In This Review

Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova
Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova
By Elaine Feinstein
Knopf, 2006, 352 pp

Anna Akhmatova was, indeed, in Marina Tsvetaeva's loving characterization, "Anna of All the Russias," a sovereign poet whose life richly embodied the genius and suffering of her people. She lived this life as a storm within a storm, and Feinstein, a writer and poet herself, narrates the interplay starkly but with tenderness. At the center are the men, beginning with Nikolai Gumilyov, infatuated with her as a teen but removed as a husband, and ending with Nikolai Punin, the art historian whose apartment she shared with his legal wife and daughter; in between, and often simultaneously, were the men she loved most deeply. The other storm (first the war, then the Bolshevik Revolution, and eventually the Terror) transformed a poet of exquisite personal emotion into a poet of transcendent human pathos -- but at immense cost: her son and "husband" in the GULAG, her intimate friends executed, her health broken, her existence indigent, her poetry silenced, and her fame soiled by the likes of Leon Trotsky and the inquisitorial dullard Andrei Zhdanov, who, in a misappropriation of an earlier literary critic's insight, called her "half nun, half whore."