Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: April 20, 2021
Other WorldsPeasants, Pilgrims, Spirits, Saints
by Teffi, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler and others
An NYRB Classics Original
April 2021 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.
Though best known for her comic and satirical sketches of pre-Revolutionary Russia, Teffi was a writer of great range and human sympathy. At times she had to warn her readers that “those seeking laughter should not turn on me and tear me to pieces if, instead, they find tears—the pearls of my soul.” The stories on otherworldly themes in this collection are some of Teffi’s finest and most profound, displaying her acute psychological sensitivity beneath her characteristic wit and surface brilliance.
Spanning nearly forty years, from stories Teffi wrote in Moscow to those from her perspective as an émigré in Paris, Other Worlds gathers those stories that share the theme of religious experience, both Russian Orthodox Christianity and Russian folk belief, with its often poetic understanding of spiritual matters. In the early story “A Quiet Backwater,” a laundress gives a long disquisition on the name days of the different birds, insects, and animals, as well as the Feast of the Holy Spirit, a day on which “no one dares to trouble the earth.” The story “Wild Evening” is about the fear of the unknown; “The Kind That Walk,” a penetrating study of anti-Semitism, and of xenophobia more generally; and “Baba-Yaga,” about the archetypal Russian witch and her longing for wildness and freedom. Teffi traces the persistent influence of the ancient Slavic gods in legends, superstitions, and customs, and the deep connection of the supernatural to everyday life in the Russian provinces. In “Volya,” the autobiographical final story, the power and pain of Baba Yaga is Teffi’s own.
Teffi reimagines old Russian wonder tales with an inimitable blend of ingenuousness, slyness, and mischief. . . Poised between provoking fear and fascination, belief and disbelief, her stories gives glimpses of uncanny sightings, weird figures, and shivery experiences that break into—and enliven—the humdrum daily round. This is a hugely enjoyable and surprising collection, and Teffi’s lively and confiding voice can be heard rising from the page with irresistible immediacy.