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Born in Madrid in 1897 to a Spanish father and Russian mother, Lina Codina married Sergei Prokofiev in 1923. They both pursued careers in the west (Lina was a soprano who never achieved outstanding success) before being enticed to the Soviet Union in 1936 with the promise of considerable artistic benefits. However, Prokofiev’s anticipation of a hero’s welcome as a celebrity returning from exile was frustrated. In 1941 the composer set up home with another woman and the glamorous Lina was left in an extremely vulnerable position. Soviet authorities decreed that any foreign marriage – her wedding had taken place in Bavaria – was invalid. She had also unwisely socialised with various foreign diplomats. In 1948 she was arrested on fabricated charges and was detained at a succession of labour camps. Her release from the gulag in 1956 was largely due to the relaxation of conditions after Stalin’s death – on the same day as her husband’s – and to interventions from Shostakovich.

Simon Morrison, an authority on Prokofiev, has been granted exclusive access to files in a Moscow archive, which include documents, photographs and over 600 ‘intimate personal letters’. Morrison’s writing is often inelegant (as in ‘a ghost of her former self, but soon to return to it’) and Lina’s own testimony is rather unreliable, but this necessary reminder of the brutality of life in Stalin’s Russia demands to be read.

Lina showed terrific resilience and courage in her appeals to the authorities and a surprising degree of loyalty to her callous husband, and she seems never to have sunk into bitterness or playing the victim. In an interview for the New York Times she insisted that her life had not been ‘a tragic one’. Aged 91, she died in a London clinic in 1989, having been haunted by hallucinations of her time in the gulag.

In the acknowledgements we read: ‘Without [Prokofiev’s grandson’s] enthusiasm and inspiration, Lina and Serge would not exist.’ Presumably this was the originally projected title – surely preferable to the very odd final choice.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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