Cover image for The guest from the future : Anna Akhmatova and Isaiah Berlin
The guest from the future : Anna Akhmatova and Isaiah Berlin
Dalos, György.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
Physical Description:
250 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm
General Note:
"This revised and expanded edition was first published in Great Britain in 1998 by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd. ... London"--T.p. verso.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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PG3476.A324 Z59 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In 1945 Isaiah Berlin, working in Russia for the British Foreign Office, met Anna Akhmatova almost by chance in what was then Leningrad. The brief time they spent together one long November evening was a transformng experience for both, and has become a cardinal moment in modern literary history. For Akhmatova, Berlin was a "guest from the future," her ideal reader outside the nightmare of Soviet life and a link with a lost Russian world; he became a figure in her cryptic masterpiece "Poem without a Hero." For Berlin, this "most memorable" meeting with the beautiful poet of genius was a spur to his ideas on liberty and on history. But there were tragic consequences: the Soviet authorities thought Berlin was a British spy, Akhmatova became a suspected enemy, and until her death in 1966 the KGB persecuted her family. Though Akhmatova was convinced that she and Berlin had inadvertently started the Cold War, she remembered him gratefully and he inspired some of her finest poems. György Dalos--who inteviewed Berlin and many others who knew Akhmatova well, and who examined hitherto-secret KGB and Poliburo files--tells the inside story of how Stalin and other Soviet leaders dealt with Akhmatova. He ends with the touching story of her posthumous rehabilitation, when Russians astronomers discovered a new star and name it after her.

Author Notes

Philosopher, political theorist, and essayist, Isaiah Berlin was born in 1909 to Russian-speaking Jewish parents in Latvia. Reared in Latvia and later in Russia, Berlin developed a strong Russian-Jewish identity, having witnessed both the Social-Democratic and the Bolshevik Revolutions.

At the age of 12, Berlin moved with his family to England, where he attended prep school and then St. Paul's. In 1928, he went up as a scholar to Corpus Christi College in Oxford. After an unsuccessful attempt at the Manchester Guardian, Berlin was offered a position as lecturer in philosophy at New College. Almost immediately, he was elected to a fellowship at All Souls. During this time at All Souls, Berlin wrote his brilliant biographical study of Marx, titled Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (1939), for the Home University Library.

Berlin continued to teach through early World War II, and was then sent to New York by the Ministry of Information, and subsequently to the Foreign Office in Washington, D.C. It was during these years that he drafted several fine works regarding the changing political mood of the United States, collected in Washington Despatches 1941-1945 (1981). By the end of the war, Berlin had shifted his focus from philosophy to the history of ideas, and in 1950 he returned to All Souls. In 1957, he was elected to the Chichele Chair of Social and Political Theory, delivering his influential and best-known inaugural lecture, Two Concepts of Liberty.

Some of his works include Liberty, The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism, Flourishing: Selected Letters 1928 - 1946, Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought, and Unfinished Dialogue, Prometheus.

Berlin died in Oxford on November 5, 1997.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the annals of 20th-century literature, few encounters between great writers were at once so ephemeral and so fraught with meaning as the evening in 1945 that Isaiah Berlin spent in the Leningrad home of Anna Akhmatova. The celebrated Russian poet saw Berlin, a Russian-born Oxford professor of political theory, then first secretary for the British Embassy in Moscow, as a visionary from the democratic world that she'd never experienced. According to Dalos, Akhmatova became romantically obsessed with Berlin and placed him as the central figure in a famously cryptic masterpiece, "Poem Without a Hero." The encounter also left Akhmatova under the surveillance of the KGB, who denounced Berlin as a British spy. Dalos, a Russian novelist and literary critic who now lives in Berlin, was captivated by the story at a 1993 meeting of the Heinrich B”ll Foundation in Moscow, at which a former KGB official delivered a paper on Akhmatova and her secret government file. Quoting at length from Akhmatova's friends and supporters, and from extensive interviews with Berlin, who died in 1997, Dalos makes considerable headway in recasting Akhmatova's lifework. Dalos is least convincing when using complex passages from her writing to support his theories about her relationship with Berlin. When weaving together details from Russian history and the notes and letters of Berlin and Akhmatova, his writing is more graceful, lending support to the growing reputation of a poet who only late in life earned global publication and an honorary doctorate from Oxford, and for whom a star was named in 1988, 22 years after her death. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. 6
Prefacep. 7
Preface to the English Language Editionp. 11
1 The Meetingp. 15
2 Excommunicationp. 53
3 'Oxford' Students in Leningradp. 93
4 The Non-Meetingp. 115
5 Late Famep. 148
6 Honoris causap. 179
7 Earthly and Heavenly Justicep. 197
Appendix Resume from the head of the Leningrad Branch of the Ministry of State Security to Andrey Zhdanov, 15 August 1946p. 210
Anna Akhmatovap. 214
Isaiah Berlinp. 218
Glossary of Namesp. 221
Select Bibliographyp. 227
Sourcesp. 229
Indexp. 242