In Memory of Memory is a multifaceted essay on the nature of remembering.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
photo by Andrey Natotsinsky

Maria Stepanova

Poet, novelist, essayist, and journalist, Maria Stepanova is the author of ten poetry collections and three books of essays. Her poetry collections Holy Winter 20/21 and War of the Beasts and the Animals were Poetry Book Society Translation Choices and winners of PEN Translates awards, and War of the Beasts and the Animals was also shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2021. Her novel In Memory of Memory won Russia's Big Book Award in 2018 and was published in English in Sasha Dugdale's translation. She was awarded the Berman Literature Prize for In Memory of Memory, and was also shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, and the James Tait Black Prize for Biography.

Maria Stepanova has received several Russian and international literary awards (including the prestigious Andrey Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship). In 2022 she was awarded the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding 2023 for a book of poetry, Mädchen ohne Kleider (Girls Without Clothes). She founded and was editor-in-chief of the online independent crowd-sourced journal, which engaged with the cultural, social and political reality of contemporary Russia until the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine when all dissenting media in Russia were forced to shut down. As a prominent critic of Putin’s regime, she had to leave Russia and is now living in exile.

cover image of the book Holy Winter

Holy Winter

The outbreak of Covid-19 cut short Maria Stepanova’s 2020 stay in Cambridge. Back in Russia, she spent the ensuing months in a state of torpor—the world had withdrawn from her, time had “gone numb.” When she awoke from this state, she began to read Ovid, and the shock of the pandemic dissolved into the voices and metaphors of a transformative, epochal experience. Her book-length poem Holy Winter, written in a frenzy of poetic inspiration, speaks of winter and war, of banishment and exile, of social isolation and existential abandonment. Stepanova finds sublime imagery for the process of falling silent, interweaving love letters and travelogues, Chinese verse and Danish fairy tales into a polyphonic evocation of frozen time and its slow thawing.

As a poet and essayist, Stepanova was a highly influential figure for many years in Moscow’s cosmopolitan literary scene until it was strangled by Putin, along with civil liberties and dissent. Like Joseph Brodsky before her, she has mastered modern poetry’s rich repertoire of forms and moves effortlessly between the languages and traditions of Russian, European, and transatlantic literature, potently yet subtly creating a voice like no other.

Her poetry, which here echoes verses by Pushkin and Lermontov, Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva, is not hermetic. She takes in and incorporates the confusing signals from social networks and the media, opening herself up to the voices of kindred poets like Sylvia Plath, Inger Christensen, and Anne Carson.

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cover image of the book In Memory of Memory

In Memory of Memory

With the death of her aunt, the narrator is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century.

In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Dipping into various forms—essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue, and historical documents—Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.

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In Memory of Memory is a multifaceted essay on the nature of remembering.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

A luminous, rigorous, and mesmerizing interrogation of the relationship between personal history, family history, and capital-H History. I couldn’t put it down; it felt sort of like watching a hypnotic YouTube unboxing-video of the gift-and-burden that is the twentieth century. In Memory of Memory has that trick of feeling both completely original and already classic, and I confidently expect this translation to bring Maria Stepanova a rabid American fan base on the order of the one she already enjoys in Russia.

Elif Batuman

Stepanova’s finely crafted debut follows a woman’s lifelong efforts to better understand her ancestors, Russian Jews whose stories fascinated her as a child growing up in the Soviet Union…[an] admirable cross-genre project will intrigue fans of erudite autofiction.

Publishers Weekly

There is simply no book in contemporary Russian literature like In Memory of Memory. A microcosm all its own, it is an inimitable journey through a family history which, as the reader quickly realizes, becomes a much larger quest than yet another captivating family narrative. Why? Because it asks us if history can be examined at all, yes, but does so with incredible lyricism and fearlessness. Because Stepanova teaches us to find beauty where no one else sees it. Because Stepanova teaches us to show tenderness towards the tiny, awkward, missed details of our beautiful private lives. Because she shows us that in the end our hidden strangeness is what makes us human. This, I think, is what makes her a truly major European writer. I am especially grateful to Sasha Dugdale for her precise and flawless translation which makes this book such a joy to read in English. This is a voice to live with.

Ilya Kaminsky

A book to plunge into. ‘Everyone else’s ancestors had taken part in history’ writes Stepanova; building itself via accumulation, these chapters become an important testimony to the cultural and political lives of the people held beneath the surface of the tides of history.

Andrew McMillan

Dazzling erudition and deep empathy come together in Maria Stepanova’s profound engagement with the power and potential of memory, the mother of all muses. An exploration of the vast field between reminiscence and remembrance, In Memory of Memory is a poetic appraisal of the ways the stories of others are the fabric of our history.

Esther Kinsky

Maria Stepanova is one of Russia’s most influential cultural figures.

The Moscow Times

Stepanova has given new life to the skaz technique of telling a story through the scrambled speech of an unreliable narrator, using manic wordplay and what one critic called ‘a carnival of images.

Los Angeles Review of Books
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