Serge Prokofiev was one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant composers yet is an enigma to historians and his fans. Why did he leave the West and move to the Soviet Union despite Stalin’s crimes? Why did his astonishing creativity in the 1930s soon dissolve into a far less inspiring output in his later years? The answers can finally be revealed, thanks to Simon Morrison’s unique and unfettered access to the family’s voluminous papers and his ability to reconstruct the tragic, riveting life of the composer’s wife, Lina.
Morrison’s portrait of the marriage of Lina and Serge Prokofiev is the story of a remarkable woman who fought for survival in the face of unbearable betrayal and despair and of the irresistibly talented but heartlessly self-absorbed musician she married. Born to a Spanish father and Russian mother in Madrid at the end of the nineteenth century and raised in Brooklyn, Lina fell in love with a rising-star composer—and defied convention to be with him, courting public censure. She devoted her life to Serge and to art, training to be an operatic soprano and following her brilliant husband to Stalin’s Russia. Just as Serge found initial acclaim—before becoming constricted by the harsh doctrine of socialist-realist music—Lina was at first accepted and later scorned, ending her singing career. Serge abandoned her and took up with another woman. Finally, Lina was arrested and shipped off to the gulag in 1948. She would be held in captivity for eight awful years. Meanwhile, Serge found himself the tool of an evil regime to which he was forced to accommodate himself.
The contrast between Lina and Serge is one of strength and perseverance versus utter self-absorption, a remarkable human drama that draws on the forces of art, sacrifice, and the struggle against oppression. Readers will never forget the tragic drama of Lina’s life, and never listen to Serge’s music in quite the same way again.
—Wall Street Journal "The sort of reading experience one might expect from a novel of foreign intrigue."
—SF Examiner "Morrison energetically and compellingly traces Lina’s life
from her childhood in Europe through her young adulthood in New York to her tempestuous marriage to the famed composer Serge Prokofiev, her time in the gulag, and her final years in the U.S...Morrison's powerful portrait reveals a haunting story of one woman’s tragedy and one man’s flaws.
"An authority on the life and works of Serge Prokofiev charts the sad biographical arc of his wife, Lina, who spent some devastating years in the Soviet gulag. Morrison, who had access to the family and significant archival collections, has produced a gripping story of a young woman’s rise into the highest social and musical circles, her marriage to Prokofiev (whose principal affection was for his music, not his family), and their globe-trotting tours and swelling celebrity...Research, compassion and outrage combine in a story both riveting and wrenching."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Simon Morrison has written a brilliant and riveting tale of love, intrigue, terror, and betrayal that forces us to confront the paradox of how great art can be made by unspeakably cruel and heartless individuals."
—Leon Botstein, music director and conductor, American Symphony Orchestra, and president of Bard College
"I knew my mother-in-law in the last fifteen years of her life and understood her as a person whose relationship with Prokofiev was the driving force of her life. She was someone who was unwilling to revisit the painful aspects of her past and yet longed for her story to be heard. This well-written and impeccably researched book is an authoritative and sensitive account of an extraordinary relationship."
"In the hagiographic hall of fame that is the Russian artist's wife — Sophia Tolstoy, Anna Dostoevsky, Nadezhda Mandelstam, all muses who stood watch while their men created things of genius, and then who jealously guarded the legacy — Lina Prokofiev is odd woman out. Her story almost cannot be believed, until Simon Morrison gained access to the documents (and the trust of the family) in order to tell it. Biography does not get more important than this."
—Caryl Emerson, author of Mikhail Bakhtin and The Life of Musorgsky
"An engrossing tale, beautifully told on the basis of new material that illuminates Prokofiev's life as well as Lina's. An attractive young cosmopolitan singer lands her man, the famous composer, and ends up with him in Moscow — and then alone in the gulag. Simon Morrison has given us her story, including the parts that were too painful for her to remember."
—Sheila Fitzpatrick, professor emerita of Soviet history, University of Chicago
"In "Lina and Serge’’ Princeton musicologist Simon Morrison, best known for his biography, "The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years,’’ creates a fascinating portrait of the self-absorbed couple
. Lina’s dramatic story, new to Western readers, reveals Prokofiev beyond his famously unsentimental exterior. Beginning with Lina’s arrest, which had "shaken" Prokofiev, Morrison maintains strong narrative tension, following the couple back to their cosmopolitan milieus before the ill-fated relocation
." -- Boston Globe