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 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.
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.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
'The Stalin Epigram' is unlike any Littell novel I've read. It is sad, beautiful, complex. It is a writer not playing with words to earn a living, or to impress, or to get laid, or to sell one stupid book. It is a lonely poet casting a stone into a cave, writing a love note to a dead lover, or telling Stalin to take a flying leap. It is art and art is always a little mad.
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.
33 year-old pharmacist, organic chemist and musician.
I bought this book in the hope to get a feel of how it was like to be living in Moscow during the Great Purge. Never had I hoped to find such a gem.
Reading 'The Stalin Epigram' over the course of three or four weeks, slowly, savouring it, was on of those experiences that left a mark in my mind and in my soul. It cristallized my understanding of the Soviet dream and how it skidded out of control under Stalin's regime. The sights, the sounds, the smells and, above all, the fear of this era are beautifully and intelligently put down on paper often with a disconcerting economy of words. It left me convinced the author is portraying the truth (or as close as it gets) of what life in the Soviet Union was like during those dreadful, crazy times.
As the book revolves around the art of poetry, the narrative features many different instances where symbolism is delicately disguised and once I learned to look for it, I begun appreciating the novel in a whole new different way. For this reason and many others, I know I will read it again, which is something I try to do as little as I can (since there are too many books and life it too short). I know to look for things I have missed the first time.
This is a sad, sad story. However it must be told to the whole world that this happened. I applaud and I thank Mr. Littell for his powerful yet humble effort at portraying the life of the poet Mandelstam who, like 20 million other intellectuals, workers, peasants, bureaucrats, children, elderly etc. became crushed under Stalin's fist.
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