Thursday, November 09, 2006

9: drying my salty braid

After checking my email, which is invariably the first thing I do upon waking, I told myself quite sternly that I could not do anything at all until I finished something. I allowed myself a cup of coffee before attacking Europe Central with determination.

And I finished it.

This is the part of the post that should, by rule and format, have a review of some kind, but I don't know what to say or how to say it, or maybe I just can't find the words to begin. It's an astounding book, half fact and half fiction. I had to read it slowly because it is so incredibly brutal. The San Francisco Chronicle said that it has the power to "put a few readers towards madness," and that's exactly how I felt when reading it. It's the most devastating book about World War 2 and Soviet Russia that I have ever read.

Especially interesting to me is its examination of the impact of war on artists. Characters include Kathe Kowitz, Dmitri Shostakovitch, and my own Anna Akhmatova. This gives me an excuse to post a poem rather than continue talking about books or war or myself, so here's an early poem by Anna Akhmatova, written long before Stalin destroyed her life.
Bays cut into the low-lying shore,
All the sails were fleeing out to sea,
And I was drying my salty braid
On a flat rock a mile from land.
A green fish swam up to me,
A white gull flew up to me,
And I was daring, vexed and merry,
And completely unaware that this -- was happiness.
I buried my yellow dress in the sand
So the wind, or a tramp, wouldn't steal it away
And I swam far out to sea;
On the warm, dark waves I lay.
"At the Edge of the Sea," Anna Akhmatova 1914

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