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The Guest from the Future: Anna Akhmatova and Isaiah Berlin [Hardcover]

Gyorgy Dalos , Andrea Dunai , Antony Wood


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Book Description

Sept. 1 1999
In 1945 Isaiah Berlin, working in Russia for the British Foreign Office, met Anna Akhmatova almost by chance in what was then Leningrad. The brief time they spent together one long November evening was a transformng experience for both, and has become a cardinal moment in modern literary history.

For Akhmatova, Berlin was a "guest from the future," her ideal reader outside the nightmare of Soviet life and a link with a lost Russian world; he became a figure in her cryptic masterpiece "Poem without a Hero." For Berlin, this "most memorable" meeting with the beautiful poet of genius was a spur to his ideas on liberty and on history. But there were tragic consequences: the Soviet authorities thought Berlin was a British spy, Akhmatova became a suspected enemy, and until her death in 1966 the KGB persecuted her family. Though Akhmatova was convinced that she and Berlin had inadvertently started the Cold War, she remembered him gratefully and he inspired some of her finest poems.
György Dalos--who inteviewed Berlin and many others who knew Akhmatova well, and who examined hitherto-secret KGB and Poliburo files--tells the inside story of how Stalin and other Soviet leaders dealt with Akhmatova. He ends with the touching story of her posthumous rehabilitation, when Russians astronomers discovered a new star and name it after her.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre / Not Applicable (Sept. 1 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374167273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374167271
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,130,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In the annals of 20th-century literature, few encounters between great writers were at once so ephemeral and so fraught with meaning as the evening in 1945 that Isaiah Berlin spent in the Leningrad home of Anna Akhmatova. The celebrated Russian poet saw Berlin, a Russian-born Oxford professor of political theory, then first secretary for the British Embassy in Moscow, as a visionary from the democratic world that she'd never experienced. According to Dalos, Akhmatova became romantically obsessed with Berlin and placed him as the central figure in a famously cryptic masterpiece, "Poem Without a Hero." The encounter also left Akhmatova under the surveillance of the KGB, who denounced Berlin as a British spy. Dalos, a Russian novelist and literary critic who now lives in Berlin, was captivated by the story at a 1993 meeting of the Heinrich B?ll Foundation in Moscow, at which a former KGB official delivered a paper on Akhmatova and her secret government file. Quoting at length from Akhmatova's friends and supporters, and from extensive interviews with Berlin, who died in 1997, Dalos makes considerable headway in recasting Akhmatova's lifework. Dalos is least convincing when using complex passages from her writing to support his theories about her relationship with Berlin. When weaving together details from Russian history and the notes and letters of Berlin and Akhmatova, his writing is more graceful, lending support to the growing reputation of a poet who only late in life earned global publication and an honorary doctorate from Oxford, and for whom a star was named in 1988, 22 years after her death.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Hungarian writer Dalos brings his powerful dissident's voice (1985, 1984) to the story of the ill-fated meeting between poet and philosopher. On the eve of the Cold War, a night in November 1945, Isaiah Berlin, then first secretary to the British Embassy in Moscow, met the greatest living Russian poet, the mercurial Anna Akhmatova. The two spent some 12 hours talking, and ever after Akhmatova thought of the Englishman as a lover of sorts and, Dalos believes, as the poetical figure the guest from the future, who appears in one of her greatest works, Poem Without a Hero. The long-term consequences of the meeting, however, may have been baleful; the already controversial Akhmatova found herself the recipient of a scathing denunciation by Stalin's arts czar, in which she was infamously characterized as ``a nun . . . and a whore.'' She was unable to publish her verse, barely able to eke out a living as a translator, and her son was sent to the gulag. Berlin would be haunted by guilt feelings for the rest of his life, although Dalos doubts that the visit was the trigger for the repression that followed. For the rest of her life (she died of a heart attack in 1966), Akhmatova would be in and out of favor depending on the blowing winds of change in the Soviet government. Dalos traces the cycles of her career in a deft, ironic, often caustic voice. He has a solid grasp of the vagaries of Communist bloc governmental shenanigans and also illuminates Akhmatova's verse with some incisive analyses. Occasionally, he is reduced to guessing the motivations of the men in the Kremlin, but he is generally cautious in his surmises. A downbeat but highly insightful book, painful to read but splendidly written and researched. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fear and the Muse Aug. 11 2000
By Peter McGivney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In 1946 the Russian born British philosoper Isaiah Berlin, then a diplomat at the British Embassy in Moscow, learned that Anna Akhmatova, one of the great Russian poets of the 20th century, was still alive. He went to see her in Leningrad, spending a night talking about art, poetry, philosophy, and history. The night ended when the newspaper correspondent (and Winston's son) Randolph Churchill came to Akhmatova's apartment house looking for Berlin and, not knowing where to find him, began bellowing Berlin's name at the top of his lungs in the building's courtyard. This may not seem like a terribly important incident; in the course of a normal life such days are usually forgotten within a few weeks of their happening...but in Stalin's Soviet Union there were no normal lives. The consequences of that night are the subject of this book, a harsh unblinking look into the workings of a paranoid society and one artist's reaction to it. For Akhmatova that night was one of the greatest of her life; unlike many other pre-Revolution writers and artists she had refused to leave Russia. For her, contact with someone from outside the four prison walls of Soviet society was akin to the joy of a drowning man finally reaching the surface and fresh air; Berlin became "the guest from the future," the unnamed character in her great work 'Poem without a hero,' the reader she would have had if she lived in a normal society. But she did not. Dalos shows how all the forces of Stalinist repression swung into action against her; how she was publicly humiliated by the Central Committee, how her son was arrested and sent to the gulag, how Mikhail Zoshchenko, the satirist and popular writer who was condemned with her, was slowly driven mad by the government's denunciation of him and his work. If anyone is interested on the effect of totalitarianism on the lives of people this is the book to read. A great tribute to a great poet.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For a Class, but Good View Dec 4 2010
By P. Li - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although at times the book can become a bit boring as Dalos followed Akhmatova's life, mainly because Akhmatova seems to have accepted her fate in a somewhat over-bearing, dramatic fashion, the author manages to showcase the censure of the Communist U.S.S.R.; particularly the paranoia born under Stalin. Without annoying flourish, although slightly stilted language at times due to the translation more than the author's flow, Dalos relates an important time in the life of many people in a fascinatingly factual way. In any event, the book is definitely not a staid history novel.

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