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Stalin in Aruba

Publication Date: February 2010


Stalin in Aruba is a hybrid of poetry and historical fiction, combining careful research with vivid imagery. Poems bring to life a cast of characters gathered from Stalin’s inner circle, American suburbia, Nazi Germany, post-Communist Eastern Europe, and nineteenth-century Baltimore.

Stalin in Aruba examines power-political, social, and emotional-and its abuses. How did a popular poet and a talented tenor become one of the twentieth century’s monstrous butchers? What intersections are there between the intimate lives of history’s monsters and our own? The title poem explores the thin line between Stalin’s photographic manipulations and our own white lies of digital enhancement. Other poems in this collection are dramatic monologues that give voice to the ordinary and the larger-than-life: Lenin’s widow talks back, a parish priest looks back, and a scrappy nineteenth-century schoolmarm rubs shoulders with Hitler’s four suicidal girlfriends.

Inhabited by popes and priests, dictators and daughters, Politburo wives and Nazi mistresses, addicts and embalmers, Stalin in Aruba explores how we resist and how we succumb to the banality of evil.


“Shelley Puhak’s stunning first book of poems is not so much a voyage but a zigzagging from one strange and fascinating port to another: Hitler’s lovers, lady laudanum drinkers, a high-school Proteus, gypsies, Raphael’s portrait of Pope Leo X, a Polish refugee who triples her weight after marriage, and a cemetery of life stories. And throughout it all is Stalin, not the historical character, but the everyday Stalin who dances with his aunts, blackmails Lenin’s widow, even pens a poem. Stalin haunts this collection, a sinister guardian angel and one we must all acknowledge when we are too ambitious or too full of ourselves or have lost, even if only temporarily, our gift for kindness and generosity and love. Let the zigzagging begin!”

-John Surowiecki

Deeply political and deeply personal, Stalin in Aruba is a startling debut. Puhak recreates the past in shocking and vibrant detail. This collection takes on the sweeping breadth of history by delving deeply into specific moments, specific voices that resonate and haunt. The movement between wars is so deft that time blurs and what remains is exquisite sorrow and strange joy. Puhak has me hooked. This is a poet to keep your eye on!”

-Julianna Baggott

About the Author

Shelley Puhak

Shelley Puhak lives in Maryland. Her second collection was selected by Charles Simic for the 2013 Anthony Hecht Prize and her debut collection, Stalin in Aruba, was awarded the Towson Prize for Literature. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Carolina Quarterly, FIELD, and Ninth Letter, and in anthologies such as A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry.

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