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Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev (英語) ハードカバー – 2013/3/19
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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."
—Publishers Weekly"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
Amazon.com で最も参考になったカスタマーレビュー (beta)
It was the wealth of precious detail that made the story come alive in "Lina and Serge" and put us in the front row. We are so lucky Mr. Morrison not only had access to valuable material but that he could put it together in such a coherent and flowing manner. When he would make a bit of an aside, instead of leaving it there, he would fill in a bit of background enough to satisfy one's curiosity then get right back on track. No long disconnected tangents to needlessly disrupt the train of thought. I thought it very tightly constructed with nothing superfluous. It is a fugue of sorts, many different themes and ideas engage each other, at least they did for me, in my head.
I myself was engulfed by the story. I was on my laptop at the same time, looking at the character's images and their surroundings so I could envision them even more. I looked up the gulag near the Arctic Circle that took Lina four days to reach by train. I felt I was there with Lina: her frustrations were palatable and her fears almost too much to bear. I know I couldn't have survived what she did. I have my own troubles these days and I have infinitely more than she did, I am luckier than her in so many ways. It frightened me to the core imagining myself in her shoes (and the millions of others destroyed by the war and the Soviet regime).
It is disturbing to feel you haven't much control over what goes on in your life and yet this story puts my life in perspective within that same flow of history. It's painful to look back and see how you could have done better, how we could have thought more for ourselves, instead of going along with the crowd, heeding our intuition. Lina was all too human in this regard, to her demise. But when you're in a situation you get thoughtlessly caught up, - it's easy ignore all the little signs because you don't want to believe the worse, what they might signify, how every interaction can affect others in the smallest of ways. This doesn't get you off the hook however.
And while I wanted to close the book because it was too close for comfort, I read it straight through. I couldn't put it down, I couldn't look away. I didn't feel superior to her in any way, only luckier and more grateful. Yes, it made me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable and I felt engrossed. I felt it as they were devastatingly swept away into a world not of their making or their wildest nightmares. They are no different than any of us and we are all susceptible to the forces they succumbed to.
The older I get, the more it becomes so incomprehensible what we do to one another and I think Morrison's work lays this directly at our feet, telling us quietly in an underlying fugue to "Take a moment, wake up, just look." while telling us a fabulous story. Did Lina ever consider, I wonder, as she was being tortured, her own feelings about Jews? Maybe that is one message from this book, to see our own behavior in context, - to see how our behavior dovetails into those who commit atrocities, how we contribute to that mindset. People who commit terrible acts are not "out there", they are us. What is important after all, what are we leaving in our wake in our everyday lives?
I thought of other women of Lina's era, Simone de Beauvoir and Frida Kahlo, two very powerful and talented women who also had to deal with great men as Lina did with Serge. I don't know that "great" men want equally strong women around in the end, those with their own need, talent and determination. And these men...how great were they that created such despair and pain around them?
And in his position, how do you deal with a mate who might just not be all that talented? Do you use them, shun them, do you run from them, do you try to help them and does that embarrass you? Prokofiev dealt with all of that. What kind of a man was he that he thought his youngest child would forget about him when he disappeared?
I do know from personal experience that a man (and woman) is not his music. His music can be of the spheres and he can be a louse. His music can be, well, not so good, but he can be a hell of a person. We can look back and regret but we must keep moving forward and learn from these mistakes and see we are all more alike than we are different. That is what I got from this book and I look forward to reading his other work.
If you liked this book, other favorites of mine are "Sophie's Choice", fiction by William Styron, "The Liberation Triology", non-fiction by Rick Atkinson (both if you're interested in WWII) and "Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted", non-fiction, by Justin Martin (if you like the turn-of-the-century era).
