MemoriesFrom Moscow to the Black Sea
by Teffi, a new translation from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler, Irina Steinberg, and Anne Marie Jackson, introduction by Edythe Haber
An NYRB Classics OriginalConsidered Teffi’s single greatest work, Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea is a deeply personal account of the author’s last months in Russia and Ukraine, suffused with her acute awareness of the political currents churning around her, many of which have now resurfaced.
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.by Teffi, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
Despite the backdrop of terror, war, death and loss, Teffi’s world becomes somewhere we do not want to leave…Teffi, somehow, makes some of the bleakest years of Russian history brighter; the country shrinks to the size of a village in which its occupants are a community, living, working together and helping each other.
—Claire Kohda Hazelton, The Guardian
Poignant reflections of a beloved Russian humorist as she fled her homeland on the eve of Bolshevik victory....Throughout, the author's characterizations are precise and even ruthless, and she captures the tense mood of paranoia and sorrow of the refugee. Fluently translated by several hands and introduced by Teffi's biographer, Edythe Haber, these are priceless anecdotes and beautiful portraits of friends and acquaintances lost forever.
—Kirkus (starred review)
This new translation…. of [Teffi’s] autobiographical work is a solid reintroduction to her charmingly Chekhovian voice… it is that juxtaposition of the frightful and the comical that brings Teffi’s work to its perfection….Readers who enjoy the acerbic and ironic tone of David Sedaris and the humane observations of Anton Chekhov should find themselves in familiar company with this work.
A carefully constructed, imaginative, and richly poetic narrative.
—Maria Bloshteyn, Los Angeles Review of Books
The memoir [Memories] would be fascinating under any circumstances, but it has special poignancy now, when millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by a conflict that is half tragedy and half farce.
—Sophie Pinkham, The New Yorker
With an unflinching eye for detail, whether noting the comedy of a fellow refugee’s turn of phrase or the torture enacted on his prisoners by a sadistic colonel, Teffi paints a portrait of a unique historical moment that also resonates with contemporary horrors.
—Lucy Scholes, BBC
I never imagined such a memoir could be possible, especially about the Russian Civil War. Teffi wears her wisdom lightly, observing farce and foible amid the looming tragedy, in this enthralling book.
Teffi is a courageous companion for anyone’s life.
—Erica Wagner, The New Statesman
Teffi demonstrates a profound sympathy for the ordinary people among whom she counts herself, swept along by cataclysmic events. While she sympathises with those who cannot help themselves, she is not afraid to look into the depths of what human beings can do to one another and what happens when civilisation breaks down.
—Virginia Rounding, Financial Times
The book is expertly and collectively translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg. It reads extremely easily and well in English and is furnished with an introduction, translators' afterword and copious notes to explain references and allusions now lost to time.
—William Boyd, Sunday Times
Memories is an astonishing work that, like Sholokhov’s Quiet Flows the Don, and for many of the same reasons, deserves to be turned into a film. It is both a thriller and an unforgettably personal account of one of the worst periods in Russian history.
—Catherine Brown, Literary Review
An] astonishingly vivid memoir...Wittily, wryly, wistfully, but never self-indulgently, Teffi tells the story of her escape from Moscow to Kiev to Odessa and onto a dodgy boat to cross the Black Sea as the country she loves is turned upside down in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution.
—Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Country Life
A vividly idiosyncratic personal account of the disintegration - moral, political, strategic - of Tsarist Russia after the Revolution, as alive to the farcical and the ridiculous as it is to the tragic; a bit like what Chekhov might have written if he had lived to experience it.
Speaking of brilliant writers, here’s something from one of the 20th century’s best....In this, remarkably the first English translation of her trek across a chaotic post-revolution Russia, [Teffi] sparkles with her usual wit and humanity, her Gogol-like love of the absurd matching her Chekhovian ear for dialogue…she always finds the funny but never loses sight of the sadness. Awesome.
—Jane Graham, The Big Issue