The Ladies from St. Petersburg: Three Novellas

Nina Berberova, Author, Marian Schwartz, Translator New Directions Publishing Corporation $19.95 (122p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1377-6
The three novellas in this slim but potent collection explore the psychic price of immigration and the rigors of enduring hardship alone. Russian emigre Berbova (1901-1993) first moved to France in the 1920s, then settled in the U.S. in the 1950s, where she taught at Princeton University. The first two tales, written in 1927, recall Russia's tumultuous pre-Revolutionary period. In the title story--the most powerful of the three--a young woman is left to make her mother's funeral arrangements at an inn deep in the country. When she returns many years later, the new government has erased all evidence of the entire village. Berberova's matter-of-fact tone and descriptions of the stark surroundings create a dark current of tension. The title character of ""Zoya Andreyevna"" struggles with her decision to live in a rooming house in an unknown city. As a middle-class woman who has divorced her husband, apparently for political reasons, she is scorned by her somewhat less-respectable roommates. In the experimental ""The Big City,"" which was written shortly after Berberova's arrival in New York, as the narrator explores his new, monstrous apartment building, he is presented with glimpses of this country's opportunities, literally, with every door he opens and every window he peers through. Berberova describes the loneliness of the immigrant without sentimentality; once thrown into this transitional world, her characters resign themselves to the fight to stay alive. Schwartz's fine translation should help acquaint a larger audience with this writer, best known for her earlier works about life in Paris, including The Accompanist (which was turned into a film), The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels and her biography, Aleksandr Blok: A Life. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 10/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 122 pages - 978-0-8112-1436-0
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