Robert Chandler

Ultimate issues

In his preface to this anthology of brief memoirs, Robert Silvers suggests that its ‘invisible, tragic core’ is to be found in an account by Isaiah Berlin of one of his several meetings with Boris Pasternak. Pasternak told Berlin how Stalin had once telephoned him to ask him two questions: had Pasternak been present when Mandelstam read out his notorious ‘Epigram’ about Stalin; and was Mandelstam a ‘master’? Pasternak sidestepped these questions by saying that it was essential that he and Stalin meet: they needed to ‘speak about ultimate issues, about life and death’.

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