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Stolen Air by Osip Mandelstam, translated by Christian Wiman

Stolen Air by Osip Mandelstam, translated by Christian Wiman is a selection of poems from Mandelstam’s entire career translated from his non-native Russian into English.  The introduction is rather long, but with good reason as it strives to capture a poet that was always evolving and striving to breath new life into the Russian language and to provide a voice to those seen as outsiders of the government.  Living through WWI and a Russian revolution, Mandelstam — a Poland born Jew who moved to Russia with his parents — became an exile and later died in a Siberian transit camp in 1938 after being arrested.

“From the inarticulate comes the new harmony.  The lyric poet wakes up the language:  the speech is revealed to us in a new unexpected syntax, in music, in ways of organizing the silences in the mouth.”  (Page XIX)

Mandelstam and Wiman approach poetry in much the same way, according to the introduction — not through word-for-word translation, but through the silences and the music of the lines.  The collection is broken into three sections beginning with his early poems between 1910 and 1925 and ending with the poems written between 1934 and 1937.  Mandelstam’s work is very musical and generally uses a great deal of rhyme and alliteration, but the ways in which these poems are translated, they are neither cutesy nor predictable.

Interrogation (page 21)

Official paper, officious jowls, unswallowable smells
Of vomit, vodka, cells, bowels,
And all these red-tape tapeworms gorging on reports.

Choir, stars, your highest, your holiest silences...
But first, sign here on the dotted line
That they may grant you permission to shine.

The poems are song-like, but ripe with derision for Stalin’s totalitarianism and the control over freedom, which provided many with the guise of free expression that was received at a high price. Mandelstam speaks of a life choreographed by others and punishments that are deeply harsh when spontaneity strikes. His words are like hammers on the chains attached to boulders in prisons of old, making sure the lack of freedom is felt most acutely. From the “legislated” freedoms to the starvation and lack of heat, it is all present in Mandelstam’s roving poetry. He moved from city to city, presumably fleeing the government, and this movement is in poems like “Night Piece” and “Prayer” but it also is in the other poems through their quick imagistic movements from one moment to the next — the narrator always in motion.

Stolen Air by Osip Mandelstam, translated by Christian Wiman is not only about the absence of freedom, but finding that freedom within that totalitarian regime — grabbing onto it, stealing the air to breathe creatively. The narrator has learned to grab onto that stolen air and run with it, traipsing through beauty and finding the music everywhere, even in the darkness.  The translation does not read as such with very few moments where the verse stumbles, and this is the best tribute to a poet — a translator who hears the same music even across time.  Well done and highly recommended.

About the Poet (from Poets.org):

Born in January, 1891, in Warsaw, Poland, Osip Emilievich Mandelstam was raised in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg, Russia. His father was a prominent leather merchant and his mother a teacher of music. Mandelstam attended the renowned Tenishev School and later studied at the Sorbonne, the University of Heidelberg, and the University of St. Petersburg, though he left off his studies to pursue writing. He published his first collection, Kamen, or Stone (1913), when Russian Symbolism was the dominant persuasion.

The Bolsheviks had begun to exert an ever increasing amount of control over Russian artists, and Mandelstam, though he had initially supported the Revolution, was absolutely unwilling to yield to the political doctrine of a regime that had executed Gumilev in 1921. The poet published three more books in 1928—Poems, a collection of criticism entitled On Poetry, and The Egyptian Stamp, a book of prose—as the state closed in on him. Mandelstam spent his later years in exile, serving sentences for counter-revolutionary activities in various work camps, until his death on December 27, 1938, in the Gulag Archipelago.

About the Translator:

Christian Wiman was born and raised in West Texas. He is the editor of Poetry and the author of three collections of poems, Every Riven Thing, Hard Night, and The Long Home, and one collection of prose, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.

This is the 16th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 41st book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 10th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.

Happy Mother’s Day and Mailbox Monday #176

First, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers and soon-to-be mothers.  Take a day to relax and do something nice for yourself.

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Martha’s Bookshelf.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received last week:

1.  The Sadness of the Samurai by Victor Del Arbol for review from Henry Holt Co. June/July.

A betrayal and a murder in pro-Nazi Spain spark a struggle for power that grips a family for generations in this sweeping historical thriller

Fierce, edgy, brisk, and enthralling, this brilliant novel by Victor del Árbol pushes the boundaries of the traditional historical novel and in doing so creates a work of incredible power that resonates long after the last page has been turned.

