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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 55 | volume X | July-August, 2007



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 55July-August, 2007

The great Brodsky

p. 1
Andrew Kahn

Andrew Kahn, professor of Russian Literature at the University of Oxford, says that “Joseph Brodsky: Essay in literary biography” („Иосиф Бродский: Опыт литературной биографии“; published in Moscow by Молодая гвардия in the series Жизнь замечательных людей: Серия биографий in 2006) is the best single literary biography of the writer, in a review published in the Times [,,25336-2641484,00. html]

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, Joseph Brodsky was recognized in his lifetime as one of Russia’s great modern poets. But in the English-speaking world his reputation has languished since his early death in 1996. Lev Losev’s new study is the best single literary biography of the writer yet to have appeared in any language. A friend of the poet nearly from cradle to grave – and the splendid choice of photographs has him popping up at the poet’s side in Russia and Stockholm – he is a meticulous and objective chronicler. His account of Brodsky’s trial corrects legendary versions of the exchange between Brodsky and the State Prosecutor, and is just one example of Losev’s subtle tactics in setting the record straight. This is not a complete documentary biography, and treatment of Brodsky’s life from the mid-1980s is thinner than that given to earlier decades. But Losev gets us closer to his subject than any other account by integrating a reliable narrative of the facts (enhanced by useful chronologies at the back of the book) and a penetrating study of Brodsky’s poetry and prose. The publication of such a volume in a series of “Great Lives” founded by Maxim Gorky and generally known for its biographies of Soviet heroes and generals would have amused Losev’s subject, who was one of a famous generation of Soviet exiles that included the likes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the late Mstislav Rostropovich and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
     Brodsky was born in Leningrad in 1940 to educated but socially modest parents (the description of his childhood is a helpful supplement to his celebrated autobiographical essay “A Room and a Half”). Driven from an early age by a profound belief in individual self-determination that exposed Soviet conformity, Brodsky seems to have discovered poetry and his talent for it almost by chance. A strong-willed autodidact, he quickly developed his poetic gift and mastery of verse form, and learned enough English and Polish to work as a literary translator.
     On the subject of Brodsky’s early development, Losev writes with an insider’s expert

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