Teffi. The most famous Russian writer you’ve never heard of. A female satirist, she counted Tsar Nicholas II and Lenin as fans.
Memories is about Teffi’s flight from Moscow to Constantinople during the Russian Revolution. She meets numerous characters along the way and travels on steamer, cart, train as she migrates to a new land.
For a supposedly comedic writer, this book doesn’t sound funny (it’s not a laugh a minute), but it is actually amusing. She captures the ridiculousness that comes with turmoil. There is a charming passage about the ‘edelweiss’ or endurance of femininity as she sees a singer buying silk for a dress as the Bolsheviks advance on the city. It’s true that some women will still be getting their hair done as the apocalypse comes.
It’s an interesting how Teffi uses humour, irony and gentle observation to call out the underlying pathos of a situation. While the individual moments are funny, they create a tragic whole. Like the hysteria of laughing and crying at the same time.
Her closing chapters really capture what it means to become an immigrant and the sadness of being uprooted from your native land; pertinent even today.
Read: If you ever miss home