Teffi: A Life of Letters and of Laughter by Edythe Haber - review by Catherine Brown

Catherine Brown

She Had Sweets Named After Her

Teffi: A Life of Letters and of Laughter


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Teffi (Nadezhda Alexandrovna Buchinskaya, née Lokhvitskaya) has been introduced to English readers gradually. In 2014 came Subtly Worded, a plangently satirical collection of short stories and essays. In 2016 the wittily wise reminiscences Rasputin and Other Ironies appeared, along with the extraordinary Russian Civil War-era Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea. Now comes the first biography in any language of this remarkable, rediscovered writer. All kudos to Edythe Haber (professor emerita of Russian at the University of Massachusetts) for undertaking this task.

Russian speakers reading this book now have the benefit, as Haber did, of the seven volumes of Teffi’s Collected Works, which were published in Moscow between 1997 and 2000. For the rest of us, Haber’s summaries of Teffi’s untranslated essays, plays, stories and poems will be our first introduction to the vast majority of her output in a wide range of genres. Who even knew that Teffi was a playwright? Like several of her contemporaries who made their names in prose (James Joyce and D H Lawrence, for instance), she wrote plays early in her career, valued them highly and refused to give up on them. Hers even had some success.

It is not simply the case, however, that the greater knowledge of her life provided by this biography will shed new light on her works. Teffi was on the one hand a great performer (several of the photographs reproduced here demonstrate this, the dramatic make-up, clothes and poses recalling Teffi’s

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