In 1918, in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Teffi, whose stories and journalism had made her a celebrity in Moscow, was invited to read from her work in Ukraine. She accepted the invitation eagerly, though she had every intention of returning home. As it happened, her trip ended four years later in Paris, where she would spend the rest of her life in exile. None of this was foreseeable when she arrived in German-occupied Kiev to discover a hotbed of artistic energy and experimentation. When Kiev fell several months later to Ukrainian nationalists, Teffi fled south to Odessa, then on to the port of Novorossiysk, from which she embarked at last for Constantinople. Danger and death threaten throughout Memories, even as the book displays the brilliant style, keen eye, comic gift, and deep feeling that have made Teffi one of the most beloved of twentieth-century Russian writers.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-03-07
- Reviewer: Staff
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)