Three days ago Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames, which Robert Chandler and I launched in London last month, was officially published, and this important, uncategorizable collection has already received a number of reviews from discerning readers who care far less about categories than about the virtues of individual books. One such ideal reader is, unsurprisingly, Kaggsy, who writes: “Each verse brilliantly conjures place, character, atmosphere; each subject exists in their own right and emerges fully formed from their word portrait. The parts build to a whole which is a wonderful primer on Russian creatives but also an incredible work of art in its own right.” And in a deeply insightful and well-informed piece at the Cleveland Review of Books, Alexander McConnell captures the complicated mood of Ozerov’s poems: “While certainly not nostalgic, Ozerov’s lamentations for those consumed by the Soviet experiment betray an ambivalence towards that experiment’s implosion and the evaporation of what Svetlana Boym calls ‘the unrealized dreams of the past and visions of the future that became obsolete.’” How true. The Soviet world was, after all, the only world that Ozerov knew intimately, firsthand; his own life, which began in 1914 and ended in 1996, was almost coterminous with that of the USSR.
McConnell quotes several portraits in his essay, including one of my favorites, “Mikhail Arkadyevich Svetlov,” in which Ozerov depicts, with great understanding, the witty Soviet poet’s descent into alcoholism:
“The unresolvable can be resolved
by such a simple method.
Moisture with degrees of proof,
genuine, unfalsified proof . . .”
Svetlov stalled forever
on this simple, reliable,
of answering the irrelevant
and tactless questions
posed by life . . .
And since we’re on the subject of books that are hard to categorize, I will share my brief review of The Rehearsals, a masterpiece by the recently departed Russian novelist Vladimir Sharov, from the latest Literary Review. Oliver Ready, Sharov’s inspired translator, has written a moving tribute to the man for The Moscow Times. Non-subscribers only have access to my opening paragraph. Luckily, Caryl Emerson’s brilliant, beautifully crafted essay on Sharov and The Rehearsals is available for free at the Los Angeles Review of Books.