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This review is taken from PN Review 265, Volume 48 Number 5, May - June 2022.

Cover of Music for the Dead and Resurrected
Rebecca HurstA Bright Shovel of a Face
Valzhyna Mort, Music for the Dead and Resurrected  (Bloomsbury Poetry) £9.99
Born in Minsk in 1981, and so living out the first decade of her life in the waning Soviet Union, Valzhyna Mort spent her time after school in the family kitchen listening to her grandmother’s stories of war and political persecution, a litany of loss and trauma that were not reflected in the poet’s school history or literature classes. As Mort described in an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, growing up in Belarus – a place where by the late 1930s 80 percent of the region’s writers and artists had been killed by the Soviet regime – ‘the stories of my family, of my dead had no place in official historical narratives’. Instead it was left to the ‘test-child exposed to the burning reactor’ of her grandmother’s memory to reckon with and to write this lost narrative; to find a way of handling, composing, and bringing into the world such incendiary material.

Mort’s second English-language collection, Music for the Dead and Resurrected, was received into a world freshly attuned to the political and personal repression experienced by the contemporary citizens of Belarus. In the wake of August 2020’s post-electoral protests, the  collection has been read and reviewed largely from a socio-historic perspective. Largely and justifiably, as Mort herself has discussed the poems in Music for the Dead (and her previous collection, Collected Body) in terms of a response to the lacuna in both official history and culture of the lived experiences of Belarusian people. While the world was riveted by news coverage of mass demonstrations and arrests, Mort’s poems seemed extraordinarily ...


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