The Stalin Epigram
By Robert Littell
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781416598640, 384pp.)
Publication Date: May 12, 2009
Categories: Historical - General
Based on a riveting historical episode, The Stalin Epigram is a fictional rendering of the life of Osip Mandelstam, perhaps the greatest Russian poet of the twentieth century -- and one of the few artists in Soviet Russia who daringly refused to pay creative homage to Joseph Stalin. The poet's defiance of the Kremlin dictator and the Bolshevik regime -- particularly his outspoken criticism of Stalin's collectivization rampage that drove millions of Russian peasants to starvation -- reached its climax in 1934 when Mandelstam, putting his life on the line, composed a searing indictment of Stalin in a sixteen-line epigram and secretly recited it to a handful of friends and fellow artists.
Would Stalin and his merciless state security apparatus get wind of this brazenly insulting poem? Would the poet's body and spirit be crushed under the weight of the state if they did?
Narrated in turn by Mandelstam himself, his devoted wife, his great friends the poets Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova, along with vivid fictional characters, The Stalin Epigram is the page-turning tale of courage and the human spirit told in deftly poetic prose by a perceptive, talented writer. With the benefit of extraordinary research and an almost mystical empathy, bestselling author Robert Littell has drawn a fictional portrait of the beleaguered poet struggling to survive the running riot of Stalinist Russia in the 1930s. This memorable novel culminates in a wholly unexpected encounter that illuminates the agonizing choices Russian intellectuals faced during the Stalinist terror and explains what drew Robert Littell to the poignant subject in the first place.
Bestselling author Robert Littell has been ranked amongst John Le Carre and Graham Greene for his masterful spy fiction. A Newsweek journalist in a previous incarnation, Littell has been writing about the Soviet Union and Russians since his first novel, the espionage classic The Defection of A.J.Lewinter. Among his numerous critically acclaimed novels are The October Circle, Mother Russia, The Debriefing, The Sisters, The Revolutionist, The Once and Future Spy, An Agent in Place, The Visiting Professor, the New York Times bestselling The Company (adapted for a TNT mini-series), and Legends (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Best Thriller of 2005) and For the Future of Israel, a book of conversations with Shimon Peres. Littell is an American who makes his home in France.
“Robert Littell has written what may be his finest novel…a timeless story of courage and truth…a brilliant work, always readable, sometimes funny and often heartbreaking…The Stalin Epigram should not be missed.” —Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post
“This novel stands head and shoulders above most others of its kind, a book that begins as a thriller and ends as a testimony to the courage and naked vision of its odd and eccentric real life hero.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR’s “All Things Considered”