The Akhmatova Journals. 1938-1941. Lydia Chukovskaya.

Akhmatova Journals

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“Lydia Chukovskaya and Anna Akhmatova were brought together by the tragedy of Stalin’s purges. Akhamatov’s son, Lev Gumilyov, had been arrested in 1935 but was released after Akhmatova wrote personally to Stalin (though he would be arrested again in 1938); Chukovskaya’a husband, the physicist Matvey Bronshteyn had been arrested in 1937. These were the circumstances in which the young Lydia Chukovskaya first sought Akhmatova’s advice on how to secure her husband’s release, and found herself becoming the poet’s confident and amanuensis, memorizing poems that the poet did not dare to commit to paper.

In common with many thousands of Russian women, they shared the routine of the prison queue; keeping faith with their husbands and sons in almost total silence, standing in line for whole days to glean scraps of news and to hand over meagre parcels of food and clothing. But they also shared a love of literature and thus sustained them. These were the years in which Akhmatova wrote Requiem, her poem of terror and Chukovskaya her novella Sofia Petrovna.

The Akhmatova Journals 1938-41 (the first of three volumes), translated from the Moscow edition of 1989, especially revised for this edition, are the record of an extraordinary friendship and present an intimate portrait of a supremely gifted poet and a remarkable spirit – imperious, poor, recklessly generous, harassed by self-serving, often vicious critics, yet of a triumphant natural dignity, courage and warmth.. They convey Akhmatova views on Russian writers of the past (Pushkin whom she held in the highest esteem, Tolstoy whom she abhorred for his treatment of Anna Karenina), on her contemporaries and on Western writers too, including Hemingway, Joyce, Mauriac and Proust. In addition the Journals offer a wider portrait of the Russian intelligentsia as seen through the  sharp, humane, occasionally humorous eyes of the young Lydia Chukovskaya”. (Text from the dust jacket description).