Donald Rayfield

An Awful Agent

The Mystery of Olga Chekhova


Viking 300pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

THIS IS NOT the story of Olga Knipper-Chekhova, the versatile actress who married Chekhov and survived him for fifty-five years. It is the life of the actress’s niece, another Olga Knipper, who had ten times her aunt’s beauty, a tiny fraction of her talent, and an ability to manipulate, lie and survive which left everyone who met her – and will leave anyone who reads about her – flabbergasted. The young Olga acquired the name Chekhova by a brief and disastrous marriage to another relative of Chekhov’s, his nephew Mikhail (an actor and the only one of the next generation of Chekhovs to inherit his uncle’s genius). This connection, added to her ambition, stunning looks and minimal acting ability, got her onto the Russian stage and screen before the First world War. She left soon after the revolution for Germany (she was by blood 100 per cent German), where, despite her poor knowledge of the language, she rapidly became a film star. She impressed Goebbels (but did not sleep with him), was photographed next to Hitler, and was in Berlin when the Red Xrmy took the city.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,