Conversations with Joseph Brodsky: A Poet's Journey Through the Twentieth Century

Solomon Volkov, Author, Marian Schwartz, Translator
Solomon Volkov, Author, Marian Schwartz, Translator Free Press $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-684-83572-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
The Russian-born, Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, who died in 1996, was as provocative as he was talented. In these conversations with Volkov, author of previous interview volumes with violinist Nathan Milstein, choreographer George Balanchine and, more controversially, with composer Dmitri Shostakovich, Brodsky evinces both talent and idiosyncrasy. Divided into chapters on important subjects in Brodsky's writing life, these lively talks, creditably translated by Schwartz, represent a dozen years of intermittent chats, up to 1992. There are some problems: a few chapters, presented as continuous dialogues, span nearly a decade, and Volkov doesn't press Brodsky on, for example, his machinations on behalf of buddies or on the gaudy crucifixes that the Jewish-born Brodsky took to wearing. Instead, Brodsky is given free rein to speak with an intensity that regularly gave his interlocutors nosebleeds. He eccentrically overrates the faded turn-of-the-century French novelist Henri de Regnier, but dismisses Nabokov. He oddly prefers Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko to Andrei Voznesensky on the grounds that the former admits to being a ""big self-promotion factory."" And there is no mention at all of Brodsky's friend, the great Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert. In his later years, Brodsky made an exaggerated claim to being a writer of English, a language he never mastered as memorably as Russian. Happily, this solid book of talks shows Brodsky at his conversational, and very Russian, best.(Feb.)
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