When Isabel, a Spanish aristocrat living in the pro-Nazi Spain of 1941, becomes involved in a plot to kill her Fascist husband, she finds herself betrayed by her mysterious lover. The effects of her betrayal play out in a violent struggle for power in both family and government over three generations, intertwining her story with that of a young lawyer named Maria forty years later. During the attempted Fascist coup of 1981, Maria is accused of plotting the prison escape of a man she successfully prosecuted for murder. As Maria’s and Isabel’s narratives unfold they encircle each other, creating a page-turning literary thriller firmly rooted in history.

2.  Heading Out to Wonderland by Robert Goolrick, unrequested from Algonquin.

“Let me tell you something, son. 
When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, 
but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.”

It is the summer of 1948 when a handsome, charismatic stranger, Charlie Beale, recently back from the war in Europe, shows up in the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village of a few hundred people, nestled in the Valley of Virginia. All he has with him are two suitcases: one contains his few possessions, including a fine set of butcher knives; the other is full of money. A lot of money.

Finding work at the local butcher shop, Charlie befriends the owner and his family, including the owner’s son, Sam, who he is soon treating as though he were his own flesh and blood. And it is through the shop that Charlie gradually meets all the townsfolk, including Boaty Glass, Brownsburg’s wealthiest citizen, and most significantly, Boaty’s beautiful teenage bride, Sylvan.

This last encounter sets in motion the events that give Goolrick’s powerful tale the stark, emotional impact that thrilled fans of his previous novel, A Reliable Wife. Charlie’s attraction to Sylvan Glass turns first to lust and then to a need to possess her, a need so basic it becomes an all-consuming passion that threatens to destroy everything and everyone in its path.

Told through the eyes of Sam, now an old man looking back on the events that changed his world forever, Heading Out to Wonderful is a suspenseful masterpiece, a haunting, heart-stopping novel of obsession and love gone terribly wrong in a place where once upon a time such things could happen.

3. The Voice I Just Heard by Susan Dormady Eisenberg, which the author sent for review. Check out my D.C. Literature Examiner Interview with her.

What’s the price of chasing a dream? Nora Costello is a gifted soprano who longs to sing on Broadway despite her family’s disapproval and her daily battle with self- doubt. When her beloved older brother dies in Vietnam, she spirals into despair, wondering how she’ll embrace her performing goals without the support of her sole cheerleader. But before she hits rock bottom, Nora meets her soulmate, Bart Wheeler, a washed-up Broadway baritone with problems of his own—and a trove of great advice about singing. Nora also reunites with her oldest friend Liz, a troubled nun who knows more about Liam’s motives than she should. Both a coming-of-age-story and a tale of enduring love, THE VOICE I JUST HEARD offers characters to root for as Nora, Bart, and Liz struggle to resolve their dilemmas. In the end, it’s a book about the most important voice of all: the whisper of our hearts guiding our way.

4. Flight from Berlin by David John, which Harper Collins sent for review.

A cynical English reporter and a beautiful, headstrong, American Olympic hopeful are caught in a lethal game of international espionage during the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Flight from Berlin, a riveting debut thriller from breakout novelist David John. Combining the suspense and atmosphere of Alan Furst’s spy novels with the exciting narrative drive of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon adventures, John delivers an unforgettable masterwork of thrilling suspense set against the backdrop of one of the most monumental summers in history—a contest of champions, including the remarkable Jessie Owen, that captivated the world as the specter of Nazi Germany continued its rise to threaten the globe.

5. The Book Club Cook Book by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, which I purchased at Novel Places.

Whether it’s Roman Punch for The Age of Innocence, or Sabzi Challow (spinach and rice) with Lamb for The Kite Runner, or Swedish Meatballs and Glögg for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, nothing spices up a book club meeting like great eats. Featuring recipes and discussion ideas from bestselling authors and book clubs across the country, this fully revised and updated edition of the classic book guides readers in selecting and preparing culinary masterpieces that blend perfectly with the literary masterpieces their club is reading. This edition features new contributions from a host of today’s bestselling authors.

