cover image The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels

The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels

Nina Berberova. Knopf Publishing Group, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40281-7

Those who lament the passing of the golden age of Russian literature may now take heart--the American debut of Russian emigree Berberova (b. 1901) is marked by the psychological profundity, the painterly attention to detail and the exquisite storytelling powers of the masters. In length and scope more like novellas than novels, the six pieces collected here all focus on characters whose heritage has been left in tatters by the Russian Revolution. Accustomed to lives of ease, they are cast into sorely straitened circumstances, taking up residence in Paris or the U.S. (where Berberova herself has lived since 1950), nourishing their nostalgia for the all-important past as they labor as laundresses or clerks, or search for a wealthy lover. Perhaps the most extraordinary work of all is ``Atashev in Paris,'' in which a man from a formerly upper-class family teams up with his late father's second wife to establish himself comfortably in Paris. Becoming a life insurance agent, he sells policies by mouthing metaphysical truisms (``Allow me to inform you of some important news. . . . We are all mortal''), to which he himself is oblivious. Berberova's delicate structure diffuses the irony of her plot, conveying a portrait that is equally sensitive and detached. (June)