Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam:A Biography

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This is the first full-scale biography of Osip Mandelstam to combine an analysis of his poetry with a description of his personal life, from his beginnings as a young intellectual in pre-revolutionary Russia to his final fate as a victim of Stalinism.

The myth has grown up that Mandelstam was a gloomy, miserable figure; Dutli deconstructs this, stressing Mandelstam's enjoyment of life. There are several underlying themes here. One is Mandelstam's Jewish background in pre-1914 Russia, which he rejected as a young man, but reaffirmed in later life. Another is the inescapable impact of Russia's political and social transformation.

His evolution as a poet naturally occupies a large place in the biography, which quotes many of his most famous poems, including his devastating anti-Stalin epigram. He produced wonderful poetry before the October Revolution, but did not reach his full poetic stature until the 1930s when in exile in Voronezh. He was never an official Soviet poet, and it was only thanks to the intervention of Bukharin that he was brought back from utter impoverishment.

The biography gives full weight to his emotional life, beginning with his friendship with two other Russian poets, Marina Tsvetaeva and Anna Akhmatova, followed by love and marriage to Nadezhda Khazina.

"One of the century's greatest lyric poets." - Elaine Feinstein, Sunday Times
"Mandelstam's poems are both bold and delicate. His imagery can seem both profoundly startling yet entirely natural". - Robert Chandler
"Mandelstam was a tragic figure. Even while in exile in Voronej, he wrote works of untold beauty and power. And he had no poetic forerunners. In all of world poetry, I know of no other such case. We know the sources of Pushkin and Blok, but who will tell us from where that new, divine harmony, Mandelstam's poetry, came from?" - Anna Akhmatova
"Russia's greatest poet in the twentieth century." - Joseph Brodsky


  • Likely to become the standard reference work for the English reader ... enlightening

    Donald RayfieldLiterary Review
  • The author, Ralph Dutli, approaches the poet unobtrusively and sensitively. He deconstructs the myths that have surrounded him, such as the notion that he was a restless ascetic who never put down any roots or settled anywhere. It was sheer necessity that forced him to move from place to place. Dutli brings out the sensual and witty side of Mandelstam, who was full of the joys of life.

    Marion LülteDie Tageszeitung
  • This biography crowns Dutli’s work as editor of the poet’s oeuvre. Thanks to Ralph Dutli, the German public now have the best conceivable access to Mandelstam’s work. Dutli hasn’t just told the story of Mandelstam’s life; he has included in an appendix a range of comments by other poets, the most remarkable of them being that by Pasolini.

    Christoph BartmannSüddeutsche Zeitung