Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: April 20, 2021
Other WorldsPeasants, Pilgrims, Spirits, Saints
by Teffi, edited by Robert Chandler, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, 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. The stories on otherworldly themes in this collection are some of her finest and most profound, displaying the acute psychological sensitivity beneath her characteristic wit and surface brilliance.
Other Worlds presents stories from across the whole of Teffi’s long career, from her early days as a literary celebrity in Moscow to her post-Revolutionary years as an émigré in Paris. In the early story “A Quiet Backwater,” a laundress gives a long disquisition on the name days of the flora and fauna and on the Feast of the Holy Ghost, a day on which “no one dairnst disturb the earth.” The story “Wild Evening” is about the fear of the unknown; “The Kind That Walk,” a penetrating study of antisemitism and of xenophobia; 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 superstitions and customs, and the deep connection of the supernatural to everyday life in the 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 give 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.
With her enigmatic nom de plume, Teffi was an enigmatic person and remains a genuinely enigmatic writer: she discloses her mind—and, instead of diminishing, the enigma grows. . . . Conceived as a gathering of Teffi’s stories featuring witches, shapeshifters, mermaids, vampires, and a host of minor spirits and deities of the Russian home and its surrounding natural landscape, [Other Worlds] stands as a masterwork of high non-reductive psychological realism worthy of Henry James, portraying a world we recognize to be very much our own, intimately familiar, inhabited, the one and only we have. (And those spirits and deities, I assure you, are entirely real, too.) . . . The translations gathered in this volume are a work of love that now makes those dreams a part of our own life.
—Anna Razumnaya, Los Angeles Review of Books