Since that white night our lifelines first coiled themselves around each other, fifteen years ago come May Day, in Kiev, in a seedy bohemian cabaret called the Junk Shop, I must have heard Mandelstam give public readings scores of times, still the pure pleasure I take from the poetry of his poems is undiminished.
It’s pretty well-known that life wasn’t a dream or even a party during the reign of Stalin. The Stalin Epigram shows the complete randomness that comes with absolute power and no-one to keep it under control. There’s no such thing as a fair trail and even those that serve in the best possible way, risk being put away when paranoia strikes once again.
The book has several main characters, all held together by their connection to poet Osip Mandelstam. For a while he can live an almost ordinary life because there’s no protest to the system and well – he’s just a poet, but things change for the worse when Mandelstam writes an epigram, a destructive one about Stalin and the system. Of course he is caught and a “trial” and punishment follow.
Even if this is a romanticized biography, it’s hard to believe that all of it is based on a reality from not all that long ago. The paranoia and delusions and the people just having to accept every idiotic idea is something that could come from a satiric story. Read The Stalin Epigram for a very unflattering look at the Soviet Union.
The Stalin Epigram, Robert Littel, Simon & Schustre 2009