THE LADIES FROM ST. PETERSBURG: Three Novellas by Nina Berberova
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THE LADIES FROM ST. PETERSBURG: Three Novellas

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An elegant voice from the past speaks lucidly in three fine long stories, all written decades ago by the late expatriate Russian author (1901-93) of The Accompanist (1988), The Tattered Cloak (1991), and many other works of fiction (most as yet untranslated into English). Berberova lived through the 1917 Revolution, then emigrated to Paris, and later (in 1950) to the US, where she would become a respected professor at Princeton. Her own experiences are perhaps most clearly reflected in the last of this volume's stories, ""The Big City"" (1952), which renders a Russian Æ’migrÆ’'s uneasy accommodation to his huge New York City apartment building as a hallucinatory clash of bizarre images, mingled with recurring memories of a dangerous childhood accident. The earlier ""Zoya Andreyevna"" (1927) records the emotional vacillations of an ""independent"" Russian woman who has left her husband, then lost her lover to the army, as she suffers the contempt of fellow boarders in a rundown rooming house. The story is rather marred by too much historical summary (its period is immediately pre-revolutionary) and needless statement of its themes; still, the manner in which Zoya Andreyevna's loneliness and self-consciousness build to the brink of dementia is very nearly Chekhovian. Better still is the superb title piece, in which a mother's and daughter's vacation on the eve of the Revolution is shattered by the former's sudden death and unavoidable burial far from home. Berberova's point is this sheltered family's slowness to comprehend the reality of the changes shaking their country--a point vividly underscored when the daughter, Margarita, returning years later (with her own young daughter) to reclaim her mother's body, finds in place of the rustic town she had remembered a landscape altered beyond recognition, and her mother's grave indistinguishable from many equally anonymous others. Moving and memorable stories, beautifully translated by Marian Schwartz. Here's hoping she's at work on more of Berberova's fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1998
ISBN: 0811214362
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: New Directions