The Fourth King by Glen Petrie (Weidenfeld, £9.95).
THIS novel about the life of Pushkin begins in 1826 when the poet had been in exile on his country estate for two years and Nicholas I, then in Moscow for his coronation, summoned him to the court to be pardoned. Pushkin bride, Natalya Goncharov, was very beautiful and much younger than himself. He had fallen passionately in love with her and her loved him and appreciated his great kindness to her, but their relationship was of that pattern often repeated in history — a brilliant man who loves a woman who is beautiful but stupid.
She was incapable of understanding or appreciating the greatness of his poetry, and when he took her from the obscurity of life with her impoverished family into the society surrounding the court her head was turned by the admiration she received from many men, including the Tsar himself. She behaved very foolishly with a young cavalry officer, and Pushkin was obliged to fight a duel which resulted in his death.
The .oppressive regime in Russia meant that Pushkin had to submit everything he wrote to the secret police before publication and this frequently resulted in heavy censorship or a ban on publication.
The fourth king of the title refers to a story told to Pushkin by his old nurse. Another king set out with the three who followed the star to Bethlehem but he had to travel far over the mountains, the steppes and the ocean. He arrived in Bethlehem to find the mothers weeping for their children whom Herod had killed. So he wandered about for thirty years until an angel told him in a dream that on a hill outside Jerusalem he would find the joy he sought. He reached there at the moment of Christ's death and he understood that in beholding the sacred body and blood and the saving cross he had found a greater joy than that which the order three kings had seen.