Title: Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi
Edited by: Robert Chandler and Anne Marie Jackson
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature, Essays
Rating: 4 Stars
Some books are just so good that you want them to last longer than they did – to savour them, every single word then become precious. Teffi is one such author whose works you just want to soak in and want the words to linger long after. I got to know of her through the NYRB website and knew I just had to read this one – because of the author’s associations with literary giants such as Tolstoy and how she got to meet the very famously infamous Rasputin, not once but twice.
Teffi’s experiences are what this book is about – short autobiographical pieces that are sometimes funny, mostly catty and unforgettable for sure. These pieces were written in the 20s and 30s when she was in exile in Paris. There is a touch of poetic quality to her prose (no wonder because she wanted to be a poet anyway).
A lot of wit, human understanding of the world and empathy shine in every essay and that is what I love about the collection. Sure there are parts that I couldn’t relate to (because of the cultural barrier), however what I read was enough to tide me over to be able to understand the beauty of her language and the points she was trying to make.
From speaking of her childhood most vividly to the Russian cultural phenomenon, nothing is left out. The essays show us the Russia that was quite forward in its approach when it came to the arts to the Russia that was turbulent and oppressive at the same time.
The book is divided into four parts – first being about how she lived and worked, second about personal aspects of her life – from how she was raised to her time in France, the third one is about her bizarre encounters with people and the fourth is about famous authors and writers. She truly did have a sense of understanding people and reading them quite accurately.
Teffi’s writing is crystal clear and she says what she has to without mincing any words. You might have to keep track of the people she mentions on and off in the book, but there is a guide for that at the end of the book as well. I am completely taken in by her writing after reading this collection of essays and plan to read some more of her for sure. You must read this collection of essays for sure, if history is of any interest to you.