Hope Against Hope

Hope Against Hope


A harrowing yet uplifting account of Stalin's persecution of the Russian intelligentsia in the 1930s, and of one man - Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), whose poetry, in spite of the unfolding tragedy of his life, preserved its unique creative gaiety. Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam married in 1922. Nadezhda's memoir covers their last four years together. She begins in Moscow in May 1934 with the knock on the door at one o'clock in the morning, and her husband's arrest by the secret police for composing a satire of Stalin. She tells of his imprisonment, interrogation and exile to the Urals, where she accompanied him, and where he wrote his last great poems; his release and return to Moscow, only to be entrapped, rearrested and sentenced to hard labour in Siberia; of her own efforts to secure his release and to save his manuscripts (and to memorize all his poems in case she could not); of her discovery of the truth about his death in a transit camp near Vladivostock. For all its grim subject matter, it is a story of courage in adversity, and even humour finds a place.
Nadezhda means 'hope' in Russian, and Hope against Hope is one of the greatest testaments to the value of literature and imaginative freedom ever written. It is also a love story that relates the daily struggle to keep both love and art alive in the most desperate circumstances. After years of circulating secretly in the Soviet Union it was published in the West in 1970, and has since achieved the status of a classic.


  • Nothing one can say will either communicate or affect the genius of this book. To pass judgment on it is almost insolence - even judgment that is merely celebration and. homage
    George Steiner, The New Yorker

About the author

Nadezhda Mandelstam

Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam was born in Saratov in 1899, but spent her early life in Kiev, studying art and travelling widely in Western Europe. She learned English, French and German fluently enough to undertake extensive translation work, which supported her in the hard years ahead. She met the poet Osip Mandelstam in Kiev in 1919, and they married in 1922. From then until Osip's death, her life was so inextricably linked with her husband's that without her extraordinary courage and fortitude most of his work would have died with him. She spent the Second World War in Tashkent, teaching English and sharing a house with her close friend the poet Anna Akhmatova. After the war she led an inconspicuous existence as a teacher of English in remote provincial towns. In 1964 she was granted permission to return to Moscow, where she began to write her memoir of the life she had shared with one of the greatest Russian poets of the twentieth century, and where she continued to preserve his works and his memory in the face of official disapproval. Nadezhda means 'hope' in Russian, and she herself chose the English titles for her two-volume memoirs. She died in 1980.
Learn More

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more