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44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2002
Words have tremendous power, and reading the letters written from one person to another often helps us to know that person far more intimately than anythng else ever could.
During the summer of 1926, three extraordinary poets (two Russian and one German) began a correxpondence of the highest order. These three extraordinary people were Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva and Ranier Maria Rilke. Rilke, who is revered as a god by both Pasternak and Tsvetayeva, is seen by them as the very essence of poetry, itself.
None of these three correspondents is having a good year: Pasternak is still living in Moscow, attempting to reconcile his life to the Bolshevik regime; Tsvetayeva has been exiled to France with her husband and children and is living in the direst financial straits, with each day presenting a new hurdle in the struggle to simply "get by;" Rilke's situation is perhaps the worst of all...he is dying of leukemia in Switzerland.
Pasternak and Tsvetayeva have already exchanged years of letters filled with the passion and romance of poetry, itself. Although Pasternak saw Rilke briefly in 1900, Tsvetayeva has never laid eyes on her idol. These three poets are, however, connected by a bond far stronger than the physical. They are kindred spirits, and each find repetitions and echoes of himself in the other.
Tsvetayeva quickly becomes the driving force of this trio. This is not surprising given her character. She's the most outrageous of the three, the boldest, the neediest, the one most likely to bare her inner soul to its very depths. Tsvetayeva's exuberance, however, eventually has disatrous effects.
Although Pasternak and Tsvetayeva consider Rilke their superior by far, these are not the letters of acolyte to mentor, but an exchange of thoughts and ideas among equals. If you've ever read the sappy, sentimental "Letters to a Young Poet," you'll find a very different Rilke in this book. Gone is the grandiose, condescending Rilke. In his place we find an enthusiastic Rilke, one filled with an almost overwhelming "joie de vivre," despite his sad circumstances.
As Susan Sontag says in her preface, these letters are definitely love letters of the highest order. The poets seek to possess and consume one another as only lovers can. But even these lovers haven't suspected that one of their trio is fatally ill. Pasternak and Tsvetayeva are both shocked and devastated when Rilke dies.
Love, many people will argue, is best expressed when the people involved are able to spend time together. There is, however, something to be said for separateness, for there is much that can only come to the surface when the lover is separated from the beloved.
These letters can teach us much about Rilke, Pasternak and Tsvetayeva. They can also teach us much about the very depths of the soul...both its anguish and those sublime, angelic heights...areas not often explored by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2007
This book, the March/Sept. 2001 edition, is for me like a hot springs swimming pool for the tired body, what spring is to the birds, what rain is for parched meadows: a sensory experience that brings well-being to the sore human soul. The jacket cover comments by John Bayley and Mark Rudman give an accurate idea of what the correspondence was between these three writers 80 summers ago: yes, the letters among them are literature, and yes, reading them might make us weep for a vanished golden age of culture. But this collection of letters and poetry is for us today, addresses our global conflicts now; Rilke and Tsvetayeva knew that they were writing for the future; Pasternak knew that, too, but in these letters Boris comes across as more firmly rooted in the present moment (perhaps because he's best known as the author of a novel, Dr. Zhivago, immortalized by a David Lean film in the mid-1960s).

I know nothing of the Russian and German languages and cannot judge the translation as a "correct" one, but the reader who benefits from this book is one who wonders what people felt and how they lived during a time when the Soviet government was ratcheting up the tension that led to the period of the commissars and Stalin. When I began reading this book, I knew little about Rilke and Pasternak, and had never heard of Marina Tsvetayeva. But these writers--as human beings--were no different than anyone else in that they were subjected to the same pressures as anyone living in poverty and fear. Rilke, Pasternak, and Tsvetayeva reacted to their circumstances with beautiful words. They have proven to me--beyond a doubt--that even under the worst governmental regimes, the intelligence we give to our emotions and the joy we have in verbal expression will triumph. Today, we merely die of complacency.

Ultimately, this edition is Marina Tsvetayeva's book: her genius is evident in every phrase of her two essays inspired by the death of Rainer Maria Rilke--80 years ago, December 29, 1926--essays of lyrical prose-poetry translated beautifully by Jamey Gambrell, and appended to the end of the correspondence. The reader cannot simply turn to the back of the book and read Tsvetayeva's essay "Your Death"; one must read everything that comes before. This book also reminds me how indebted all writers and readers are to anyone who--often through extraordinary efforts--saved fragile paper documents, also the artistry and science of translators, archivists, and libraries, as well as the descendants and extended family of the writers. Thank you Alexandra Ryabinina, Yevgeny Pasternak and Yelena Pasternak, Konstantin Azadovsky, Margaret Wettlin and Walter Arndt for a truly astounding commitment to culture.
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6 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2007
here we have three great poets. sounds inviting, interesting, wonderful. instead boris writes like an infatuated 14 year old. marina is often hysterical. their ego's are so soft, constant reassurance seems to be the name of the game. a polite letter from a bored rilke has marina and boris delirious with happiness, too excited to sleep, pouring over every 'the' and 'and', looking, searching for 'deeper meaning.' if this book is read as letters by three unknowns, i doubt it would be published. boris is a cad. after one letter stating undying love for marina, he wishes to leave his wife, leave his child, pack his suitcase and live happily ever after with an also married marina. i guess their life partners are expendable when it comes to poetry, or, more like it, the rich and pathetic fantasy world of boris and marina. this is one of the most uninteresting books i have read. my advice - stick to the poetry and avoid these sickly sweet letters.
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