cover image Manna: For the Mandelstams for the Mandelas

Manna: For the Mandelstams for the Mandelas

Helene Cixous, Author, Catherine A. F. Macgillivray, Translator University of Minnesota Press $69 (294p) ISBN 978-0-8166-2114-9

In a highly reflective and dense prose-poem of mythic proportions, French feminist and avant-garde writer Cixous draws parallels between two couples--Nelson and Winnie Mandela, who fought a decades-long political struggle against South African apartheid, and the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who, with his wife, Nadezhda, waged a moral revolt against Stalinism. Each couple faced arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and banishment for refusing to submit to a corrupt system. Each woman gave her husband hope and inspiration to carry on, yet was also a moving force in her own right. Cixous's poetic reimagining of these seemingly disparate lives is informed by contemporary currents of French thought and, in the Mandela narrative, filtered through the prism of African myths, oral traditions and animal totems. While Cixous, at first blush, glorifies and sanctifies her four protagonists, readers who dig deeper into her extraordinary experimental fiction will be rewarded by more, including passages of astonishing beauty and a deep meditation on the wellsprings of political resistance. (Apr.)