Billancourt Tales, by Nina Berberova
by Nina Berberova
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
New Directions, 2001; paperback ed. 2009
Winner, 2002 Heldt Translation Prize from the Association of Women in Slavic Studies
Thirteen newly discovered stories by the great Russian writer, translated into English for the first time. Now added to the quartet of books by Nina Berberova that New Directions has presented for the delight of American readers is this delectable baker's dozen—Billancourt Tales. These are thirteen stories (Berberova called them "Fiestas") chosen from those she wrote in Paris between 1928 and 1940 for the émigré newspaper The Latest News. In her preface Berberova mentions how she found what to write about through her discovery of Billancourt, a highly industrialized suburb of Paris. Here thousands of exiled Russians—White Guards and civilians—were finding work and establishing homes away from home with their Russian churches, schools, and small business ventures. Berberova thought the significance of the tales was in their historical and sociological aspects rather than in their artistry but the reader will demur, for these are fine stories, the kind that have led to comparisons to Chekhov. They portray a wide range of human beings and the twists and turns of their various lives. There is Ivan Pavlovich making a success of his rabbit farm but procrastinating too long about a proposal of marriage; Kondurin, happy to play the piano in restaurants rather than working as a bookkeeper—his only problem is the restaurants keep going out of business; and Gavrilovich who loses a job as an actor in the movies because the scene requires him to steal a lady's purse and even though it is make believe he just can't do it. All in all a group of very Russian tales very well told.
PRAISE FOR THE TRANSLATION
"Marian Schwartz's English translation deftly captures the fanciful twists and turns of Berberova's imagination, whether she's waxing acerbic on the stifling nature of the city's industrial suburbs ("If it weren't for the Paris wind we'd have nothing to breathe in Billancourt") or detailing male Sunday attire circa 1929: "Parts ran across heads like bright shoelaces, took a turn eight and a half centimeters above the ear and, rounding the crown in a free line, descended to a starched collar." -- Michael Upchurch, New York Times
The thirteen stories of Billancourt Tales are closely observed, potently phrased and dapperly shaped…Marian Schwartz’s English translation deftly captures the fanciful twists and turns of Berberova’s imagination…Indispensable. —New York Times Book Review
Billancourt Tales collects thirteen superb stories from those Nina Berberova wrote in Paris between 1928 and 1940 for the émigré newspaper The Latest News. In Berberova’s own words, these stories contain traces of “human tears that were more like the drop formations on a piece of Edam cheese than the dew on a rose petal.” Billancourt, a highly industrialized suburb of Paris, gave Berberova her subject. Here thousands of exiled Russians — White Guards, civilians, and Berberova herself — were finding work and establishing a home away from home with their Russian churches, schools, and small business ventures. Berberova thought the significance of the tales was in their historical and sociological aspects — and yet these fine stories are the kind that have led to comparisons to Chekhov. They portray a wide range of human beings and the twists and turns of their various lives. Sometimes amusing, sometimes sad, these stories show Nina Berberova at her very best: “her appeal remains strong, and becomes stronger still, because she was both participant and chronicler, because she experienced and imagined.” -- Yale Review
- New York Times
- Kirkus Reviews
- Publishers Weekly, November 27, 2001
- Review of Contemporary Fiction
- Yale Review
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