The Russian Travels of Pamela Travers: A Talk by Olga Mäeots

A forgotten book by Pamela Travers has been published in Russia, Pushkin House is delighted to be welcoming its translator to give a talk about the discoveries she made about the character of its author as well as Travers's visit to the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

The very first book by the author of Mary Poppins was not a fairy-tale but a travelogue “Moscow Excursion”– a story of a visit to the USSR in 1932. It was published in 1934 and remained largely unnoticed by the public, and was criticised in the press.

Translating the book was like solving a detective story. “The characters in the book are all synthesized personages”, warns Travers in the preface to her story. She replaces all the names with “fictitious initials”, but attentive reading has proved that the author created a deliberate mystification. In fact, Pamela Travers left a vividly written memoir that not only presents a true picture of life in Soviet Russia at a crucial moment in its history, but also reveals many forgotten details of Soviet-British cultural relations in the 1920s and '30s. 

Translator Olga Mäeots managed to reveal the people behind the initials used by Travers to conceal the real names of people she met: well-known journalists,  stage directors, a playwright, a cameraman etc. 

The book also reveals Travers's personal interest in the Soviet avant-garde. In addition to the programme suggested to English travellers by Intourist, Pamela Travers established contacts with a variety of people – from strangers in the streets to poets and artists. On her own initiative she visited private homes (which was not approved by the Soviet authorities) as well as a theatre and a film studio. As a result her picture of Soviet life lost its attractive gloss but gained in depth and colour.

This event will be introduced by the Pushkin House trustee Viv Groskop.

Olga Mäeots is a librarian, literary critic, translator and a curator of various projects on books for children.