The Wives: The Women Behind Russia’s Literary Giants
In her latest book, biographer Alexandra Popoff profiles six literary spouses—Anna Dostoevsky, Sophia Tolstoy, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Véra Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn. Their stories span the 19th century to the present day.
I knew nothing about the women here before reading this book and found it to be fascinating. While Popoff’s subjects played a supporting role in their husbands’ lives, they were far from subservient figures. They were courageous ones as well; to give just one example, after poet Osip Mandelstam disappeared into the gulag, his wife, despite the danger to herself, kept his poetry from disappearing as well. My own favorite section was that on Anna Dostoevsky, who met her husband when, under the pressure of a one-month deadline to complete a novel, he hired her as a stenographer.
Popoff writes in an accessible, lively manner. For those who aren’t well versed in Russian history and Russian literature, she fills in the background without overwhelming the reader with details. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in literary biography and women’s history.