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Hope Against Hope: A Memoir Paperback – March 30, 1999


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Hope Against Hope: A Memoir + The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (New York Review Books Classics)
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (March 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375753168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375753169
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nadezhda means "hope" in Russian. And Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of Osip Mandelstam, one of the greatest Russian poets of the 20th century, is aptly named, for it is hope alone that seems to have buoyed her strength during very trying times. In this, the first of two volumes of her memoirs, she offers a harrowing account of the last four years she spent with her late husband. She re-creates in terse, stripped-to-the-bone sentences the atmosphere of intense paranoia that enveloped Russia's literary intelligentsia. In 1933, Osip had written a lighthearted satire ridiculing Stalin. It proved to be a 16-line death sentence. Nadezhda recalls the night the secret police came for him: "There was a sharp, unbearably explicit knock on the door. 'They've come for Osip,' I said." He was arrested, interrogated, exiled, and eventually rearrested. Nadezhda chronicles each turn of event, describing her feelings of heartbreak and joy with self-effacing discipline. Not only does Mandelstam write with the vitality and insight of the classic Russian novelists, she is far too selfless to write an account of her own travails. Instead, she acts as witness to a society's. Similarly, although Osip's mind became unbalanced by his ordeal in prison, his spirit remained unbroken; it is this liberating, imaginative force that Nadezhda celebrates in Hope Against Hope. --Lilian Pizzichini, Amazon.co.uk

Review

"        Nothing one can say will either communicate or affect the genius of this book. To pass judgment on it is almost insolence--even judgment that is merely celebration and homage."
--George Steiner, The New Yorker

"        Surely the most luminous account we have--or are likely to get--of life in the Soviet Union during the purges of the 1930's."
--Olga Carlisle, The New York Times Book Review

"        No work on Russia which I have recently read has given me so sensitive and searing an insight into the hellhouse which Russia became under Stalin as this dedicated and brilliant work on the poet Mandelstam by his devoted wife."
--Harrison E. Salisbury

Of the eighty-one years of her life, Nadezhda Mandelstam spent nineteen as the wife of Russia's greatest poet in this century, Osip Mandelstam, and forty-two as his widow. The rest was childhood and youth."
                So writes Joseph Brodsky in his appreciation of Nadezhda Mandelstam that is reprinted here as an Introduction. Hope Against Hope was first published in English in 1970. It is Nadezhda Mandelstam's memoir of her life with Osip, who was first arrested in 1934 and died in Stalin's Great Purge of 1937-38. Hope Against Hope is a vital eyewitness account of Stalin's Soviet Union and one of the greatest testaments to the value of literature and imaginative freedom ever written. But it is also a profound inspiration--a love story that relates the daily struggle to keep both love and art alive in the most desperate circumstances.

Nadezhda Mandelstam was born in Saratov in 1899. She met Osip Mandelstam in 1919. She is also the author of Hope Abandoned (1974). She died in 1980. Nadezhda means "hope" in Russian.

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Customer Reviews

Her perceptiveness and the beauty of her language lift the work into a higher realm.
Shalom Freedman
I just want to say that this book evokes the kind of courage and wit one seldom sees these days.
Campbell Roark
The most brilliant book on the state of the Russian intelligentsia during the Stalin purges.
Piro

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Campbell Roark on April 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'll start by reiterating George Steiner's quote, "Nothing one can say will either communicate or affect the genius of this book. To pass judgment on it is almost insolence--even judgment that is merely celebration and homage."
And that is the truth, well-put.
In this lucid tome Mandelstam's widow recounts the years of their exile, the real life people whom they met in their travels, the day-to-day hells of the Stalinist regime, the tiny mercies and kindnesses of others, the cowards and the idiots, the drive to create art out of the most dehumanizing experiences, the triumphs and pitfalls of the human spirit... I'm getting too flowery here, and this is a book that deserves to be read, not praised by some spoilt American white-boy pseudo-intellectual like myself. I just want to say that this book evokes the kind of courage and wit one seldom sees these days.
Like Ahkmatova, like Yelena Sergeyevna Bulgakova, like so many Russian women, Nadezhda survived- because of her (and their) resilience we have not only her husband's works, but also this masterpiece. The chapters are short and so finely crafted that it shocks me. How someone can be so accurate, so succinct, so resolute and so honest all at once... If this were the standard by which writers judged their own works, well, amazon would have far fewer books to sell.
If you are looking for a glimpse of what life was 'like' during Stalin's reign in Russia, if you are looking for an unflinching view of humanity and 'utopian' projects, or if you are looking for the most eloquent and disturbing memoir I have ever read- well, here, all I can do is add my empty two-cents.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By "lampros" on July 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most wonderful books i have ever read and a sensational portrait of the russian poet Ossip Mandelstam. The book focus on mandelstam's last years when he was under the pressure and prosecution of Stalin. The prose is beautiful, full of musings on the condition of Art. She also draw a very clear portrait of what Stalinism meant for artists and people in general in Russia. But for me the most important part of the book is to see the way Ossip dealt with horror and Death. For me, this book is one of the best studies about the condition of human beings. A must.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
Highly recommended reading. This is a detailed but very readable account of the years following the revolution as recalled by the wife of one of Russia's leading poets. It is a witty, frank, and intelligent analysis of conditions that contrast so starkly with the premise of the revolution - freedom and equality for all people.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christopher W. Coffman on August 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
Only a process that is very beautiful and very terrible could produce this book: the anguish of two human souls being tormented by a cruel, fiendishly clever, and virtually all-powerful State determined to murder both the body and soul of its victims. Whether we deserve to benefit as readers from the terrible tempering endured by the poet Osip Mandelstam and his widow Nadezhda Mandelstam is a matter that can be easily determined: we do not deserve it. We are not worthy of the Mandelstams. They belong to a very select group of all the human beings who have ever lived, most of whom we will never know. Thanks to her memoir, we do know Nadezhda and Osip.

If Osip's great characteristic was his commitment to truth, Nadezhda's was her endurance (if this sounds dismissive recall that the New Testament repeatedly includes endurance as one of a short list of authentic signs of the divine Spirit). Her personal survival made possible the survival of (most) of Osip's poetry, and of the story of their lives, preserved in this unique memoir.

Wordsworth defined poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquility", and this memoir has something deeper than tranquility to it, a profound serenity, a luminous sadness, a fusion of love and truth which is the pivot on which human history revolves.

It is clear from reading this book that Osip was one those described in the 11th chapter of Hebrews as those "of whom the world was not worthy".

What better way to understand the industrial scale barbarisms of the twentieth century than to read about how they were observed and interpreted through the sensibilities of great poets and writers?
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book. The devotion of Nadezhda Mandelshtam to her husband, to his work is at the center of this work. She writes with poetic intensity and chronicles the story of their life together and their cruel separation . Her devotion her self- sacrifice and her great love for her husband make her story a heroic example. Her perceptiveness and the beauty of her language lift the work into a higher realm. It is intense and it is deep, and at times so painful as to be difficult to read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Piro on November 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
The most brilliant book on the state of the Russian intelligentsia during the Stalin purges. Nadezhda Mandelstam's account of her husband Osip covers a whole generation of writers who suffered the harsh censorship of the regime and all the consequences that came out of any form of free expression in their work. Is a sad history of the decline of the Russian intelligentsia of everything genuine and original in the face of a state controlled literature and state controlled life. The authors' intellectual perseverance against all odds explains best that survival instinct so innate to the Russian intellectual from the Petrine era to today.
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