Alexander Pushkin, By Robert Chandler

Hesperus's "Brief Lives" series of short biographies offers a sound and accessible alternative to the blockbuster literary life.

Pushkin, so pivotal to Russian history as well as literature as a pioneer in poetry, drama and fiction, but often so elusive to readers further west, makes stringest demands on a short-haul biographer.

Chandler, a superb translator from the Russian, rises to the challenge as he celebrates the writing while dodging the "crushing weight of reverence". He gives a swift but sensitive account of Pushkin's eventful life: part-African ancestry, romance, rebellion, exile, travel, death in that absurd duel in 1837. And, via pithy summary and apt quotation, we glimpse the works - such as Boris Godunov, Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades – that fixed his role as the national icon claimed by Russians of all stripes.

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