By Robert Littell
Based on a true historical episode, The Stalin Epigram is a fictional account of the life of Osip Mandelstam, perhaps the greatest Russian poet of the twentieth century—and one of the few artists in Soviet Russia who daringly refused to pay creative homage to Joseph Stalin. The poet’s defiance of the Kremlin dictator and the Bolshevik regime— particularly his outspoken criticism of Stalin’s collectivization rampage that drove millions of Russian peasants to starvation—reached its climax in 1934 when Mandelstam, putting his life on the line, composed a searing indictment of Stalin in a sixteen-line epigram and secretly recited it to a handful of friends and fellow artists.
Would Stalin and his merciless state security apparatus get wind of this brazenly insulting poem? Would the poet’s body and spirit be crushed under the weight of the state if they did?