“I am to be read not from left to right, but in Jewish: from right to left”: The Poetics of Boris Slutsky

“I am to be read not from left to right, but in Jewish: from right to left”: The Poetics of Boris Slutsky

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Marat Grinberg

Series: Borderlines: Russian and East-European Jewish Studies
ISBN: 9781934843734 (hardcover) / 9781618112750 (paper)
Pages: 486 pp.
Publication Date: January 2011

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Boris Slutsky (1919-1986) is a major original figure of Russian poetry of the second half of the twentieth century whose oeuvre has remained unexplored and unstudied. The first scholarly study of the poet, Marat Grinberg’s book substantially fills this critical lacuna in the current comprehension of Russian and Soviet literatures. Grinberg argues that Slutsky’s body of work amounts to a Holy Writ of his times, daringly fusing biblical prooftexts and stylistics with the language of late Russian Modernism and Soviet newspeak.


Marat Grinberg (PhD University of Chicago, 2006) is Assistant Professor of Russian and Humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. His recent essays include “’The Problem of Evil’:  an Exchange with Tony Judt” (The New York Review of Books, 2008); “’All the Young Poets have Become Old Jews’:  Boris Slutsky’s Russian Jewish Canon” (East European Jewish Affairs, 2007) and “The Midrash from Joseph: ‘Isaac and Abraham’ as Brodsky’s Ur-Text” in Poetics. Self. Place:  Essays in Honor of Anna Lisa Crone (Bloomington, Slavica, 2007).


Marat Grinberg’s extensive and detailed study of Slutsky’s work supports the view of the poet as a central figure in the Russian poetry of the last century, who inherited the techniques of the avant-garde Futurists and Constructivists, and had a formative influence on younger poets. . . . Grinberg leaves his readers in no doubt that Slutsky is a figure of major significance, a poet whose work deserves close attention. . . . If there has been a risk of viewing Slutsky through the simplistic model of the Soviet loyalist who fell into disillusion, Grinberg’s work has succeeded in opening up new perspectives on the poet’s work.
— Katharine Hodgson, in the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies (2013)
Marat Grinberg states that his new reading of Slutsky collapses a number of central Russian and Soviet literary paradigms. It also challenges the interpretative stereotype of Slutsky as a quintessentially Soviet poet…this well-researched and well-argued book is a significant contribution to the field of Russian Jewish literature and the broader field of Jewish studies.
— Henrietta Mondry (University of Canterbury), H-Judaic
Grinberg has written a perceptive work that serves as an original and provocative contribution useful to those interested in studying Slutsky’s work, either in Russian-Jewish literature or Jewish studies more generally, and to those looking to deepen their understanding of the complex processes at work in Russian poetic history in the mid-twentieth century by learning about one of its more important figures.
— Rebecca Pyatkevich, Lewis & Clark College
Grinberg has written a perceptive work that serves as an original and provocative contribution useful to those interested in studying Slutsky’s work, either in Russian- Jewish literature or Jewish studies more generally, and to those looking to deepen their understanding of the complex processes at work in Russian poetic history in the mid-twentieth century by learning about one of its more important figures.
Slavic and East European Journal
From Grinberg… we get an entirely different Slutsky, a kind of Soviet Rashi, who created a ‘Judaic’ interpretation of Soviet life. This alone makes Slutsky one of the most interesting and enigmatic literary figures in the history of the 20th century.
— Mikhail Krutikov, in The Forward
. . . original, wide-ranging and often provocative… this first monograph-length study of Slutskii in English enables a deeper appreciation of his remarkable talent.
— Barry Scherr, in The Slavic Review
Grinberg’s illuminating study will be of use to students and scholars interested in modern poetry, comparative literature, Jewish and Russian twentieth-century literature, and the representation of historical memory. It is an important book that sheds new light on the history of Soviet literature and brings to the fore Slutsky’s powerful responses to the manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and to the collapsing Soviet monumental style and ideology in the postwar period.
— Alexandra Smith, in The Russian Review
In this erudite and insightful book, Marat Grinberg rescues a great poet from a numbing set of mid-century cliches. No longer a ‘war poet,’ or ‘Soviet diarist,’ or sometime Jew, Boris Slutsky emerges as he was in fact—a sometimes playful, sometimes anguished heir to Russian modernism who read Jewish catastrophe through Jewish texts.
— Alice Nakhimovsky, Professor of Russian and Jewish Studies, Colgate University
Boris Slutsky, according to this brilliant book, accomplished the seemingly impossible: a poet of Soviet times, he reforged the totality of Russian literary culture, from Church Slavonic to Pushkin to Khlebnikov and beyond, within the crucible of Jewish self-understanding.
   Marat Grinberg, author of this impressive study, has also accomplished the seemingly impossible. He demonstrates how this supremely Russian poet can and must be read in his totality: ‘from right to left,’ from beginning to end, and from his desk drawer to Red Square.
— David G. Roskies, Sol and Evelyn Henkind Professor of Yiddish Literature, Jewish Theological Seminary. Director, Center for Yiddish Studies, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
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