Review published on July 25, 2017.
I was recently in Rome and spotted a statue of Alexander Pushkin in a public park. I dutifully took a photograph for my ‘famous writers’ collection but realised that I knew next to nothing about this particular writer. He was Russian and wrote poems was the sum of my knowledge. I was delighted therefore to have the chance to read and review this book and to find out about the man behind the Roman statue.
This is a potted biography, which manages to cover the life (1799–1837) and the substantial works of Pushkin within less than a hundred and fifty pages. It takes a chronological approach, which I much prefer to a thematic one, following the poet’s life from early recognition by the leading poets of the day, through exile for his revolutionary views, a period accumulating debt and tempestuous personal life, to his dramatic death at the age of thirty seven. Pushkin seemed to have been something of a Byronic figure, whose best work was born out of difficult personal circumstances.
As I read, I realised I had heard of Pushkin’s major works – Boris Gudonuv and Eugene Onegin among them – because of the classical music that they had inspired.
The writing style is straightforward and strikes a nice balance between providing a basic introduction to Pushkin and giving a flavour of the great weight of scholarship which the ‘greatest of Russian writers’ has inspired over the years since his death. There are excerpts from his poems at the start of each chapter that I enjoyed enough to want to seek out more Pushkin, which I guess is a sign that the book achieved its aims. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a brief introduction to Pushkin, but it’s probably not one for reading groups.
Rebecca Kershaw 4/1
A Short Life of Pushkin by Robert Chandler
Pushkin Press 9781782273448 pbk May 2017
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