Source: TLS, 23.11.1979

In absentia: Some books of the year

Isaiah Berlin:

I found Lydia Chukovsky's Note about Anna Akhmatova (recently published by YMCA Press, Paris, in Russian) a deeply moving book. The author, daughter of one of the most distinguished Russian men of letters of this century, is herself a novelist and critic whose fabulous courage and integrity have not made life easier for her in her native land. She was a close friend of Akhmatova whose poetry (and personality) she ardently admires. The book is the first volume of a diary of their meetings, day by day, sometimes hour by hour, during the dark years of 1938-41, and is an account of how they lived and what they felt and thought. It is written in simple quiet and beautiful Russian, untouched by " literariness" or the desire to teach or preach, to denounce or defend. Apart from what it tells us about a great poet, it is a detailed and vivid description (which conveys a sense of complete, authenticity greater than even Nadezhda Mandeistam's memoirs) of the intellectually and imaginatively rich lives of a heroic handful of wholly civilized human beings, bound by ties of continuous common suffering and of love and respect for one another, who were concerned with central moral and aesthetic issues, without any trace of pettiness or triviality (perhaps the result of enforced isolation). The effect of this book is both morally and intellectually exhilarating.

Isaiah Berlin

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