Cape of Storms

Nina Berberova, Author, Marian Schwartz, Translator New Directions Publishing Corporation $23.95 (244p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1416-2
Originally published in 1951 as a serial in Novyi Zhurnal, Soviet Russia's principal literary journal, Berberova's epic novel is a dark Little Women, a feminine Brothers Karamazov. Three half-sisters, each of whom emigrated from the Soviet Union to France at various times to live with their father Tiagin, an ex-colonel in the Russian army, take turns describing their lives in Paris on the brink of WWII. Dasha, who as a small girl saw her mother brutally murdered by Bolsheviks, cuts short a potentially mystical destiny by marrying a dull banker. The beautiful Sonia buries herself alive with cynicism and contempt. Zai, the youngest, is the most hopeful of the bunch, confusedly waffling between passions for boyfriends, family members, poetry and acting. As explained in the book's epigraph, the title refers to the Cape of Good Hope, discovered in 1486 by Bartholomeu Dias; Dias called it the Cape of Storms because he failed to sail around it. Similarly, the sisters never manage to realize or even fully articulate their respective dreams. Berberova, herself an migr who was best known in her lifetime for her memoirs and criticism and recognized posthumously for The Ladies of St. Petersburg and The Book of Happiness, works of fiction also translated by Schwartz, excels at switching between voices and moods. Each woman's personality is artfully distinguished, the existential odes to solitude leavened with doses of pointed humor. At one point, just after Sonia decides, ""I had nothing in common with this city, this country, this continent, this planet, and never would,"" she wonders, ""Should I have a glass of wine in the corner caf ... Or should I order coffee?"" Available in English for the first time, this is a work of high literary merit. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 11/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-8112-1765-1
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