Mikhail Kuzmin (1872–1936), Russia’s first openly gay writer, stood at the epicenter of the turbulent cultural and social life of Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad for over three decades. A poet of the caliber of Aleksandr Blok, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelshtam, and Marina Tsvetaeva (and acknowledged as such by them and other contemporaries), Kuzmin was also a prose writer, playwright, critic, translator, and composer who was associated with every aspect of modernism’s history in Russia, from Symbolism to the Leningrad avant-gardes of the 1920s.
Only now is Kuzmin beginning to emerge from the “official obscurity” imposed by the Soviet regime to assume his place as one of Russia’s greatest poets and one of this century’s most characteristic and colorful creative figures. This biography, the first in any language to be based on full and uncensored access to the writer’s private papers, including his notorious Diary, places Kuzmin in the context of his society and times and contributes to our discovery and appreciation of a fascinating period and of Russia’s long suppressed gay history.
The work of Malmstad and Bogomolov is a monumental enterprise, a thorough and highly informative study that opens an entirely new perspective on the so-called Silver Age of Russian literature.
This remarkable biography is full of piquant details about the strange writer-musician with the un-Russian physiognomy and the physique of a faun from a Pompeian fresco, and none of them frivolous…[The] book substantially increases our knowledge not only of Kuzmin but of the whole period in which he lived.
One cannot praise this biography too highly; the narrative is fascinating. To do this for a Russian poet, none of whose verse exists in a good English translation, is a remarkable achievement. Malmstad and Bogomolov have devoted three decades to their subject and their period, and move easily in Kuzmin's milieu.
This definitive biography...draws heavily on unpublished materials and is aimed, despite the relative unavailability of Kuzmin's work in translation, at the widest possible readership...This book substantially increases our knowledge not only of Kuzmin but of the whole period in which he lived (particularly where it concerns the revolutionary gay scene in St. Petersburg).
Meticulously detailed, Malmstad's monumental study explores the private agonies of Kuzmin's complicated personal life; insists in his contribution to Russian letters; and offers a fascinating depiction of the intermeshed lives of Russia's artistic elite during the Silver Age and the first two decades of the Soviet Union.
Kuzmin created a cultural role unique for Russia in the primacy the poet gave to aesthetic concerns, in the balance between art and life that he achieved, and in the ways in which he chose to represent his (homo)sexual self. Kuzmin is immensely fortunate: though belatedly, he has received perhaps the most thorough and clear-headed treatment of all twentieth-century Russian poets.
This monumental work sets standards for literary scholarship. Tightly packed with information to a large extent totally new for the reader, it is free from pedantry, keeps the reader in suspense, is continuously engaging, and is well tailored to the English-speaking audience.
Not only the first scholarly biography of Mikhail Kuzmin, but ipso facto a major new study of the Russian Silver Age that illuminates some of its most important facets--literary, theatrical, musical and the gay subculture that contributed in such a major way to its luster. As a narrative, I really found it difficult to put down. Mikhail Kuzmin: A Life in Art is a splendid work of scholarship, well-wrought, engaging, indispensable to anyone interested in the culture of the Russian Silver Age.
- 496 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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