Less Than One: Selected Essays, By Joseph Brodsky

A Soviet story in which Dickens counts for more than Stalin

This collection begins with Brodsky's memories of growing up in the Soviet Union and progresses through his love of literature (which he attributes to his homeland where, for a people desperate to escape the harsh realities of life in a totalitarian system, "Dickens was more real than Stalin or Beria"), to his veneration for certain poets, such as Anna Akhmatova and W H Auden.

Literature is political for him, as is living: his essay "On Tyranny" shows how his upbringing is never far from his mind. The loss of individuality is a loss prevented by art, by poetry, and when Brodsky writes about St Petersburg in particular, his own poetic gifts come to the fore.