They meet when Lina works in a Russian bank in New York, and ultimately attends one of his concerts. What follows is a lot of globe-trotting, with Serge giving concerts in different countries like France and Italy, and Lina following him around. She's in love. Serge, on the other hand, comes across as a cold-hearted gentleman who is solely focused on his career and has many affairs. It is perhaps illustrative of their relationship, when Serge leaves Lina with his mother, who has just traveled to France from Russia and is in a pretty bad shape, after Lina took on the hardship of traveling from the U.S. all the way to France just to be with him, while Serge quickly travels to yet another country for another concert. Not only is she expected to look after his mother, but also to collect any press clippings about him published in the French media. Ultimately, Lina grows tired of this relationship, where she gives and Serge takes, without providing anything in return.
She takes some time off and travels by herself to take some singing lessons from various opera primadonnas. Her singing career is ultimately not very successful. Some of her teachers say the voice isn't strong enough, others say she lacks the drive to build a career. Either way, Lina re-joins Serge, bears him a son, and marries him--her singing career relegated to appearances in Serge's concerts--where, as she is well aware, the attraction is Serge himself. Soon afterwards, they are invited to tour Russia with Serge's concerts, after the Russian government becomes concerned about the plight of their famous citizens abroad, and doesn't want the West "stealing" them. Serge is concerned that if they visit, the government (which, following the Russian Revolution, Lenin's death, and Stalin's ascent is getting more frightening by the moment) won't let them out of the country again. Ultimately, though, attributing it to his homesickness for his homeland, he agrees to tour Russia and takes Lina along with him. Eventually, a nightmare ensues.
Overall, it's an interesting story. My only pet peeve was the history-book type dryness of the text in some parts--e.g. and then Serge goes there, on this date Lina does this, etc. As a reader, I'm not as concerned with the timeline as with the storyline itself. It wouldn't matter to me if some dates are skipped over, if they don't change the story in any way except making the reading drearier. However, I realize this is a difficult thing to do with non-fiction, which strives to be as complete as possible. In general though, I think the author did a very good job with his subject matter.
Instead, she fell in with the young Prokofiev, then trying to make his reputations as a pianist and composer but finding himself overshadowed in America by Rachmaninov and in Europe by Stravinsky. Lina and Serge's on-again,off-again affair proceeds through several different countries with her begging for a wedding ring while the composer, who was wedded first, last and always to his music, enjoyed the physical relationship and the company but was wary of marriage. Eventually, they marry when Lina becomes pregnant with the first of two sons. Did they ever really love each other? Hard to say. One has the impression that both wanted and expected too much from each other.
The book discusses at length their decision to return to the Soviet Union then in the midst of Stalinist terror and show trials. It was a tragic mistake undertaken through a naive misunderstanding of the reality of Stalin's grip on every aspect of the country. Prokofiev deluded himself into thinking he would be safe. He was not. To stay safe from arrest, he was forced to write awful music that he thought would find favor with the regime and kowtow (although he continued to turn out masterpieces as well nearly until the end of his life).
Serge and Lina's marriage broke down and she was left defenseless as he went off with a younger woman, Mira. The author concludes that Serge saw in Mira someone who could help him in his music whereas the self-absorbed Lina could not. "Unlike Lina, who sought attention, especially from her distracted husband, Mira just wanted to be useful, of service," he writes.
The sequel is tragic; Lina is arrested on trumped up charges, interrogated and tortured for several months and then packed off to a labor camp near the Arctic Circle for eight long years. She eventually is released, picks up the remnants of a life and in her old age escapes the Soviet Union to spend her final years in the West.
This book is the result of extensive research and we get tons of detail, almost too much detail, on which Paris parties the couple attended, which boats they sailed on, which clothes Lina wore etc etc. The latter part of the story, which is probably more interesting, is skipped over in a chapter so the description of her life in the camps, perhaps because she herself never spoke about it, is very cursory. The book is written in a rather academic style which can become boring.
Lina emerges from this perhaps a somewhat frivolous, shallow character whose ambition exceeded her abilities but who was then caught up in a situation she could barely understand and certainly not control. She also had an ugly anti-Semitic side to her character, which is not endearing. Prokofiev emerges also as self-absorbed although with more reason to be so, selfish occasionally cruel and politically naive. The author's conclusion that Lina was a tragic victim of her husband's genius and the self-delusion he shared with his nation sounds about right.
