The Stalin Epigram

  • by Robert Littell
  • Narrated by John Lee, Anne Flosnik
  • 10 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The Stalin Epigram is a masterful rendering of the life of Osip Mandelstam, one of Russia's greatest poets of the 20th century. His heroic protest against the Stalin regime---particularly his outspoken criticism of the collectivization that drove millions of Russian peasants to starvation---finally reached its apex in 1934. When he composed a searing indictment of Stalin in a 16-line poem, secretly passed from person to person through recitation, the poet was arrested. It is widely accepted that Stalin himself was directly involved in Mandelstam's exile and his death in a Siberian transit camp in 1938. A master of historical detail and cultural authenticity, best-selling author Robert Littell based this novel in part on a memorable, intimate meeting with Mandelstam's wife in 1979. Narrated by Mandelstam's wife, his friends Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova, and Mandelstam himself, this lucid account of the relationships between the artists, politicians, and proletariat of Stalinist Russia is an astounding moment in history brought to life by a perceptive, immensely talented writer.

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What the Critics Say

"Littell is unflinching in his portrayal of Osip's tragic arc, bringing a troubled era of Russian history to rich, magnificent life." (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
"Not since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich has an author captured the crushing sense of foreboding that hung over Uncle Joe’s Soviet state with the clear-eyed acuity that imbues every page of Robert Littell’s The Stalin Epigram. … [It’s also] a quintessentially Russian love story, which virtually guarantees that the rose’s thorn will outlive its petals." (BookPage)
"[T]here is a surreal quality to the story that makes it by turns gruesome, darkly absurd and hysterical. … The strength of this narrative lies in the straightforward description of the awful absurdities, the brutality, the bureaucratic pretzel logic and the mental and physical responses to it, that were required to survive Stalin’s regime." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A reaction, not a review: Brilliant

This is deeply moving, exquisitely told story. There is not one wasted dab of paint in this masterpiece. I bought it in the hope of listening to something entertaining for long drives, and now I must have a hard copy of this book so that I can see this work executed on the page.

The Stalin Epigram is not a light entertainment - it's a profoundly imagined, zen-like work of a complex, flourishing mind. It succeeds on every level, from the description of the smallest detail through the development of the mundane ironies that spiral out of control to govern the lives of the characters. Every character is so beautifully delineated and examined. The pacing, the journeys that characters take in their own minds and through their fears and loves, is all first-rate. They live in a world in which one is tortured, humiliated and murdered for the tiniest, only imagined, offenses against the state. And that is in the best of times. As the Bolshevik revolution approaches the end of the 30s, absolute power has corrupted absolutely. Imagining how that feels, and what it looks like, and conveying the moods, the fears, the beats and moments of all of that to a western audience is a major accomplishment. And at the heart of this is a pure story of genuine love and sharing.

I reserve five stars for books that I would expect always, from now on, to come to mind as an especially rewarding work. The Stalin Epigram is one of them. I'm anxious now to see if any of Mr. Littell's earlier works approach the power and scope of this superb novel.

Also, the readings by John Lee and Anne Flosnik are flawless.

Bravo to Mr. Littell for this book and everyone involved with this wonderful recording.




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- Maratrushka

An Espionage Artist Smuggling Art into his Oeuvre

'The Stalin Epigram' is unlike any Littell novel I've read. It is sad, beautiful, complex. It is a writer not playing with words to earn a living, or to impress, or to get laid, or to sell one stupid book. It is a lonely poet casting a stone into a cave, writing a love note to a dead lover, or telling Stalin to take a flying leap. It is art and art is always a little mad.
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- Darwin8u

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-13-2009
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio