Ruslan and Ludmilla

Alexander Pushkin
(Simon & Schuster -- Scribner, 2019)
In the summer of 2017 I was suffering a distress familiar to authors -- and perhaps especially elderly authors: writer's block. After a few weeks of staring all day at a blank screen, I decided enough was enough and I would indulge myself by seeking the company of an old friend, Pushkin.

In 1820 Ruslan and Ludmila was published, the first major work by Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian poet (part-African by ancestry) and the founder of Russia's literature and indeed of its modern language. He was just twenty years old, and had begun the poem in 1817 when he was still at school. Based on his country's folklore, transformed into art, it created an instant sensation: acclaim on one side, wrath on the other. In the words of John Bayley 'Ruslan contains in embryo all the genius of Pushkin's later poems.'

I purposely did not read this book or much about it beforehand, so I could discover the whole story through the art of translation, which was exhilarating!