During her lifetime Nadezhda Teffi (1872-1952) was widely read; her admirers including not only Bunin, Bulgakov and Zoshchenko, but also both Lenin and the last tsar. In pre-revolutionary Russia, candies and perfumes were named after her; after the Revolution, her stories were published and her plays performed throughout the Russian diaspora.
Like Nabokov, Platonov and many other great Russian prose writers, Teffi was a poet who turned to prose but continued to write with a poet’s sensitivity to tone and rhythm. Like Chekhov, she fuses wit, tragedy, and a remarkable capacity for observation; there are few human weaknesses she did not relate to with compassion and understanding.
For several decades after her death, Teffi was - like many Russian emigres - almost forgotten. Now, however, she is again widely published both in Russia and elsewhere. One of her finest works is Memories - from Moscow to the Black Sea, a witty, tragic, deeply perceptive account of her last journey across Russia and what is now Ukraine, before sailing to Istanbul in summer 1919. Memories is a personal book; Teffi’s focus is on her own thoughts and feelings and the people she met. At the same time, she had an acute awareness of the political currents swirling around her, many of which have now resurfaced; there is much that is startlingly relevant to the situation in Ukraine today.
The first German translation of Memories came out last year and the first French translation is due out later this year. Robert Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg will all read from, and talk about their English translation, which they have been working on for many years. Pushkin Press are, at the same time, publishing a collection of shorter memoirs titled Rasputin and Other Ironies; Rose France will read from some of the autobiographical pieces she has translated for this.