Friend and confidante to Soviet Russia's two greatest poets, Osip Mandelstam (whom she met in 1928) and Anna Akhmatova, Gerstein shared in the glories as well as the sufferings of the Russian literati of the thirties. Her memoir, which appeared in 1998 near the end of her very long life, presents a no-holds-barred counterpoint to the reverent account offered by Mandelstam's widow Nadezhda in Hope Against Hope
and Hope Abandoned
. Gerstein's need to have the last word on what really transpired becomes wearisome at times, but she makes up for it with vivid details of literary camaraderie, arrests, labor camps, illicit love affairs, tragic exiles, and texts so inflammatory they were committed to memory, never to paper. Gerstein is an invaluable witness to a schizophrenic era whose gifted poets were treasured--and persecuted--by Stalin. A talented writer in her own right, she approaches life's daily grind under the great Soviet experiment with a sense of satire and 'comic absurdity...worthy of Gogol,' in the words of reviewer Gunlög E. Anderson.
An Eighth Day View:
Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova stood at the pinnacle of twentieth-century Russian literature, and their works continue to stand as monuments of literary achievement, yet they also suffered brutally under Stalin's regime, martyrs to its paranoia and its suppression of free thought. In the early 1960s Akhmatova encouraged Emma Gerstein to record her memories of Mandelstam, but Gerstein's vivid and uncompromising account was not at all what she had expected. When first published in Moscow in 1998, her memoirs provoked a wide array of responses, from condemnation to rapturous praise. A shrewd observer and serious literary specialist in her own right, Gerstein was uniquely qualified to remove both poets from their pedestals, and to bring the extraordinary atmosphere of the Soviet 1930s back to life. Part biography, part autobiography, this book radically alters our view of Russia's two greatest twentieth-century poets and provides memorable vignettes of numerous other figures, Boris Pasternak among them, from that partly forgotten and misunderstood world. Gerstein's integrity and perceptive comments make her account compulsively readable and enable us to reexamine that extraordinary epoch.