May 01, 2006

The Poet of Time

In 1972, when Soviet authorities expelled Joseph Brodsky from Russia, they could not have imagined that this red-haired man, whom they accused of being a “sponger” and “parasite,” would, 15 years later, receive the Nobel Prize for literature, with the Swedish Academy proclaiming that his poetry was “a divine gift.”

Joseph Brodsky, an only child, was born on May 24, 1940, in Leningrad. His family was Jewish and descended from the bourgeoisie, which often made it difficult for his parents to find work. The poet’s father, Alexander Brodsky, was mainly a professional photographer. During the Second World War, he served in the navy and as a reporter on the frontlines of the Leningrad blockade. Brodsky’s mother, Maria Volpert, worked as a bookkeeper and interpreter.

The family lived in a communal apartment in the city center, in the famous Muruzi House, a Moorish-style building on Liteyny Prospect. The Brodskys had one room in the apartment, and they fenced off about 10 meters of it for their son, where he could study and work in his own separate world. Brodsky used to call their room “a room and a half” and said that those 10 meters — the “half” that belonged to him — were “the best ten meters I ever knew.”

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