Books: A Raspberry in Stalin's Mouth

One gloomy afternoon in 1934, a Russian poet named Osip Mandelstam made the worst mistake of his life. He dropped in on Boris Pasternak at his Moscow apartment. Pasternak he knew he could trust, but there were four other Russian writers in the room. But Mandelstam was too wrought up to be wary. He passionately recited an "epigram" he had written about Stalin.

We live. We are not sure our land is under us. Ten feet away, no one hears us. But wherever there's even a half-conversation, we remember the Kremlin s...

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