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Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova Paperback – 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2005)
  • ASIN: B000ORKKJ0
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Marcus Adams on April 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
Elaine Feinstein's engrossing biography of Anna Akhmatova - one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century - makes the woman, her work and her world vividly alive. In chronicling this extraordinarily dramatic life, Feinstein makes use of a broad range of new material, including letters, journals and memoirs, and interviews Akhmatova's surviving friends and relatives.

Feinstein follows Akhmatova from her privileged Russian youth to her free-spirited early adulthood and her first, unhappy marriage to the poet Nikolay Gumilyov. The 1920s were years of starvation in Russia, but for Akhmatova they were also a period of great creativity and many love affairs, some painful, others more fulfilling. In a key encounter, Akhmatova met and fell in love with a married art historian, Vladimir Punin, and lived with him in his apartment, where his unhappy wife and young daughter had to remain.

During this time, Akhmatova's son, Lev, from her first marriage, suddenly re-entered her life. Feinstein gives a heartbreaking account of her relationship with Lev, who was exiled in Siberia for many years. (Despite Akhmatova's many pleas to the Soviet authorities on his behalf, Lev was not rehabilitated until 1956.)

Akhmatova's works were banned in the Soviet Union from 1925 to 1940, but despite ill health and further turmoil, her inner toughness enabled her to continue to write poetry of genius. She remained in Leningrad when the Nazis invaded and then was airlifted out to Tashkent, where she spent the war years.

This immensely readable and profoundly touching study shows how, despite her many hardships, Akhmatova was prepared to give her unstinting support to friends such as Mandelstam, Pasternak and Shostakovich who were victimised by the Stalin regime.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Flippy on February 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
Feinstein has researched and written an admirable biography. She selects her details, writes about Anna Akhmatova with detached compassion and rarely if ever allows judgment to haunt her biography. Her research is overwhelming at times and even though the reader can sense her dedication, the work lacks a cohesive element. While Feinstein lists events, actions and reactions to various controversial situations in Akhmatova's life (her marriage and divorce to her husbands, Mandelstam's arrest and exile, her troubled relationship to her son), there is no real strong sense of understanding nor an attempt at psychology. Feinstein records but rarely offers an interpretation.

Every life retold is a story. Akhmatova's life began in comfort and ease but degraded through the Soviet years. She suffered creative suppression under Stalin, constantly burned certain poems and articles that might jeopardize her freedom and the freedom of those around her. She suffered loss and pain when her lover and son were sent to prison.

Feinstein's biography doesn't truly give the reader a feeling of what this remarkable and strong woman went through. We get snippets here and there. We read about this illness and that loss but there is no emotional grounding. The details pile on and the chapters go by but we don't get a sense of a life lived. By the time you finish this book, you'll have read through a list of years, impressions from various journals and eye-witness accounts but again, without some sincere attempt at coalescing and putting Akhmatova's life into a narrative framework, the biography feels more like journalism.

This book is at best a great introduction but not a comprehensive analysis of Akhmatova's great stature in Russian history and literature.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Piro on November 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I particularly liked Feinstein's biography of Akhmatova, although is a slow read, it introduces the reader to the human Akhmatova, with all her qualities and imperfections. Her generosity as a friend, her passion for poetry, her frail relationship with her son, the failed marriages and dire love affairs, the everyday struggle for existence and all of these aspects reflected in her poetry. There are many interesting facts about her life like her meeting with Isaiah Berlin and the emotional and political consequence that followed, her marriage to the eccentric Vladimir Shilejko and her strange relationship with Lydia Chukovskaya all of which give a new and complete portrait of Akhmatova as a poet and a soviet citizen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jamakaya on January 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this biography of Anna Akhmatova although I think it was more effective at conveying the dramatic decades and events of Russian history that she was swept up in than in revealing the character of the poet herself. Despite that, I learned more about Akhmatova than I had previously known, and her poems have greater resonance for me after reading about her grueling struggles against censorship, Stalinist terror, famine and war.

I read Anna Akhmatova (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets), in which her poems are organized chronologically, alongside Feinstein's biography. Reading these two together really enhanced my appreciation of her poems. It also sent me on a lovely tangent looking up info about the challenges of translating poetry - an incredible art in itself! In many cases, I found Feinstein's translations of Akhmatova's poems more dazzling than those of D.M. Thomas's in the Everyman's edition.

In the end though, Akhmatova remains rather mysterious as an individual. It's hard to understand her motivations toward her work and in her friendships and many love affairs. This may be due to the necessary caution about personal expression dictated by the repressive society she lived in, where a "politically incorrect" comment or letter could get you exiled or even executed. (Her first husband and her great colleague, Osip Mandelstam, were executed; her son spent years in the gulag.) In such a paranoid atmosphere, she didn't dare keep detailed diaries and she frequently burned things she had written or correspondence others had sent to her, leaving less of a record for us to study.
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