The Ladies from St. Petersberg: Three Novellas Hardcover – 31 Oct 1998
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From the Publisher
Boston Review 12/98-1/99
These three short stories should establish Nina Berberova-who fled revolutionary Russia for a shaky emigre existence in Paris and New York-as Gogol's, Tolstoy's, and especially Chekhov's most vital inheritor. The spare, exquisite "Ladies from St. Petersburg" and "Zoya Andreyevna" (1927) begin where Chekhov left off, tracing the skittish flight of the threadbare Russian elite from the forces of history. "Big City" (1952) weds Berberova's pining Chekhovian precision to a fresh, kaleidoscopic modern vision. A bracing tonic against contemporary American fictional flab.
About the Author
Nina Nikolaevena Berberova (1901-1993) was born in St. Petersburg. She left Russia after the revolution in 1922, eventually settling in Paris in 1925 with her lover Vladislav Khodasevich. She moved to the U.S. in 1950 and taught at Yale and Princeton. In France she was honored as a Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters.
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All three novellas are wonderful, and they all are quite different from one another. Even the first two that are many things but are not joyous, are still are very different. "The Ladies From St. Petersburg" covers a great swath of time and History, which it is recounted in so few pages, and feels so complete when read is remarkable. The main event is not new or unique, however Ms. Berberova adds a circumstance that takes a routine if unhappy event, and makes it almost grotesque.
The second work, "Zoya Andreyevna", has the largest cast of players and provides a setting for a wide exposition of human character traits, and the tale will not leave you filled with optimism. The final work, "The Big City" is quite different, appears autobiographical and looks forward to a future that while seemingly positive still reads as though the character sees the future through shades of gray. New times are approaching, they will be better, or will at least seem to be. There is a fascinating bit when a set of binoculars are much more than an optical instrument, and become more like a crystal ball manipulated by the user and perhaps their owner.
Three great Novellas, which suggest that pursuing this writer's work, is definitely worthwhile.