TSVETAEVA is a translation of Viktoria Schweitzer’s Russian-language study of the great poet, originally published in Paris in 1988 as Byt i Bytie Mariny Tsvetaevoy. The most interesting aspect of this biography is its style, which is refreshingly unlike that of the typical Western literary biography. Although Schweitzer has obviously done a tremendous amount of research into Marina Tsvetaeva’s life, she is not afraid to express her own opinions about the poet’s actions and beliefs in a rather intimate manner, rejecting the role of the detached observer. This approach has its shortcomings, but in this book it works more often than not.

Schweitzer examines the characters of Tsvetaeva’s parents—her creative and demanding mother, who gave her her love of music and literature and taught her to speak and read several languages; her apparently stolid father, whose life was devoted to creating a museum of ancient art—and finds there the roots of the poet’s own obsessive devotion to art and her willingness to sacrifice virtually everything else for her work. Tsvetaeva achieved quite a measure of success as a poet in her youth, but because of her marriage to Sergey Efron, who opposed the Bolsheviks and had to leave Russia, ultimately she too had to leave her homeland to live in exile, primarily in Prague and Paris. Before she left Russia to meet Efron, she lived in poverty in Moscow with her two daughters, one of whom died of hunger in an orphanage...

(The entire section is 484 words.)