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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography

The Guest from the Future

Dalos György

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To purchase The Guest from the Future

Title: The Guest from the Future
Author: Dalos György
Genre: Biographical
Written: 1996
Length: 228 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: The Guest from the Future - US
The Guest from the Future - UK
The Guest from the Future - Canada
The Guest from the Future - Deutschland
  • Anna Akhmatova and Isaiah Berlin
  • With the collaboration of Andrea Dunai
  • Translated from the German by Antony Wood
  • This book was originally published in German in 1996, translated from the Hungarian by the author with Elsbeth Zylla. The English edition is a slightly revised version.

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Our Assessment:

B : an interesting event, neatly and thoroughly spun out

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe . 12/11/1999 Mark Feeney
London Rev. of Books . 26/11/1998 Christopher Hitchens
National Review . 19/3/2001 Jeffrey Hart
The NY Rev. of Books . 16/12/1999 John Bayley
The Spectator . 26/9/1998 John Bayley
The Sunday Times . 23/8/1998 Philip Marsden
The Times . 3/9/1998 Natasha Fairweather
TLS . 18/12/1998 Robert Wokler

  Review Consensus:

  Hardly reviews at all, focussing almost entirely on the event described in the book and not the book. Hardly a word about Dalos' achievement (or lack thereof).

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dalos adds much detail and a larger context to Berlin's essay, but his book cannot be said to supplant it. The greatest value of The Guest from the Future lies in the view it affords of Soviet culture. Precisely because it was at once so monstrous and absurd, that world hardly seems credible now to an American." - Mark Feeney, Boston Globe

  • "In this elegant and concentrated book, Gyorgy Dalos, novelist and literary critic, a Hungarian fluent in Russian, has the equipment to explore it in depth." - Jeffrey Hart, National Review

  • "György Dalos has interesting things to say about the way Stalin himself took a close interest in the poets and writers whom he persecuted." - John Bayley, The New York Review of Books

  • "Dalos's intriguing little book proves that this fleeting, 15-hour encounter has more to say of the Soviet period than any summit meeting, or any of those tedious party congresses that tried for 70 years to control the lives of an entire empire." - Philip Marsden, The Sunday Times

  • "The Guest from the Future is inevitably limited by the brevity of the accounts which both protagonists gave of the conversation. And the reader is left with the sensation that Dalos might have done better to fictionalise the encounter." - Natasha Fairweather, The Times

  • "In addition to threatening the meagre security of her old age, Berlin's meeting with Akhmatova also rekindled all the fires of her youth, as Dalos's meticulous reading of her later poetry makes plain." - Robert Wokler, 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:

       It's a neat story: in November, 1945 the young Isaiah Berlin, then First Secretary at the British Embassy in Moscow, travels to Leningrad and spends a night talking with the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. It is a meeting that influences them both profoundly and, as Dalos argues, played a great role particularly in Akhmatova's life. Berlin was Akhmatova's "guest from the future", a famous phrase from the Poem without a Hero she was working on.
       The intriguing meeting has been described elsewhere by Berlin, and Dalos adds a few more details gleaned from a conversation with Berlin, as well as from letters from Akhmatova and friends' reminiscences. Much remains a mystery -- from what they talked about to who cooked (one of Dalos' interests) -- but they were apparently quite taken with one another. In the years after there is, however, only a telephone conversation, and then a meeting on the occasion of Akhmatova's visit to Oxford in 1965 to receive an honorary doctorate. Indeed the suspicious figure of Berlin -- a fluent Russian speaker, in the service of her Majesty (i.e. likely a spy in Soviet eyes) -- was probably the wrong person for Akhmatova to be seen speaking to.
       Dalos examines the meeting carefully from all angles, taking advantage of the Soviet collapse to glean new, previously secret material. There are no exciting bombshells here, but the book gives an excellent overview of Soviet culture, particularly under Stalin (and cultural czar Zhdanov), and Akhmatova's difficult position in her homeland. Akhmatova lived an interesting though tragic life, and Dalos presents her travails well.
       Dalos himself was a student in Moscow in the 1960s, and as a writer in Hungary he was familiar with the Communist system and how it dealt with its artists. As such he provides a useful perspective on Akhmatova's position within the Soviet system. It is not new ground -- enough Soviet writers have written about all aspects of literary life in the Soviet Union -- but Dalos' reasonable voice does offer interesting insight into those events surrounding Akhmatova's life.
       Isaiah Berlin is a lesser focus here. While the meeting in 1945 obviously affected him profoundly as well, it does not figure as prominently (either personally or professionally) in his life as it did in Akhmatova's.
       Dalos book is a decent, quick read about a fascinating subject. The writing is a bit stiff, the result, no doubt, of the translation from language to language. It is, however, nicely presented, with pretty much all the information about the two protagonists and the meeting one could wish for. A thorough job about an interesting episode -- though not quite a riveting read.

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Reviews: Anna Akhmatova: Other books by Dalos György under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Dalos György was born in 1943. He is currently head of the Institute for Hungarian Culture in Berlin.

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© 1999-2010 the complete review

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