Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Teffi ; translated by Ann Marie Jackson ; Robert Chandler ; Elizabeth Chandler ; Clare Kitson ; Irina Steinberg ; Natalia Wase

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-78227-037-9
Publisher: Pushkin Press

These short stories of Russian peasants, artists and lovers show few signs of their age and much that is timeless.

Teffi, pen name of Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya (1872-1952), was born in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg and began publishing satirical articles in 1904, then mostly stories by 1911. The fiction collected here ranges from droll sketches to busy, deceptively simple human comedies and complex psychological excursions. A woman in “The Hat” tries on her old and new hats so often she leaves for a date—with a poet who has written no poetry—wearing the wrong one. In “Duty and Honour,” a woman follows a stern friend’s advice for ending an affair yet continues it by deleting a crucial “not” in her Dear John letter. In the autobiographical “Rasputin,” history and betrayal intertwine as writers gather for a dinner where one of them refuses a tryst with the great man. “The Quiet Backwater” is one of several stories that show how Teffi enriched what formerly might have been feuilletons. An old couple shares an estate’s ramshackle lodge and an understanding about a child born while he was away fighting; and the translation offers a luminous moment: “Softly rustle the reeds forgotten by the river.” History gets touched on again, lightly and darkly, in “Petrograd Monologue,” a story about food shortages during revolutionary times in which some make flatbread from face powder or window putty. The death of a sot lets the writer move slyly through the floors of his building cataloging the masks of solemnity placed over faces of scorn and indifference. Teffi’s grasp of a child’s tender sensibility is remarkable in “The Lifeless Beast,” as is her feeling for the range of love’s inner torments in “Thy Will.”

Like the book’s excellent introduction, which teases a reader to want to know more about this woman’s life, these wide-ranging, brief works whet an appetite for more of her fiction.