‘We all know families that are poor but “respectable”. Mine, in contrast, was extremely rich but not “respectable” at all.’ Born in 1905 in the ancient desert city of Baku, Banine (full name Umm-el-Banine Assadullayeva) was the fourth daughter of an Azeri oil baron, and thus a member of an exotic, semi-Russified oligarch class that flourished briefly between the discovery of oil on the Caspian in the 1870s and the Russian Revolution. Emigrating in the early 1920s, she lived most of her life in Paris, where she became a well-known figure on the mid-century literary scene. Dashingly translated from the original French by Anne Thompson-Ahmadova, this is the first publication in English of her witty and wonderful childhood memoir.
Pre-revolutionary Baku was an incongruous place, its walled old town circled by Belle Epoque mansions, an opera house, a casino and the wooden derricks of the shoreside oil fields. Her and her sisters’ childhoods were split sharply in two – Westernised in the city, where they grew up under the