Russian Children's Book

BERGOLTS (Olga) – VIACHKILEV (P., illustrator)Man’ka-nian’ka (Nanny Manka). Ill. P. Viachkilev.

Leningrad, Gosizdat, 1931.

Small 8vo, publisher’s stapled self-wrappers, first side illustrated in colour lithography, publisher’s mark in centre of lower cover. (12) pp. (including covers). Russian text. Complete.

Illustrated throughout in original colour lithography by the woman artist P. Viashkilev.

First Edition.

Exceedingly rare children’s book of the prominent Russian Soviet poet, with very lovely joyful “Nabi” illustrations.

Ol’ga Berggol’ts (1910-1975) was born to a St. Petersburg family of Latvian descent. Her life was full of adversity. As a child she experienced the calamities of the revolution and civil war, followed by the trauma of her parents’ separation. At seventeen she married the poet Boris Kornilov but divorced him several years later because of his infidelity. Her second husband, the literary scholar Nikolai Molchanov starved to death during the Leningrad blockade. Her two daughters died of illness before reaching adolescence. In 1937 she was falsely accused of political dissidence, arrested and imprisoned for nearly two years. Misfortune notwithstanding Berggol’ts always strove to maintain a positive attitude towards life. She derives joy and fulfilment from her work, from friendships and from her love of Russia and her faith in communism, genuine and deep despite the abuses she had suffered at the hands of its authorities.

Her talent in literature manifested itself early. In 1924 she published her first verses and a year later became a member of the avant-garde literary group “Successors” (Smena). In 1930 she graduated from the Philology Department of Leningrad State University and went to Kazakhstan to work as a reporter for the newspaper Soviet Steppe (Sovetskaia Step’). Returning home, she joined the editorial staff of the factory newspaper Electric Power (Elektrosila) and by the mid 1930s had also published several volumes of verse and prose, including children’s stories.

She reached the peak of her creativity and fame during the Second World War, most of which she spent in Leningrad. She wrote impassioned poetry about the siege, bluntly portraying its horrors yet always expressing hope for victory. Intending to boost the morale of the population and inspire resistance fighters she also made regular broadcasts on Radio Leningrad. The great courage and spiritual strength of this frail, delicate-looking woman were a heartening example to many. After the war, in spite of declining health, she continued to be a productive writer and an active member of the literary community.

A fine copy with ownership signature of the American artist Karl Gasslander (1905-1997) on the front cover.

Ref. International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam) – Collection of Soviet Children’s Picture Books, 2083/16 / Dictionary of Russian Women Writers, pp. 80-82 / Not in Cotsen Children’s Library, Albert Lemmens & Serge Stommels, Russian Artists and the Children’s Book, Françoise Levèque & Serge Plantureux, Dictionnaire des illustrateurs de livres d’enfants russes


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