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Reviewed by:
  • Memuary, and: Vospominaniia
  • Galina S. Rylkova
Emma Gershtein, Memuary. St. Petersburg: INAPRESS, 1998. 588 pp. ISBN 5-87135-060-7.
Nadezhda Mandel′shtam, Vospominaniia. Moscow: Soglasie, 1999. xx + 576 pp. ISBN 5-86884-066-6.

The new edition of Nadezhda Mandel'shtam's Vospominaniia hardly needs introduction. For many years after Osip Mandel'shtam's death in 1938, Nadezhda (1899–1980) was the sole custodian and interpreter of her husband's poetic legacy and of his life in general. As Nikolai Panchenko notes in his foreword, Nadezhda Mandel'shtam "was equal to Osip Mandel'shtam in her heroic stature. Had it been otherwise, we would have had no great poet, nor [would we have a record] of the devastating experience of culture surviving in the twentieth century, nor would we have a brilliant and absolutely unique interpretation of our saddening recent history" (v). Written in the early 1960s, Vospominaniia covers the period from 1934 to 1938; it tells about Osip Mandel'shtam's first and final arrests and the intervening period which the couple largely spent in exile (first Cherdyn' and later Voronezh). In 1937 and early 1938 the Mandel'shtams tried to insert themselves back into the Soviet literary establishment – a virtually impossible task, since they were banned from living in a number of large cities, including Moscow. The book finishes with Nadezhda in despair and groping for a sudden death, for she senses that her future will be nothing but slow degradation. However, Nadezhda was blessed by remarkable longevity and saw her chronicles published and ideas disseminated (even if mainly by samizdat and tamizdat). The 1998 publication of the memoirs under review here is the first volume of what is expected to become a three-volume edition of Nadezhda Mandel'shtam's collected works, which has been launched by the publishing house Soglasie to commemorate her centennial.

Panchenko in his foreword also praises the famous memoirist for presenting an objective account of her time that taught many people to see the truth; he scorns her wicked contemporaries like Emma Grigor'evna Gershtein (b. 1903) for writing "anti-memoirs" [antivospominaniia] about the same period (iii). This negative contrast is only to be expected, for Gershtein's highly subversive approach to writing memoirs enlists numerous enemies as well as supporters. This did not stop her, however, from receiving two prestigious literary awards in 1998: her Memuary was awarded both the little Russian Booker and the Anti-Booker [End Page 224] Prizes. This is quite remarkable, given that the latter was instituted by Nezavisimaia gazeta three years ago in opposition to the Russian Booker Foundation. Memuary features Gershtein's recollections of Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Lev Gumilev, Nikolai Khardzhiev, Boris Eikhenbaum and Aleksandr Os'merkin – to name but a few of her illustrious friends – and of less "extraordinary" people, such as those she met while working in Moscow's Literaturnyi muzei in the 1930s. A large portion of her book is devoted to her ill-fated affair with Lev Gumilev that spanned almost two decades.

Gershtein spares us neither titillation nor embarrassing detail, such as extramarital affairs or hints as to sexual preferences. She is after Truth with a capital letter, and in writing her memoirs ransacked many closets. In the new political, social and cultural climate of the late 1990s, Gershtein's objective was to straighten out earlier renditions of events and fill in gaps left by her predecessors. Indeed, the main "target text" of Gershtein's Memuary is Nadezhda Mandel'shtam's Vospominaniia and its authoritarian style of remembering. Not surprisingly, Memuary has provoked heated discussion among Russian intellectuals about whether a memoirist is entitled to wash the dirty linen of his or her contemporaries in public. Reading Gershtein's Memuary side by side with Mandel'shtam's Vospominaniia raises questions about the distinction between "private" and "public." It also brings out concerns about the proprietorship of memory about objects, events and people, and the status of memoirs vis-à-vis historical accounts.

Gershtein met the Mandel'shtams in October 1928. Their friendship blossomed when the homeless Mandel'shtams stayed for a month at Gershtein's house in the same year. Their bond became even more personal after...


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