Catherine has come from humble beginnings to marry the Romantic visionary poet and artist, William Blake – creator of the well-known ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ and favourite hymn, ‘Jerusalem’. Blake is way ahead of his time with his pacifist and liberal ideas while many regard him as mad.
The story of Nadezhda Mandelstam is particularly harrowing. Her husband Osip is regarded as one of the great Soviet poets of his generation, but under Stalin’s regime, he is persecuted and sent to the work camps. In a climate of fear, Nadezhda finds that the only way she can preserve his work is to learn the poems off by heart, keeping them secret for decades.
These two astonishing true stories are rounded off by the story of Lydia, the only fictional wife of the book, who organises the scattering of her husband’s ashes near the seaside town where he wrote. Accompanied by her daughters, the women share their bitterness about how Don’s poetry always came first in their lives, even before their grief over the death of Don and Lydia's son.
Park is a very lyrical writer and suits his style to the voice of each of the three women as they tell their stories. The poetry of their husbands has the chance to live through their words and while each story is really powerful in its own distinct way, similar themes run through them all. This is a beautifully crafted book from a very talented writer.
Posted by JAM
Catalogue link: The Poets' Wives