The writer and satirist "Teffi" was a literary sensation in Russia until war and revolution forced her to leave Russia for ever.
In 1918, just after the Russian Revolution, Teffi was a literary celebrity in Russia. Despite the ongoing Civil War between the Bolsheviks and the White Army and the general confusion that reigned in the country, Teffi, which was the literary pseudonym for Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya, accepted an invitation to read her work in Odessa, Ukraine. She embarked on the trip with every intention of returning to Russia but it was not to be, the trip marked the beginning of her exile, first in Istanbul then Paris.
“Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea” is an ironic and tragic account of her trip during which she had the chance to observe the total disruption of Russian society. It is considered one of her finest works.
Her trip takes her to German-occupied Kiev which was later to fall to the Ukrainian nationalists. She continued south to Odessa, from where she took a boat to Novorossiysk. This was to be her last port of call in Russia, she fled to Constantinople.
“Teffi” was a humourist and satirist and her ironic eye did not fail her even on the trip south to Odessa where her life was constantly in danger and with disaster lurking behind every corner. She had initially been sympathetic to the Revolution, even writing for Novi Zhizn, but times were changing fast and it was clear that making fun of the new Bolshevik government would not have been well received. On her trip she and her fellow travellers are nervously casting glances over their shoulder as the Bolsheviks are in hot pursuit, and news of friends and acquantances being swept up by the Red Army and killed are regular occurences. It quickly became clear that returning to Moscow would be suicidal. So she kept heading south: “south, always further south, and always without any deliberate choice”.
She describes the grotesque, the vile, the absurd and the tragic all with her affable wit which seems more akin to a Petersburg Salon than a dignified woman being shunted about on carts and trains, dodging the enemy.
Teffi was a true celebrity, recognised and lionised by educated Russians everywhere she went. Her notoriety saved her from a few scrapes but in the end she had to bow to the inevitable and head for Paris along with legions of other Russians no longer welcome in their homeland.
This translation, the first into English, by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler and Anne Marie Jackson is excellent and is the latest in a long line of lost classics of Russian literature published by Pushkin Press.