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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


A Novel Without Lies

Anatoly Mariengof

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Novel Without Lies

Title: A Novel Without Lies
Author: Anatoly Mariengof
Genre: Novel
Written: 1927 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 179 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: A Novel Without Lies - US
A Novel Without Lies - UK
A Novel Without Lies - Canada
Un roman sans mensonge - France
Roman ohne Lüge - Deutschland
  • Russian title: Роман без вранья
  • Translated by Jose Alaniz
  • With an introduction by the editors.
  • With numerous photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting portrait of the times, and of a friendship

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 7/3/2002 Tony Wood
TLS . 2/8/2002 Lesley Chamberlain

  From the Reviews:
  • "It was this legendary friendship, the moments of rambunctiousness and the social and political upheaval of the times that Mariengof sought to portray in his brilliantly sardonic memoir, A Novel without Lies (.....) A Novel without Lies is in large part a story of insincerities" - Tony Wood, London Review of Books

  • "Exaltation, hope, despair and a passion for a transfigured future combined with savage humour and intoxicated imagery. The result was a stream of remarkable verse and a series of impossible lives, lived with superhuman energy in circumstances of astonishing material misery. No one, not even a young Russian poet like Sergei Esenin (1895- 1925), could live at that pitch for long. This memoir, written by his closest friend, explains why." - Lesley Chamberlain, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Novel Without Lies doesn't read much like fiction. In fact, it looks very much like a straightforward memoir, Anatoly Mariengof recounting his relationship with the great Russian poet Sergei Esenin. In any case -- whether more, or less, fictional -- it offers a remarkable story, and a good picture of Russia in the revolutionary years between 1917 and 1925 (when Esenin hanged himself).
       Mariengof and Esenin hit it off quickly, and became near-inseparable. A peculiar character, Esenin wasn't always easy to get along with. As Mariengof recounts, he treated his first wife and their children very shabbily, and his brief marriage to Isadora Duncan was also not built on a great relationship. As Mariengof points out:

     Usually, we love those who love us. Esenin loved no one, and everybody loved Esenin.
       In Mariengof Esenin seems to have found a kindred spirit, however. What they shared was that for them art was everything. (It's no surprise that their relationship fell apart when Mariengof fell in love, proving that a mere woman could mean more to him than poetry .....)
       Their devotion to art was by no means unique: Mariengof observes:
     There is no force capable of separating a Russian from his ruinous devotion to the arts -- not a typhoid louse; nor ankle-deep provincial mud; nor 'loo-lessness'; nor war; nor revolution; nor an empty stomach.
       Several times their poetic reputation helps get them out of uncomfortable spots -- this really was a world where, despite famine and revolution, poetry still meant a great deal.
       A Novel Without Lies is also a who's-who of Russian writers of the time: Mariengof and Esenin seem to have met nearly everybody -- which also makes for some good anecdotes and personal sketches, including of Velemir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky. (Understanding that all the name-dropping might confuse English-speaking readers, the Glas edition has wide margins that includes summary information about the various people mentioned; it takes a bit of getting used to, but is certainly helpful -- though footnotes might have done the job just as well.)
       Finding a place to sleep, heating material, and food are among the major problems of the day, not that they let that get them down too much. Occasionally things don't work out -- Mariengof awakes one morning to find not only his wallet and boots have been pinched, but that all his clothes have been taken -- but they do come up with some ingenious ideas, including setting up a writer's studio in a bathroom, and getting a girl to agree to be a bed-warmer:
     Esenin said that he could set her up as a Soviet typist if she would come round to our place every night about one o'clock, disrobe and crawl in between our frigid sheets. It wouldn't take her fifteen minutes to warm the bed ! Then she could crawl out, dress and go home.
       That went well enough for three days, but she quit on the fourth, having hoped to do a bit more in bed with them (an opportunity they grasped too late).
       Mariengof charts Esenin's career, and there are quite a few good scenes of their poet-lives in those days, as when Esenin declaims on a boulevard in Kharkov at Easter:
     The crowd, in pointed cloth helmets, hats and peaked caps, contracted into a huge black fist. Esenin dropped the words like heavy copper coins on the asphalt.
       It is Esenin's marriage to Duncan, and his trip to western Europe that finally breaks them apart. Mariengof quotes from Esenin's letters from abroad; to say he was miserable there is to put it mildly. So, for example, in a letter from Düsseldorf (where he perhaps should not have been expecting all that much ...):
I've yet to meet a human being, and don't know where to look for one. Mr. Dollar is terribly in vogue, and to hell with art; its highest expression is the 'music hall.' I don't even want to publish my books here, despite the affordability of paper and translators. Nobody cares about poetry.
       As close as the two friends were, their final encounters are nearly unbearable, Esenin on some level clearly a broken man -- and no doubt finding that Mariengof too has betrayed him.
       A Novel Without Lies offers a very good picture of the lives of the poets -- these and many of the other Russian writers of the times -- in that period, albeit in fairly sketchy manner. It is certainly a very good Esenin-portrait, but also gives a nice feel for the difficult and very strange times. (As in Cynics, it's remarkable how Mariengof sustains such good cheer in the face of even the greatest hardships.) A Novel Without Lies is also very entertaining, full of good anecdotes.

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A Novel Without Lies: Other books by Anatoly Mariengof under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Soviet author Anatoly Mariengof (Анатолий Мариенгоф, Anatoli Marienhoff) lived 1897 to 1962.

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© 2006-2012 the complete review

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