Steve's Reviews > Hope Against Hope

Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam
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Jul 02, 09

bookshelves: non-fiction, biography, poetry
Read in July, 2009

A remarkable book (so far). Mandelstam landed in hot water for this poem on Stalin (which is sometimes called the "Kremlin Mountaineer"):

We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,

All we hear is the Kremlin mountaineer,
The murderer and peasant-slayer.

His fingers are fat as grubs
And the words, final as lead weights, fall from his lips,

His cockroach whiskers leer
And his boot tops gleam.

Around him a rabble of thin-necked leaders -
fawning half-men for him to play with.

The whinny, purr or whine
As he prates and points a finger,

One by one forging his laws, to be flung
Like horseshoes at the head, to the eye or the groin.

And every killing is a treat
For the broad-chested Ossete.

* Update (7/2/09). Whew. Hope Against Hope is one of the great witness books of the last century. I've been meaning to turn to it for years, intrigued by the literary friendship between the two great Russian poets, Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova, as recounted in Roberta Reeder's biography on Akmatova. Current events in Iran finally pushed me onward. Well, I was not disappointed, since Mandelstam's wife, Nadezhda, was a great writer herself. So much so, that this story, meant to preserve the memory of her poet husband, becomes equally her story. And her voice, as an indictment of Stalin – and his system, is every bit as powerful as Solzhenitsyn's. One chilling part of this book is the appendix -- with its numerous names. If you turn to it as each new name comes up (and I encourage you to do so), you soon become stunned at how many of these people end up in prison, executed, as suicides, etc.

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message 1: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Wow. Hadn't read this one of his. I like Mandelstam, but am more into Akhmatova (don't know if you remembered, but I translate her). Thanks, Steve.

Jenn



Steve Jenn, while I was reading this, I was wondering if you'd ever thought about translating M. Anyway, it's a great book, with -- history aside, some very interesting passages regarding the composition of poems (which is very hard to do). Also enjoyed those parts relatd to Mandelstam's fascination w/ Dante.


message 3: by Tom (new) - added it

Tom Steve, just finished Kunitz translation of Akhmatova poems, and the connection to Mandelstan led me to look up Hope Against Hope. Though I've only picked through a handful of OM's poetry in past, I see now that I must return to his work and read it together with NM's memoir of their marriage.


message 4: by Steve (last edited Apr 24, 2010 12:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steve Hi, Tom. I didn't know Kunitz had a collection of AA out. (I have the DM Thomas one, put out by Penguin.) NM's memoir is pretty awesome. If you're going to make a project of it, I also recommend Roberta Reeder's Anna Akhmatova: Poet and Prophet. (I think she has a version of AA poems as well.) One other poet from this period worth checking out is Martina Tsvetaeva. AA, OP, and MT all ran in the same circles. From what I've read, MT is probably the hardest to translate. But I did find a translation that spoke to me not too long back. I found it at my library. The translator is Nina Kossman, and the title is Poem of the End: Selected Lyrical and Narrative Poetry. Oh, and the lady above in this thread, Jennifer Reeser, is a poet who has now translated a number of AA poems. She just had one published the other day by First Things. Here's a link:
http://www.firstthings.com/article/20...


message 5: by Tom (last edited Apr 25, 2010 08:14AM) (new) - added it

Tom A good friend of mine, a poet himself (Dennis Sampson), recommended K's translation ("Poems of Akhmatova"). It's a rather slim volume but includes the Russian on opposing pages. Of course I don't read Russian (I wish!) but it's still cool to look at and imagine AA playing with the language. The intro, by Max Hayward, gives good overview of AA's life, enough to whet my chops for more, so I appreciate the Reeder rec.

Funny you should mention MT, as another friend (who also recommended K's AA trans.) loves her work. So much in fact that he dabbles in translating her poetry (he's a Law prof with an MA in Russian Lit -- what a combo, eh). A while back he and a local pianist collaborated on Russian Recital; he read his MS translations and she played Rachmaninov. Quite a treat! I've seen an MT edition at Borders (Penguin ed?)and should've bought it long before now.
Did you know that NYRB has an edition of Pasternak-Rilke-MT letters? Can't remember the title. I'll look it up and pass it on.
Who knew there were so many lovers of Russian poetry -- one good legacy of Cold War, eh.
Thanks for this trove of tips, Steve. I'll check out Jennifer's translations asap.


message 6: by Tom (new) - added it

Tom Jennifer,
Loved your translation of AA's "I've learned to live in wise simplicity"! (Steve tipped me off with link below.) I've just started reading AA and am blown away by it.


Jennifer wrote: "Wow. Hadn't read this one of his. I like Mandelstam, but am more into Akhmatova (don't know if you remembered, but I translate her). Thanks, Steve.

Jenn
"





Jennifer wrote: "Wow. Hadn't read this one of his. I like Mandelstam, but am more into Akhmatova (don't know if you remembered, but I translate her). Thanks, Steve.

Jenn
"



message 7: by Tom (new) - added it

Tom "Letters: Summer 1926" (Pasternak-Rilke-Tsvetayeva)


message 8: by Bert (new)

Bert Thanks, Steve, for writing his poem out. I'd never heard of the poet or his wife. I can say that poetry is humbling when stripped of pretenses.


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