(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Unlike that of Anna Akhmatova, who was always acknowledged as one of the greatest Russian poets, Marina Tsvetayeva's reputation suffered a steep decline for many years before and after her death in 1941. Though once again highly regarded, at the end of her life people considered her a relic. Even those who remembered her often treated her like a discard from a lost world, whose many years in Paris and her marriage to Sergei Efron made her a liability as well. To others, however, she was a rediscovered treasure. Unfortunately, the respect and admiration of these people could not prevent her suicide.

After living in exile for seventeen years, fourteen of them in France, she was not prepared for her return to the Soviet Union, nor did she have any real desire to return, despite the enthusiasm of her husband and her daughter, Alya. In fact, their fanaticism disturbed her. However, after her husband was implicated in the murder of the Soviet defector Ignace Reiss, she had no choice. Efron was whisked back to the Soviet Union by the Soviet secret police, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). This left Tsvetayeva in a very precarious situation, harassed by the French police and avoided by the Russian émigrés. Tsvetayeva refused to believe in her husband's involvement in the assassination but had to accept the evidence of his activities as a Soviet spy. Despite this, she remained loyal to Sergei and returned to the Soviet Union to be with him.

Tsvetayeva realized that her writing was all behind her the moment she walked down the ship's gangplank. When she arrived in Russia with her son, Mur, who had grown up in France, she joined Efron and her daughter, Alya, at a NKVD dacha in Bolshevo, outside Moscow. There Tsvetayeva's family lived with nine others, including seven members of the Klepinin family. These cramped conditions did not allow Tsvetayeva the sort of privacy she needed to write. Moreover, the strain of virtual house arrest made her distant and touchy, unapproachable by most people and in increasing conflict with her son, a teenager who often became stubborn and capricious.

Though Tsvetayeva made a strong impression on people, many were annoyed with her self-absorption, reading her unsmiling silence as arrogance, even while noting the elevated tone of her speech. One observer, for instance, who did not like her poetry, remarked on her poise and dedication, saying she “read as if she were on the scaffold.”

To others, however, Tsvetayeva seemed quite ordinary: “Her face was tired, she had cropped graying hair, and wore a dress of the same shade.” She “remained closed, silent, and unsmiling, as if deep in her own thoughts,” hardly a manner designed to charm. She made an unappealing impression with her “sullen taciturnity, and unexpected angry outbursts,” often directed at her son, whom she sometimes struck. At the “common table, she was distantly polite. Her eyes were lifeless.” Her way of dress annoyed people, too, who considered it “foreign,” meaning Parisian, with the silver bracelets, the zip handbag, the unusual scarf around her neck, and the comb in her hair.

However, those familiar with Tsvetayeva's poetry from before the Russian Revolution cherished her so much that they were sympathetic despite her sometimes off-putting behavior. Nina Klepinina warned her family before Tsvetayeva moved into the dacha in Bolshevo that “poets are not like ordinary people. Marina Ivanovna's quiet should be sacred.” Nina Klepinina also recalled Tsvetayeva standing at a window in:

One of her characteristic poses—arms crossed over her chest (a cigarette in her right hand), practically grabbing herself by her shoulders, as if shivering…. I see her profile against the glass…. There's a sense of great loneliness, cold, bleakness…. Her profile …is beautiful: delicate, animated, as if in flight.

Tsvetayeva was obviously a tormented woman, and her mental state only got worse when, just months after her return, her daughter and husband were arrested. Tsvetayeva never saw either again, though her daughter finally emerged from the Soviet prison system.

Because of the constant undercurrent of terror, Tsvetayeva never really snapped out of her depression. Kudrova admires Tsvetayeva and her poetry, but it seems hard for her to build a compelling narrative out of the unchanging dreariness of Tsvetayeva's life. It is understandable, therefore, that this becomes as much Efron's biography as Tsvetayeva's. Kudrova provides a detailed...

(The entire section is 1841 words.)