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Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatovaby Elaine Feinstein
"[W]ildly erratic and infuriatingly uneven....Fortunately, all biographies, good, bad, or indifferent, end up benefiting from the reflected glory of their subjects. A bad biographer, like a bad translator, can dim the luster of the object of her attention, but she can never quite extinguish it, and Feinstein's book, despite its clumsiness, still manages to convey some of the magic of the Russian poet." Michael Scammell, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
This comprehensive biography of the legendary Russian poet — a rich narrative of the dramatic life behind the extraordinary work — draws on a wealth of new material, including memoirs, letters and journals, and interviews with Akhmatova's surviving friends and family.
Anna Akhmatova began writing in the years before World War I, a time when, according to Akhmatova herself, "to think of a woman as a poet was absurd." Her genius would rise above categorization, but this superb biography makes clear how heavily she paid for the political and personal passions that informed it. A fierce poise, forged by Anna's lonely childhood, carried her through her father's resistance to her writing — which prompted her to change her name from Gorenko to Akhmatova, a name taken from a Tartar ancestor — and her flawed but passionate love affairs. We see Akhmatova's work banned from 1925 until 1940, and banned again following World War II, when the Union of Soviet Writers labeled her "half nun, half harlot." We see her steadfast resistance to Stalin during her hopeful but unsuccessful attempt to win her son's release from prison. We see her abiding loyalty to such friends as Mandelstam, Shostakovich, and Pasternak as they faced Stalinist oppression. And we see how, through everything, Akhmatova continued to write, her poetry giving voice to the Russian people by whom she was, and still is, deeply loved.
Anna of All the Russias takes us into the days and nights of an icon. It is a revelation of both the artist and the woman.
"Akhmatova's soulful work spoke for the entire tyrannized country, and what distinguishes this judicious and riveting biography most are Feinstein's translations of Akhmatova's incandescent poems of 'steely defiance.'" Booklist (Starred Review)
"Thoroughly engaging....Feinstein's magisterial translations of Akhmatova's poetry further enrich this portrait of a mythic personality as vulnerable as she was implacable. A window to a dazzling lost age." Kirkus Reviews
"As this eminently readable account makes apparent, no one was more aware of her symbolic value than Akhmatova herself....Feinstein deserves credit for refusing to idealize a woman whose words were powerful enough to potentially get her killed." Megan O'Grady, Vogue
"[A] worthy and enjoyable biography....Feinstein weaves her poems through the text while providing great detail on the significant relationships of her life. Recommended." Library Journal
"[T]horough and captivating....Feinstein so fully knows and feels for Akhmatova's life that the reader follows her past her faults." San Francisco Chronicle
"[P]acked, breathless prose....Akhmatova emerges in glimpses...but Feinstein never really succeeds in capturing the personality that remains so immediate in the poems." The New Yorker
"[S]plendid....With her vivid, immensely readable biography, Elaine Feinstein gives us Akhmatova in all her profound, complicated and deeply moving glory." Seattle Times
"To be sure, Anna of All the Russias does afford some tantalizing glimpses of an extraordinary woman living in extraordinary times....And yet, as illuminating as these moments are, Feinstein's overall portrait lacks depth." Olga Grushin, The New York Times Book Review
Focusing on the legendary Russian poet, this comprehensive biography is a rich narrative of the dramatic life of Anna Akhmatova.
About the Author
Elaine Feinstein is a prizewinning poet and novelist and the author of highly praised biographies of Pushkin, Marina Tsvetayeva, and Ted Hughes. She lives in London.
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