The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels
THE TATTERED CLOAK AND OTHER NOVELS introduces the American readers the voice of an important twentieth century witness. Born in 1901 in St. Petersburg, Nina Berberova has spent most of her life as an expatriate, first in France and, since 1950, in the United States. This collection is the most comprehensive one available of her work in English, and represents a rediscovery of material first published in Europe between the late 1930’s and the early 1950’s.
The reference to novels in the collection’s title is somewhat misleading. Berberova excels, rather, at the much more testing form, the novella or long short story. This form seems particularly suited both to the author’s rapid narrative tempo and to the interim and inconclusive nature of her characters’ lives. Most of the pieces survey large periods of time by using telling scenes and incisive details, and by showing the characters to be real only by virtue of being deprived of contexts which would make their reality authentic and valuable. The most impressive pieces—THE WAITER AND THE SLUT, THE RESURRECTION OF MOZART, ASTASHEV IN PARIS, and the title story—feature female protagonists. Their gender exacerbates the economic, emotional, and existential trials of exile.
While Berberova’s material deals largely with the condition and consequences of expatriation, it should not be thought of as possessing merely historical interest. The themes which she elicits reach beyond their...
(The entire section is 413 words.)