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Nina Berberova, one of the greatest Russian emigre writers

Great Russian women

Nina Berberova

Nina Berberova, in full Nina Nikolayevna Berberova, Russian-born émigré writer, biographer, editor, and translator known for her examination of the plight of exiles.

Nina Berberova was born in 1901 in St. Petersburg, to a father of Armenian descent and a Russian mother. Russian Revolution of 1917, the overthrow of the Czar, and the new order did not have much use for poets, writers or artists, unless they wished to become voices of propaganda. Those who did not want to use their talents in that manner were often persecuted or sometimes even killed. Shortly after the publication of her first poem in 1922, Berberova left St. Petersburg with another poet, Vladislav Khodasevich, who would later become her first husband.

The couple lived in several European cities before settling in Paris in 1925. Paris between the wars was a tough place for Russian émigrés, who like Nina Berberova often found themselves having to work at jobs they would never have dreamed of taking in their more privileged youth. Berberova's collection "The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels" finely details experience of Russian emigres in Paris in her favorite type of writing - Russian povesti (longer short story).

In Paris Berberova began publishing short stories for the Russian emigre publications "Poslednie Novosti" (The Latest News) and "Russkaia Mysli" (Russian Thought). The stories collected in "Oblegchenie Uchasti" (The Easing of Fate) and "Biiankurskie Prazdniki" (Billancourt Fiestas) were written during this period. She also wrote the first book length biography of composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1936. In Paris she was part of a circle of poor but distinguished visiting literary Russian exiles which included Anna Akhmatova, Vladimir Nabokov, Boris Pasternak, Tsvetaeva and Mayakovsky.

After living in Paris for 25 years, Berberova emigrated to the United States in 1950 and became an American citizen in 1959. She began her academic career in 1958 when she was hired to teach Russian at Yale. She continued to write while she was teaching, publishing several povesti (long short stories), critical articles and some poetry. She left Yale in 1963 for Princeton, where she taught until her retirement in 1971. in 1989 she returned to her native country for the first time since she had left it in 1922.

In 1991 Berberova moved from Princeton, New Jersey to Philadelphia. Some of her writing had been published in the United States as well, including her autobiographical memoir, "The Italics are Mine", and her highly-praised novella, "The Accompanist".

The Accompanist has been called a perfect gem of a short novel, again dealing with Russians in Paris and the story of a young woman who plays the piano for a celebrated opera singer, and her feelings of inferiority and isolation even amid such a glittering and exciting world. In 1992, The Accompanist was adapted into a French film directed by Claude Miller and starring actor Richard Bohringer and his daughter Romane.

Since Nina Berberova's 1993 death in Philadelphia, even more of her works has been published in several languages, as readers worldwide discover the elegant prose and observations of this survivor of so many tumultuous 20th century events.

One f the best books is Moura: The Dangerous Life of the Baroness Budberg, published, 2005 (NYRB Classics), a biographical novel about life and destiny of Baroness Maria ("Moura") Ignatievna Zakrevskaya Beckendorff Budberg, a Russian aristocrat forced to employ great cunning to survive in the post-Revolution.

French city of Arles has a square named after Nina Berberova. It is where the major French publishing house Actes Sud is situated. Nina Berberova was the regular author of this publishingh house.

Nina Berberova died at the age of 92 on 29 September 1993.


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