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Peter the Great's African
  • Published: 1 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9781681375991
  • Imprint: NY Review Books
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $24.99

Peter the Great's African

Experiments in Prose



Newly translated, unfinished works about power, class conflict, and artistic inspiration by Russia's greatest poet.

This volume presents Alexander Pushkin at his most questioning and experimental.

“Peter the Great’s African” is his first attempt at representing the man he saw as the most important of all Russian tsars. Here Pushkin presents him from the perspective of Pushkin’s maternal great-grandfather, a former African slave whom Peter the Great educated and made into one of his closest confidants. Pushkin’s central concern in this story is the success or failure of Peter’s attempt to refashion his vast, archaic empire and turn it into an integral part of Europe.

“The History of the Village of Goriukhino”—one of Pushkin’s wittiest works—shows him grappling, through parody and self-parody, with the question of what it means to write history. It points the way toward the serious, archivally based historical works to which Pushkin dedicated several of his last years.

“Dubrovsky” is both a gripping adventure story and a vivid picture of provincial Russia in the late eighteenth century, with its simmering class conflicts ready to explode in violence.

And “The Egyptian Nights” is an examination, in both prose and poetry, of questions of the deepest importance to Pushkin: from the nature of artistic inspiration to the problem of the poet’s place in a rapidly changing and ever more commercialized society.

These unfinished works are as remarkable as Pushkin’s one completed novel, The Captain’s Daughter—of interest both in their own right and for the insight they allow us into the poet’s creative laboratory.

  • Published: 1 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9781681375991
  • Imprint: NY Review Books
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $24.99

About the author

Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born in Moscow in 1799. He was liberally educated and left school in 1817. Given a sinecure in the Foreign Office, he spent three dissipated years in St Petersburg writing light, erotic and highly polished verse. He flirted with several pre-Decembrist societies, composing the mildly revolutionary verses which led to his disgrace and exile in 1820. After traveling through the Caucasus and the Crimea, he was sent to Bessarabia, where he wrote The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain at Bakhchisaray, and began Eugene Onegin. His work took an increasingly serious turn during the last year of his southern exile, in Odessa.

In 1824 he was transferred to his parents' estate at Mikhaylovskoe in north-west Russia, where he spent two solitary but fruitful years during which he wrote his historical drama Boris Godunov, continued Eugene Onegin and finished The Gipsies. After the failure of the Decembrist Revolt in 1825 and the succession of a new tsar, Pushkin was granted conditional freedom in 1826. During the next three years he wandered restlessly between St Petersburg and Moscow. He wrote an epic poem, Poltava, but little else.

In 1829 he went with the Russian army to Transcaucasia, and the following year, stranded by a cholera outbreak at the small family estate of Boldino, he wrote his experimental Little Tragedies in blank verse and The Tales of Belkin in prose, and virtually completed Eugene Onegin. In 1831 he married the beautiful Natalya Goncharova. The rest of his life was soured by debts and the malice of his enemies. Although his literary output slackened, he produced his major prose works The Queen of Spades and The Captain's Daughter, his masterpiece in verse, The Bronze Horseman, important lyrics and fairy tales, including The Tale of the Golden Cockerel. Towards the end of 1836 anonymous letters goaded Pushkin into challenging a troublesome admirer of his wife to a duel. He was mortally wounded and died in January 1837.

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