THE ACCOMPANIST by Nina Berberova
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Russian ÉmigrÉ Berberova's jewel-like novella, now in its first US publication, delicately portrays the complex bond between a beautiful, vibrant soprano and the drab young female pianist who must live in her reflected light. Sonechka, the illegitimate child of a spinster piano-teacher, was born to live in the shadows. Her clearest memories date from the day her kindly mother introduced her to two pupils walking by; one by one, indeed, most of her mother's piano students stopped their lessons. Mother and daughter are forced to move to St. Petersburg, where their only company is a sole loyal pupil, Mitenka, who is rapidly becoming notorious as an eccentric but gifted composer--and who follows Sonechka's progress at the Conservatory. When the Revolution strips Sonechka of all hope of making a living as a pianist, Mitenka finds her a job as the accompanist to a beautiful, gifted soprano, Maria Nikolaevna. Maria and her rich, adoring husband, Pavel Fyodorovich, take Sonechka to Moscow, then to Paris. Meanwhile, Sonechka both loves and hates her mistress, because Maria is vibrantly alive while Sonechka lives unnoticed in her shadow. In Paris, Sonechka discovers that Maria is in love with another man, and she schemes to expose Maria's infidelity to Pavel. Although she feels like a kind of scavenger, steeped in shame, she wants to hurt her mistress in order to make some mark on her flawless life. But as she awaits her chance, Pavel makes his own move, bringing events to a hauntingly unexpected conclusion. Berberova's tale--like a Chekhov story in its exquisite detail and understatement--is a slice of post-revolutionary Russia, and a crystalline portrait of the secret bonds around the heart. A rare treat.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1988
Publisher: Atheneum