Magnetic North

Magnetic North

Conversations with Tomas Venclova

Tomas Venclova, Ellen Hinsey

Interweaves Eastern European postwar history, dissidence, and literature to expand our understanding of the significance of this important Lithuanian writer.
Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova is a book in the European tradition of works such as Conversations with Czeslaw Milosz and Aleksander Wat's classic My Century. Taking the form of an extended interview with Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, the book interweaves Eastern European postwar history, dissidence, and literature. Venclova, who personally knew Akhmatova, Pasternak, Milosz, Brodsky, and many others, was also one of the five founding members of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, one of the first human rights organizations in Eastern Europe. Magnetic North provides an in-depth account of ethical choices and artistic resistance to totalitarianism over a half century. It also details Venclova's artistic work, expanding our understanding of the significance of this writer, whose books are central to contemporary European culture.

The publication of this book was supported by the Lithuanian Culture Institute.

Tomas Venclova is a Lithuanian poet, writer, scholar, and translator. He is Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. Ellen Hinsey is the author of numerous works of poetry, essay, and literary translation. Her most recent book is Mastering the Past: Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Magnetic North, Iron and Grace
Childhood and Family
The Soviets: 1939-1941
War Years: 1941-1944
Return of the Soviets
Postwar and Culture
Antanas Venclova
Vilnius University
1956 and Khrushchev's Secret Speech
Boris Pasternak
Study Group and the KGB
Moscow: 1961-1964
Anna Akhmatova
Sign of Speech
Joseph Brodsky
Civil Society and Dissidence
The Lithuanian and Moscow Helsinki Groups
Preparation for Exile
Czeslaw Milosz and Berkeley
Travels: Exile as Good Luck
The Junction: Poems
Works by Tomas Venclova
Index of Names


Today Venclova is the foremost Lithuanian writer of modern times, but he is not just of national significance: he ranks among Europe's greatest living poets. Magnetic North, a book length interview with his translator, Ellen Hinsey, is therefore an important historical document, and it foregrounds a voice that is sober, mordant and deeply principled....Hinsey, perhaps his foremost translator, makes a graceful, seamless, and well-informed interlocutor, and one obviously devoted to a cultural legacy that needs its champions. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

[This] wonderful book, which is non-fiction but reads like a novel, by the greatest living Lithuanian Poet Tomas Venclova, Magnetic North. It's his life as a child during world war two in Lithuania, as a student during Soviet oppression and later as a dissident and citizen of the world. I would add that he is a poet of world calibre, so I truly recommend. KRISTINA SABALIAUSKAITE BBC Radio 4, The World Tonight

Little could be done to ennoble the poet who already enjoys the reputation of a sage. Nonetheless, the published conversations with the American poet and translator Ellen Hinsey in the new book Magnetic North serve as a testament to the first 50 years of Venclova's life, covering the period of the Second World War, the Soviet Union and his emigration. NEW EASTERN EUROPE

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