6. Overbite by Meg Cabot, which I purchased at Novel Places.

Meena Harper has bitten off more than she can chew . . .

Meena has a special gift, but only now does anyone appreciate it. Her ability to predict how everyone she meets will die has impressed the Palatine Guard—a powerful secret demon-hunting unit of the Vatican—and they’ve hired her to work at their new branch in Lower Manhattan. Sure, Meena’s ex-boyfriend was Lucien Antonescu, son of Dracula. But that was before he (and their relationship) went up in flames, and now she’s sworn off vampires for good—even though she firmly believes that just because they’ve lost their souls, it doesn’t mean they can’t love.

Convincing her new partner, Über-demon-hunter Alaric Wulf, that vampires can be redeemed won’t be easy . . . especially when a deadly new threat arises, endangering not only the Palatine, but Meena’s friends and family as well. As she unravels the truth, Meena will find her loyalties tested, her true feelings laid bare . . . and temptations she never even imagined before nearly impossible to resist.

7. Stolen Air by Osip Mandelstam, translated by Christian Wiman, which I bought from Novel Places after seeing a Washington Post review of it.

A new selection and translation of the work of Osip Mandelstam, perhaps the most important Russian poet of the twentieth century

Political nonconformist Osip Mandelstam’s opposition to Stalin’s totalitarian government made him a target of the communist state. The public recitation of his 1933 poem known in English as “The Stalin Epigram” led to his arrest, exile, and eventual imprisonment in a Siberian transit camp, where he died, presumably in 1938. Mandelstam’s work—much of it written under extreme duress—is an extraordinary testament to the enduring power of art in the face of oppression and terror.

Stolen Air spans Mandelstam’s entire poetic career, from his early highly formal poems in which he reacted against Russian Symbolism to the poems of anguish and defiant abundance written in exile, when Mandelstam became a truly great poet. Aside from the famous early poems, which have a sharp new vitality in Wiman’s versions, Stolen Air includes large selections from The Moscow Notebooks and The Voronezh Notebooks.

Going beyond previous translators who did not try to reproduce Mandelstam’s music, Christian Wiman has captured in English—for the first time—something of Mandelstam’s enticing, turbulent, and utterly heartbreaking sounds.

8. Love Is Murder edited by Sandra Brown, which I received from Meryl Moss Media Relations even though I am unable to participate in the tour.

Lori Armstrong * Jeff Ayers & Jon Land * Beverly Barton * William Bernhardt * Allison Brennan * Robert Browne * Pamela Callow * Lee Child * J.T. Ellison * Bill Floyd * Cindy Gerard * Heather Graham * Laura Griffin * Vicki Hinze * Andrea Kane *Julie Kenner * Sherrilyn Kenyon * Dianna Love * D.P. Lyle * James Macomber * Toni McGee Causey * Carla Neggers * Brenda Novak * Patricia Rosemoor * William Simon * Alexandra Sokoloff * Roxanne St. Claire * Mariah Stewart * Debra Webb

Prepare for heart-racing suspense in this original collection by thirty of the hottest bestselling authors and new voices writing romance suspense today.

Go on vacation with Allison Brennan’s Lucy Kincaid, where she saves a man from drowning, only to discover he is in far greater danger on land. Meet Roxanne St. Claire’s “bullet catcher”—bodyguard Donovan Rush—who may have met his match in the sexually charged “Diamond Drop.” Debut author William Simon shows us what happens when the granddaughter of the president of the United States is kidnapped. And Lee Child’s pitch-perfect “I Heard a Romantic Story” puts a whole new spin on Love Is Murder.

Bodyguards, vigilantes, stalkers, serial killers, women (and men!) in jeopardy, cops, thieves, P.I.s, killers—these all-new stories will keep you thrilled and chilled late into the night.

9. Shadows Walking by Douglas R. Skopp, which I received for review from the author.

Johann Brenner, an idealistic physician and ardent German nationalist, has joined the Nazi Party and willingly participated in its “crimes against humanity.” His Jewish childhood friend, Philipp Stein, has also become a doctor. Their lives inevitably intersect until their last, fateful meeting. After the war, Brenner, with stolen papers and a new name, has become a janitor in the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials are being held. Hoping to “heal himself” and begin a new life with his estranged wife, he decides that he must write her a letter telling what he has done–and why.

What did you receive?