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19 November 2018

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Brief Lives: Alexander Pushkin

This superb, short (152 pages) book is a masterwork. Chandler dares to wrestle with the icon that is Pushkin and delivers a digestible, readable biography that is as mindful of the mountains of Pushkinian research as it is of the knowledge and interest level of the general reader.

Most importantly, Chandler does an excellent job of showing how inextricably Pushkin’s art was bound up with his life, spicing up the narrative with enlightening vignettes, such as how General Intsov, Pushkin’s overseer in Bessarabia, had to confiscate the poet’s boots to enforce a house arrest; how Pushkin composed through the night and one house guest woke up to find Alexander Sergeyevich nude on the couch, surrounded by papers; how Pushkin faked an aneurism in a sloppy attempt to escape to Paris…

Tightly composed, this volume nonetheless includes useful summaries of Pushkin’s works, matter-of-fact discussions of the poet’s foibles (from gambling, to procrastination— he wrote best when confined by sickness, to philandering), and superlative translations of Pushkin’s poetry and prose.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Nov/Dec 2009