Now added to the quartet of books by Nina Berberova that New Directions has presented for the delight of American readers is this delectable baker's dozen Billancourt Tales. These are thirteen stories (Berberova called them Fiestas ) chosen from those she wrote in Paris between 1928 and 1940 for the emigre newspaper The Latest News. In her preface Berberova mentions how she found what to write about through her discovery of Billancourt, a highly industrialized suburb of Paris. Here thousands of exiled Russians--White Guards and civilians--were finding work and establishing homes 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 rather than in their artistry but the reader will demur, for these are fine stories, 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. There is Ivan Pavlovich making a success of his rabbit farm but procrastinating too long about a proposal of marriage; Kondurin, happy to play the pia in restaurants rather than working as a bookkeeper--his only problem is the restaurants keep going out of business; and Gavrilovich who loses a job as an actor in the movies because the scene requires him to steal a lady's purse and even though it is make believe he just can't do it. All in all a group of very Russian tales very well told.
Nina Nikolaevena Berberova (1901-1993) was born in St. Petersburg. She left Russia after the revolution in 1922, eventually settling in Paris in 1925 with her lover Vladislav Khodasevich. She moved to the U.S. in 1950 and taught at Yale and Princeton. In France she was honored as a Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters.