‘The Memory that works backwards only . . .’
Osip Mandelstam was one of the most original and powerful Russian poets of the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary period, who might have left an even deeper mark on modern Soviet literature if in the last years of his life he had not been cruelly hounded by Stalin and driven to death, at the age of 47, in the frozen wastes of the Siberian Far North. [*] Hope against Hope, a Memoir, by Nadezhda Mandelstam, Collins & Harvill Press.£3.15. Nadezhda Mandelstam, his devoted companion from 1919 till his death in 1938, survived him, the worst Stalinist times and the War by sheer chance, a whim of fate helped by that instinct of self-preservation which was so visibly sapped and drained away in her husband. She was younger and tougher too. From 1938 till 1964, the year when she was finally allowed to return to Moscow, she taught English in a number of schools. She had to move from one provincial town to another, because though some of these places might have been god-forsaken, they were not forsaken by the political police who made life too dangerous for her.
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