Poet Seamus Heaney talks about his favourite book 'Hope Against Hope' by Nadezhda Mandelstam.

At his home in Dublin Seamus Heaney tells Doireann Ní Bhriain why he keeps coming back to 'Hope Against Hope.' 

Russian writer Nadezhda Mandelstam (1899-1980) was the widow of poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), who Heaney had already read and describes as 

One of a great generation of Russian poets.

Osip died in a prison camp in 1938 and in the book 'Hope Against Hope' Nadezhda describes the factors that drove her husband to that death. While the book has elements of autobiography it also provides a picture of what it was like to live in Stalin's Russia.

Heaney describes Nadezhda as a witness to tragedy, who is fuelled by outrage and courage. He says that of interest to anyone interested in a story of intense human endurance, without having read any of Osip's poetry. 

The punchiness of her writing is depicted in the opening line of the text,

After slapping Alexei Tolstoy on the face...

On Nadeszhda's accessible style, Heaney says

She brings gossip to the point of gospel.

This episode of 'Bookside' was broadcast on 15 January 1987. The reporter is Doireann Ní Bhriain.