Maria Stepanova (Harriman Writer in Residence, Spring 2022) writes about Nadezhda Mandelstam’s groundbreaking memoirs Hope against Hope and Hope Abandoned, both published abroad in Russian in the early 1970s.
It’s strange when you realize that the most important books written about the Soviet Union by those who lived there and survived—written from the inside, on the basis of personal experience—were in one way or another part of that hard-to define area of documentary literature. Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, constructed from the witness accounts of hundreds of prisoners, the Notes from the Blockade of Lydia Ginzburg, and Varlam Shalamov’s prose—the last so shocking that the first Western publishers felt quite free to edit it as they saw fit, not realizing that this “literary material” was in fact the direct, unadorned and raw speech of the eyewitness. These works are all constructed in different ways, and their variety widens the possibilities of what may be conceived of in literature. Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoirs offer yet another mode of existence in the area of nonfiction, extremely radical—and at the same time inimitable, because the specific voice and history of the teller may never be copied by another.
Read the full essay in Book Post: Diary: Maria Stepanova on Nadezhda Mandelstam, Literature and Truth