Great Black Russian: A Novel on the Life and Times of Alexander Pushkin

John Oliver Killens, Author, Addison Gayle, Designed by Wayne State University Press $29.95 (391p) ISBN 978-0-8143-2046-4
Black intellectuals have long considered the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin to be one of their own. Disturbed that recent academic works have either ignored or downplayed Pushkin's African heritage (his great-grandfather was an Abyssinian prince at the court of Peter the Great), the late Killens ( And Then They Heard the Thunder ) sought to remedy this omission with a ``fictionalized'' biography. The result is a somewhat racy, streamlined novelization of Pushkin's life. Killens contends that Pushkin considered himself to be African and that his liberal stance concerning the social issues of his day, and involvement with ill-fated radical groups such as the Decembrists, stemmed from his complicated feelings about his black heritage. Pushkin, according to Killens, was affected by his ancestry in other ways as well. His well-documented rejection by his parents, principally his mother, was due to his ``African looks,'' and his prowess with women was attributable to his ``hot African blood.'' Eschewing any kind of analysis of Pushkin's work, Killens focuses instead on the dramatic events in his life, culminating with Pushkin's tragic early death from wounds suffered in a duel. However lovingly conceived, the author's last work is a rather strident polemic, and suffers accordingly. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 04/30/1989
Release date: 05/01/1989
Hardcover - 391 pages - 978-0-8143-2047-1
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