Portraits Without Frames

Lev Ozerov (Author) Robert Chandler (Editor)
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Isaac Babel, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Anna Akhmatova star in this series of portraits of some of the greatest writers, artists, and composers of the twentieth century.

"We stopped and Shklovsky told me / quietly, but clearly, / 'Remember, we are on our way out. / On our way out.' And I recalled / ... the wall of books, / all written by a man / who lived / in times that were hard to bear."

Lev Ozerov's Portraits Without Frames offers fifty shrewd and moving glimpses into the lives of Soviet writers, composers, and artists caught between the demands of art and politics. Some of the subjects--like Anna Akhmatova, Isaac Babel, Andrey Platonov, and Dmitry Shostakovich--are well-known, others less so. All are evoked with great subtlety and vividness, as is the fraught and dangerous time in which they lived. Composed in free verse of deceptively artless simplicity, Ozerov's portraits are like nothing else in Russian poetry.

Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
December 04, 2018
5.0 X 0.6 X 7.9 inches | 0.8 pounds
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About the Author

Lev Ozerov (1914-1996) was born Lev Goldberg in Kyiv, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. He began to publish poems in the early 1930s, and as his literary career took off, he adopted a Slavic-sounding pseudonym (from ozero, the Russian word for "lake"), though he never rejected his Jewish roots. Ozerov was a close friend of many prominent Yiddish poets, including Leyb Kvitko and Shmuel Halkin, whose work he translated into Russian. He was also one of the first to write, in both prose and verse, about the Babi Yar massacre in 1941. His commitment to giving voice to the voiceless also found expression in his work as a critic and editor. In 1946, while serving on the staff of the journal October, Ozerov helped the great poet Nikolay Zabolotsky return to print after eight years in the Gulag. Ozerov's review of a 1958 collection of Anna Akhmatova's verse broke the so-called "blockade" against her work, and the edition he published of Boris Pasternak's poems in 1965 marked the beginning of that poet's slow posthumous rehabilitation after the Zhivago affair of 1957-1958. But perhaps Ozerov's greatest contribution--as both a poet and an advocate for the unjustly silenced--is his collection Portraits Without Frames, which was published in 1999, three years after his death.

Robert Chandler's translations from Russian include works by Alexander Pushkin, Teffi, Vasily Grossman, and Andrey Platonov. He has also written a short biography of Pushkin and has edited three anthologies of Russian literature: Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov, and, with Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. His translation of Vasily Grossman's Stalingrad will be published by NYRB Classics in 2019. He runs a monthly translation workshop at Pushkin House in London.

Boris Dralyuk is the executive editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. His recent translations include Isaac Babel's Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories and Mikhail Zoshchenko's Sentimental Tales. He is the editor of 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution.

Maria Bloshteyn was born in Saint Petersburg and emigrated to Canada when she was nine years old. She is the author of The Making of a Counter-Culture Icon: Henry Miller's Dostoevsky and the translator of, most recently, Anton Chekhov's The Prank (available from NYRB Classics).

Irina Mashinski was born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States with her family in 1991. She is the author of nine books of poetry in Russian and edits the journal Cardinal Points. Along with Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk, she edited The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry.


"Ozerov's [poems] provide a formula for reading life as art. Closing the book, I found myself viewing my own interactions with Ozerov's empathetic eye. If literature cannot inspire this kind of empathy, what can?" --Amelia Glaser, Times Literary Supplement

"Attention. That word rings over and over through the poem-filled pages. This gentle attention is what makes the collection such a treasure." -- Alisa Goz, Russian Art & Culture

"Few traces of youthful sentimentality are evident in Portraits without Frames, Ozerov's last poetic work and first to be made available in English. Originally published posthumously in Russia in 1998, Portraits is an anthology of fifty free verse tableaux based on encounters with Soviet writers, artists, and cultural figures ranging from the world-famous (Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Dmitry Shostakovich) to the lesser-known (Yiddish poets Leyb Kvitko and Dovid Hofshteyn, arrested and shot on Stalin's orders in 1952)....By telling their stories, preserving their portraits, Ozerov has done what is hard: to speak about that which one cannot change. But harder still to change that about which one will not speak." --Alexander McConnell, Cleveland Review of Books

"The name Lev Ozerov may strike non-connoisseurs of 20th century Russian literature as an atypical choice on the part of the New York Review of Books Publishing House, which in this same "Classics" collection has published Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and Mandelstam. It's no wonder: leafing through, we realize at first glance that beyond his own capacity of poet, editor, and translator, this Ozerov is singular in his position of witness...There isn't much to say about the translation beyond that it is excellent. Never does a poem lose its essential spirit. It's difficult enough to co-translate a book, much less group-translate. This requires the sacrifice of complete invisibility--or, better, of transparency. It is notable that it is a very approachable translation, quite neutral and modern." --Andreea Scridon, Asymptote Journal

"Ozerov's poems offer the reader poignant Soviet portraits-in-poetry, illuminated lives of the everyday and the literary Soviet saints. In these translations the finely wrought poems shine with their original wistfulness, love, and dedication: tramps, poets, and friends mingle in short deft snatches of stories." --Sasha Dugdale

"In this long and profoundly moving cycle of poems, Ozerov recalls his meetings with the great and notable in Russian arts over the Twentieth Century, and the results are breathtaking....Ozerov certainly mixed with just about all the great and good in Soviet art, and the fifty accounts of his meetings with them reminded me just how many incredible artists the country and the era produced - even if they had to write for the drawer a lot of the time. Each poem is preceded by an introduction outlining the life and work of the subject; each translation is individually credited; notes are provided when necessary to illuminate the poems; so this really is an exemplary volume and a flawless reading experience." --Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings