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This review is taken from PN Review 69, Volume 16 Number 1, September - October 1989.

GROWING FROM LOSS Marina Tsvetayeva, Selected Poems, translated by David McDuff (Bloodaxe Books) £6.95 pb.

This new book of translations by David McDuff is a welcome contribution to the growing body of literature about Marina Tsvetayeva (1892-1941), and those who penetrate beyond the gaudy cover and the sensation-seeking blurb will find it rewarding indeed. Unfortunately, many who merely leaf through the book in shop or library, or read the publisher's advertising sheet will retain a vague impression that Tsvetayeva was one more martyred Russian poet, "driven to hang herself" by the wicked Soviets, a precursor to Bloodaxe's 'sellout' publishing success, Irina Ratushinskaya.

Such misapprehensions will in part be dispersed by the translator's introduction, which gives us the facts of Tsvetayeva's life in Russia and in the emigration and an interesting translator's-eye view of her poetry. It should be said, however, that Lidia Chukovskaya, whose memoirs are a prime source for Tsvetayeva's last weeks, was the daughter, not the wife of Korney Chukovsky. Also, the assumption that a room in the centre of Moscow next door to the Writer's Union where Tsvetayeva and her son "could eat at its modestly-priced refectory" was the "only place she could find" after the arrest of her husband and daughter betrays a startling ignorance of Soviet life.

Tsvetayeva had returned to the USSR in 1939, at the height of Stalin's third round of purges and on the eve of war. She was immediately involved in and soon swallowed up by the mass tragedies, but the literary 'establishment' did make some clumsy attempts to alleviate her ...


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