Delving into the lives of great composers or artists or writers is interesting -- but what ultimately matters is the work they produced.
Lina was the daughter of two singers who were not apparently all that successful or driven. Lina aspired to be an opera singer, but her attempts to establish a career in her own right were unsuccessful and possibly even disastrous as perceived by professionals. She conducted a long term affair with Prokovief and the relationship might have gone nowhere except that Lina became pregnant with their first child. Lina was described as sacrificing her musical aspirations for her husband. I'm not sure that was completely accurate as there was no real indication that Lina had much of a career or potential for one. Prokofiev was somewhat the stereotype of a great artist. He was self-absorbed and could be considered caddish. At times their relationship seemed very much one sided. Throughout this book I was never able to ascertain in Serge truly loved Lina. They certainly enjoyed the parties, travel, and acclaim that was showered on Prokofiev while in the West..
In an incredibly naive move prompted by Serge, the Prokofievs returned to the Russia. Stalin was in power and Lina had reservations about the move. As it turned out, the Communist regime viewed Prokofiev's work as bourgeois and in order to remain in favor Prokofiev composed mediocre pieces for public consumption while continuing his serious work in private. The end of the Prokofiev marriage was abrupt. The mercurial and self-absorbed Serge left Lina for another woman named Mira Mendelson. With the help of a friendly Soviet government, his marriage to Lina that occurred in France was dissolved and he married Mendelson. Cast adrift, Lina started making inquiries about returning to the west. Of course, the authorities learned of her intentions and had her tried and convicted in about 15 minutes and she was sent to a work camp in Siberia. After Stalin's death, like many in the same predicament Lina was released and in an ironic twist of fate was awarded half of Prokofiev's estate with his other widow Mira. In what must have been poetic retribution, Lina managed to be restored to her rightful place but only after Prokfiev's death. Lina eventually left Russia and relocated to the West.
I liked this book but found it detail heavy at times as trivial detail regarding the Prokofiev's social activities were beaten to death. The writing style was as one other reviewer stated 'academic'. I concur.
Furthermore, the picture we get of Mira Mendelssohn (the woman for whom Prokofiev left Lina) is so sketchy as to be useless, and yet she is certainly an important consideration in any study of this marriage. What we get is mainly Lina's reactions to her. Morrison at least recognizes the need to talk about Mira, but he provides -- and was perhaps unable to uncover -- nowhere near the detail on Lina.
The tale of a vainglorious woman married to a world-class egotist emerges. This seems to me the danger of trying to view a marriage from the outside. I've seen couples, apparently devoted to each other, split up as well as bickerers stay happily together. The only people who really know what goes on inside of a marriage are those actually inside. In the case of Lina and Serge, I would point out that most full-time composers are self-absorbed. First, they need huge blocks of time to themselves just to put notes down on paper, a tedious chore, let alone to think of those notes. After that, most of them need to hustle up performances of what they write. This leaves very little time for family. Either spouses accept this (as in the case of Alice Elgar and Pauline Strauss [talk about a tempestuous marriage!], who arranged their husbands' lives around composition) or they resent the neglect (Ekaterina Stravinsky). Both Lina and Serge were high-maintenance individuals who
married. Lina gave way to Serge more often -- I think a point in her favor -- but overall both of them brought unrealistic expectations to the marriage, especially after the births of their two sons.
Lina, despite her many faults (including long-time antisemitism, aggravated by the fact of Mira), nevertheless showed a nobility of character once she was arrested, tortured, and sent to the gulags. Although under torture she confessed to crimes which never happened, in her appeals for release she refused pardons, because that implied guilt. This probably significantly delayed her release. The political clout of Shostakovich finally helped get her out after 8 years. These are hardly the decisions of a shallow, vain, and flighty person. Unfortunately, Morrison doesn't do enough to counterbalance the earlier "amateur diva" portrait.
A book to read with caution.