Subtly Worded by Teffi (Translated by Anne Marie Jackson, Robert & Elizabeth Chandler, Clare Kitson, Irina Steinberg & Natalia Wase) - review by Catherine Brown

Catherine Brown

The Russian Saki

Subtly Worded


Pushkin Press 301pp £12 order from our bookshop

Of all the consequences of the end of the USSR, the rediscovery of Teffi (Nadezhda Alexandrovna Buchinskaya, née Lokhvitskaya) is unequivocally a good one. Subtly Worded is the first volume of her short stories to be published in Britain; may others swiftly follow. She is the female counterpart to Chekhov and late Tolstoy, and the Russian counterpart to Katherine Mansfield and Saki. Yet her work also displays its own distinctive combination of confidence, vulnerability, joy and compassion.

The book physically resembles a small box of Parma Violets. The first few satires are short and, at first taste, sweet, but the collection’s emotional and historical range is immense. Written and set between 1910 and 1952, the stories include agents provocateurs rehearsing revolutionary songs, Teffi’s actual meetings with Tolstoy

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