cover image Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea

Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea

Teffi, trans. from the Russian by Robert Chandler et al. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-59017-951-2

The first-ever English translation of Russian writer Teffi’s memoir follows the top-notch satirist as she embarks on a literary tour of Ukraine in 1918, simultaneously fleeing the Bolsheviks and journeying “south, always further south, and always without any deliberate choice” until reaching Yekaterinodar, where her account ends. Teffi’s memoir is a departure from typical self-absorbed, navel-gazing fare: she was best known in early-20th-century Russia as a feuilletonist, a writer of breezy and witty cultural essays, and her recollections center on the colorful, comical, desperate, and persistent characters she meets along the way. Here, she alternates quick, playful dialogue and sly observations of human behavior with gruesome images—a Bolshevik boiled alive, a dog dragging a chewed-off human arm, bloated cow corpses bobbing in the ocean—and occasional moments of stunning lyricism, a testament to her background as a songwriter as well as the skill of the translators. “There is nowhere a human being cannot live,” Teffi writes, and this is perhaps the overarching theme of her work; throughout the memoir, oppressed and terrified Russians binge on apples and delight in new dresses made from medical gauze (“It’s good hygiene too—thoroughly sterilized,” a friend boasts to her excitedly), refusing to cede their everyday pleasures to political terror. This collection of vignettes about life as a refugee is by turns hilarious, beautiful, and heartbreaking, and strikingly holds up despite being a century old. (May)