively in light of political and literary history, and the parade of crises and geniuses that she presents becomes so dense at times that it obscures the depth of the verses that she liberally quotes--and by extension of the poets themselves. But this very density is what will make Reeder's biography not only the starting point for all future engagements with Akhmatova's life and work but more generally a key source for scholars exploring the thorny entanglement of politics and art in 20th- century Russia. (32 pages of photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-11241-6
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994