THE LADIES FROM ST. PETERSBURG

THREE NOVELLAS

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 ÇmigrÇ’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. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-8112-1377-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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