Rodney's Reviews > Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917–1922

Earthly Signs by Marina Tsvetaeva
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Jul 08, 10

bookshelves: poetry
Read in July, 2010

Tsvetaeva spent the five years that followed the October Revolution unlearning how to be bourgeois. Out with Symbolism and silk tassels on the lampshades, in with office jobs, frozen potatoes, and soldierly jibes and leers. While her husband fought for the Whites in the south, Tsvetaeva foraged for rations in Bolshevik Moscow, cared for her two young daughters (one of whom died of malnutrition), and somehow found the presence of mind to write these vivid, unflinching, and entirely modern prose pieces about her trials and triumphs in the nascent Soviet state. The fragmentary style she adopted, full of wordplay and happy demotic noise, reminds me a little of a literary transcription of Soviet montage, except that instead of the camera, there’s Marina, entirely embodied and en-selfed despite the pressures to make like a comrade in the brave new mass.

It’s surprising how uncomplaining and entirely unself-pitying Tsvetaeva is in these pieces, in fact how many moments of humor, joy, and human connection she extracts from such ugly conditions. She manages to see people through the parties, and turn unpromising situations into exercises for the imagination, like a prisoner flexing in the yard. A unique glimpse of a desperate period, but also a testament to the poet’s ability—anyone’s—to find a hole through the fence of mere period.
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