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Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life Paperback – February 14, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Nobel Prize-winning poet Brodsky grew up in the Soviet Union in the midst of WWII. "If anyone profited from the war," he writes, "it was us: its children...we were richly provided with stuff to romanticize..." A middling student, Brodsky dropped out at 15 and began his informal education. Rejected from submarine training, he held many jobs, including machinist, morgue assistant, and bath house stoker, which attracted the attention of the KGB. They arrested Brodsky in 1962, marking the start of his troubles with his government. He would soon be found guilty of "parisitism" and face exile, first to rural Norenskaya, where he read, wrote, and worked the land, and then to Vienna, where he flourished as a poet, essayist, and intellectual. But success was bittersweet, as Brodsky never returned to his homeland or saw his parents again. Loseff counts himself a longtime friend of his subject's and this account brims with respect and enthusiasm: "I cannot comment on Joseph's life and work dispassionately, not only because I loved him, but also because I thought him a genius." Yet he does employ restraint in capturing the poet's individualism, originality, whimsicality, and eccentricity, lovingly illuminating the man behind the work. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Distinguished literary scholar Loseff declares, “There were a number of reasons for me not to write this book.” The most obvious being the fact that he and Joseph Brodsky (1940–96) were close friends. But, of course, that very intimacy makes for a uniquely knowledgeable and elucidative biography. Like Brodsky, Loseff (1937–2009) was a Russian poet who came to America in the 1970s, albeit without suffering persecution and exile as did the revered Nobel laureate. With dramatic on-the-scene documentation, Loseff tells the complete story of Brodsky’s now legendary arrest in 1964 for “parasitism,” his travesty of a trial, and his exile to a remote village. Brodsky became an international cause célèbre, only to be abruptly ejected from the USSR eight difficult years later. Loseff chronicles pivotal chapters in Brodsky’s thoroughly literary life, but he concentrates most zealously on Brodsky’s writing and philosophy, irony and gratitude. He traces Brodsky’s influences from Akhmatova to Orwell to Auden, performs exhilarating close readings of Brodsky’s complex and powerful poetry and exquisite essays, and delineates the formidable challenge of translating his Russian prosody into English. Loseff’s commanding portrait reasserts Brodsky’s standing as an artistic genius of rectitude who called for justice, sought “inner freedom,” and became a “true citizen of the world” and poet for all. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300181604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300181609
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #740,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lev Loseff (15 June 1937, Leningrad, USSR - 6 May 2009, Hanover, NH USA) was professor of Russian and chair of the Russian language and literature department at Dartmouth. He published nine collections of verse and fiction in Russian, as well as numerous works of criticism. A compilation of his poetry, translated by Gerald Smith, was published in 2012 by Arc Publications, UK. His English works include On the Beneficence of Censorship: Aesopian Language in Modern Russian Literature, Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life and two coedited volumes, Joseph Brodsky: The Art of a Poem and Brodsky's Poetics and Aesthetics.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on January 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
How did a boy from war-torn Leningrad, who later found himself locked in a filthy Soviet-era prison train, wind up as both a Nobel laureate and America's Poet Laureate, as well, before finally ending life in the cemetery of the centuries-old St. Michael's in Venice. That life spanned only 55 years and yet Joseph Brodsky accomplished so much in his tumultuous half century on the planet.
Brodsky's poetry is not easy for most Americans to enjoy. As Lev Loseff points out in his terrific new literary biography of the poet, some of his most potent verses reflect on experiences such as riding as a convict in that filthy Soviet prison train. That's not exactly a theme you'll find rappers taking viral on YouTube today.

But, as Loseff also demonstrates, there remains a powerful, relevant message in Brodsky's life interwoven with his poetry and prose: At his best, Brodsky proved that a stateless pilgrim--wandering between countries, between languages, between religious traditions--can build a new life, word by word, relationship by relationship, year by year.

I knew Brodsky myself. Having studied poetry under Brodsky for a year shortly after his arrival in the United States in the early 1970s--and having followed his work across many years--I continue to be startled by how much he understood about Western, English-language literature. Then, he transformed himself into an English-language man of letters himself. (I included several vignettes of my own experiences with Brodsky in my own book of Lenten reflections, Our Lent: Things We Carry.
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By Ben Cunningham on July 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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