Gerstein, Emma 1903–2002

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GERSTEIN, Emma 1903–2002

(E. Gershtein, E. G. Gershtein)

PERSONAL: Born October 25, 1903, in Dinaburg (now Daugavpils), Russia (now Latvia); died 2002. Education: Graduated from Moscow University, 1925.

CAREER: Writer and literary biographer. Formerly worked in various office jobs.


(Under name E. Gershtein) M. IU. Lermontov na Kavkaze, [Moscow, USSR], 1942.

(Under name E. Gershtein) Sub'ba Lermontova, Sovetskii Pisatel (Moscow, USSR), 1964, 2nd edition, Khudozh (Moscow, USSR), 1986.

(Under name E. Gershtein) "Geroi nashego vremeni" M. IU. Lermontova, 1976, reprinted, CheRo (Moscow, Russia), 1997.

Anna Akhmatova o Pushkine, 1977.

(Under name E. G. Gershtein) Novoe o Mandel'shtame: glavy iz vospominanii, Atheneum (Paris, France), 1986.

Memuary, Inapress (St. Petersburg, Russia), 1998, translated and edited by John Crowfoot as Moscow Memoirs: Memories of Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Literary Russia under Stalin, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2004.

(Under name E. G. Gershtein) Pamiat' pisatelia: Stat'i i issledovaniia 30-90-kh godov, Inapress (St. Petersburg, Russia), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Emma Gerstein's life spanned the twentieth century, and her friendship with several of Russia's most noted authors and her work as a literary critic make her memoirs, published four years before her death in 2002, a valuable resource for students of twentieth-century communist literature.

Gerstein—her name is sometimes transliterated as Gershtein—was born in 1903, and moved to Moscow as a child due to the demands of her father's work as a surgeon. Because surgeons were esteemed by the Bolshevik regime, the Gerstein children obtained a superior education, and Gerstein herself studied natural sciences at Moscow University. Although she originally intended to follow her father into the medical field, she eventually switched to languages and literature, graduating in 1925. After graduation, unable to establish a career in her field, she worked in a number of low-paying clerical jobs and grew increasingly depressed. This depression ultimately led to a failed suicide attempt and Gerstein was sent to a sanatorium to recover. It was there that she first met Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, and made her initial foray into the couple's literary circle.

Through her friendships with a number of Moscow's literary figures, Gerstein established herself as a writer, and she became a scholar of the life and work of writer Mikhail Lermontov. Her autobiographical Moscow Memoirs: Memories of Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Literary Russia under Stalin examines mid-twentieth-century Soviet literature from the viewpoint of an insider, addressing the hardships many writers suffered under Josef Stalin's dictatorial rule. Interestingly, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Osip Mandelstam's wife, has claimed in her memoirs that, as early as 1936, both Akhmatova and Mandelstam feared Gerstein would write about them. Nearly seventy years later, what they feared came to pass.

A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Moscow Memoirs a "searing, unsentimental portrait of Soviet intellectuals' suffering under Stalin," and added of Gerstein that "no one will come away from her detailed, pitiless record of the horrors inflicted on … citizens without concluding that the Soviet system was politically, economically, and morally indefensible." Anne Applebaum, writing for the Spectator, remarked that Moscow Memoirs "succeeds not because it is negative but because it humanizes its main characters, and in doing so brings to life the strange atmosphere of 1930s Moscow."



Gerstein, Emma, Moscow Memoirs: Memories of Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Literary Russia under Stalin, translated and edited by John Crowfoot, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2004.


Choice, January, 2005, T. M. Schlak, review of Moscow Memoirs, p. 858.

Guardian (Manchester, England), April 17, 2004, John Crowfoot, "Witness to the Persecution"; May 15, 2004, Virginia Rounding, review of Moscow Memoirs, p. 14.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of Moscow Memoirs, p. 724.

Library Journal, September 15, 2004, Maria Kochis, review of Moscow Memoirs, p. 57.

Russian Life, July-August, 2004, Paul E. Richardson, "Pulp Fiction," review of Moscow Memoirs, p. 61.

Spectator, April 24, 2004, Anne Applebaum, "Poets under Surveillance," p. 39.

Times Literary Supplement, May 14, 2004, Rachel Polonsky, "Beneath the Kremlin Crag," review of Moscow Memoirs.


Context Online, (March 31, 2005), "Emma Gerstein."

Guardian Online, (Marcy 31, 2005), "Emma Gerstein."

Moscow Times Online, (April 30, 2004), Oliver Ready, "Poetic License"; (March 31, 2005) "Emma Gerstein."

Overlook Press Web site, (March 31, 2005), "Emma Gerstein."