A master of historical detail and cultural authenticity, best-selling author Robert Littell based this novel in part on a memorable, intimate meeting with Mandelstam's wife in 1979. Narrated by Mandelstam's wife, his friends Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova, and Mandelstam himself, this lucid account of the relationships between the artists, politicians, and proletariat of Stalinist Russia is an astounding moment in history brought to life by a perceptive, immensely talented writer.
©2006 Robert Littell; (P)2009 Tantor
"Littell is unflinching in his portrayal of Osip's tragic arc, bringing a troubled era of Russian history to rich, magnificent life." (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
"Not since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich has an author captured the crushing sense of foreboding that hung over Uncle Joe’s Soviet state with the clear-eyed acuity that imbues every page of Robert Littell’s The Stalin Epigram. … [It’s also] a quintessentially Russian love story, which virtually guarantees that the rose’s thorn will outlive its petals." (BookPage)
"[T]here is a surreal quality to the story that makes it by turns gruesome, darkly absurd and hysterical. … The strength of this narrative lies in the straightforward description of the awful absurdities, the brutality, the bureaucratic pretzel logic and the mental and physical responses to it, that were required to survive Stalin’s regime." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
This rather incredible book takes a while to show its exceptional stripes. The multiple narrators and multiple story lines are perfectly fitting but a bit confusing at first. This book is one in a long line of fascinating stories about the horrible time of the Stalinist purges. Totally rewarding.
There have been many outstanding narratives and histories about the tragic destiny of the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, including his wife's first-rate memoir, Hope Abandoned. Stalin Epigram is not one of them. Robert Littell is singularly untalented when it comes to portraying real people and events, and tends to compensate by loading his fictionalized histories (such as The Company) with gossipy sex stories and empty bravado--call it the men's locker room version of Cold War history. Plus, Littell has a maddening tendency to introduce characters and plot lines that go nowhere at all--it's as if his imagination runs out in the middle of each chapter. The research is equally shabby--the secret police were not called the KGB in 1934, and St. Petersburg was called Leningrad. This audiobook was a complete waste of a audible credit.
This is deeply moving, exquisitely told story. There is not one wasted dab of paint in this masterpiece. I bought it in the hope of listening to something entertaining for long drives, and now I must have a hard copy of this book so that I can see this work executed on the page.
The Stalin Epigram is not a light entertainment - it's a profoundly imagined, zen-like work of a complex, flourishing mind. It succeeds on every level, from the description of the smallest detail through the development of the mundane ironies that spiral out of control to govern the lives of the characters. Every character is so beautifully delineated and examined. The pacing, the journeys that characters take in their own minds and through their fears and loves, is all first-rate. They live in a world in which one is tortured, humiliated and murdered for the tiniest, only imagined, offenses against the state. And that is in the best of times. As the Bolshevik revolution approaches the end of the 30s, absolute power has corrupted absolutely. Imagining how that feels, and what it looks like, and conveying the moods, the fears, the beats and moments of all of that to a western audience is a major accomplishment. And at the heart of this is a pure story of genuine love and sharing.
I reserve five stars for books that I would expect always, from now on, to come to mind as an especially rewarding work. The Stalin Epigram is one of them. I'm anxious now to see if any of Mr. Littell's earlier works approach the power and scope of this superb novel.
Also, the readings by John Lee and Anne Flosnik are flawless.
Bravo to Mr. Littell for this book and everyone involved with this wonderful recording.
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