by Nina Berberova
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
Billancourt Tales collects thirteen superb stories from those Nina Berberova wrote in Paris between 1928 and 1940 for the émigré newspaper The Latest News. In Berberova’s own words, these stories contain traces of “human tears that were more like the drop formations on a piece of Edam cheese than the dew on a rose petal.” Billancourt, a highly industrialized suburb of Paris, gave Berberova her subject. Here thousands of exiled Russians — White Guards, civilians, and Berberova herself — were finding work and establishing a home away from home with their Russian churches, schools, and small business ventures. Berberova thought the significance of the tales was in their historical and sociological aspects — and yet these fine stories are the kind that have led to comparisons to Chekhov. They portray a wide range of human beings and the twists and turns of their various lives. Sometimes amusing, sometimes sad, these stories show Nina Berberova at her very best: “her appeal remains strong, and becomes stronger still, because she was both participant and chronicler, because she experienced and imagined.” (Yale Review).