The Book of Happiness

The Book of Happiness

by Nina Berberova
     
 

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The Book of Happiness is one of the outstanding novels the great Russian author Nina Berberova wrote during the years she lived in Paris, and by far the most autobiographical. Vera, the protagonist of The Book of Happiness, is seen first in Paris where she leads a dreary life tied down by a demanding invalid husband. She is summoned to the scene of a suicide, that of…  See more details below

Overview

The Book of Happiness is one of the outstanding novels the great Russian author Nina Berberova wrote during the years she lived in Paris, and by far the most autobiographical. Vera, the protagonist of The Book of Happiness, is seen first in Paris where she leads a dreary life tied down by a demanding invalid husband. She is summoned to the scene of a suicide, that of her childhood's boon companion, Sam Adler. Sam's family had left Russia in the early days of the Revolution and Vera has not seen her friend for many years. His death reduces Vera to a flood of tears and memories of the times before Sam's departure, and thoughts about how her life has gone since. Not a cheerful prospect. Berberova spins the story with a wonderful unsentimental poignancy.

Editorial Reviews

Adam Phillips
...[t]the author is serious, but not solemn or sentimental, about her subject. After we read the Book of Happiness, our ordinary wish to be happy no longer seems like the hidden tyranny of our lives....[It] is a book about what can happen to people, not about the nobility (or lack of nobility) of their projects. Because Vera doesn't want to be remarkable, remarkable things can happen to her.
The New York Times Book Review
Washington Post Book World
A deftly nuanced novel.
New York Times Book Review
[W]onderfully attentive, particularly to the odd, gratuitous ways that love affairs begin...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Russian migr writer Berberova, who died in 1993, is known primarily for her memoirs and her criticism. Marian Schwartz, the translator of this and previous works, helps to round out the picture with this novel, giving voice to Berberova's finely tuned, tersely evocative fiction. The heroine, Vera, is much like Berberova describes herself in her autobiography: a woman with a cool head in the hothouse world of Russian migr s' Europe in the 1920s. Immediately signaling the ironic title, the narrative begins with a suicide. Sam Adler, once a musical prodigy, shoots himself in a hotel room in Paris. A hotel clerk calls Vera, to whom he has left a note: "Life tricked me... and I'm surrendering with honor before it's too late." By this Lubitsch-like conceit we then move wholly into Vera's existence. Sam is her childhood friend, and his death brings up memories of prerevolutionary St. Petersburg. Berberova vividly evokes the flight of the upper classes when the revolution strikes; how the crammed opulence of those Petersburg mansions blocks the exits. Vera, who is similarly privileged, stays, while Sam's family emigrates to America. There, he fails to find the successful career he expected; years later, he returns to Paris to die. Meanwhile, Vera meets the sickly but charismatic Alexander Albertovich, who takes her from the Soviet Union to Paris. Albertovich is reminiscent of Berberova's real-life lover, Khodasavich. He drowns Vera's youth in his own lingering death, so that when he dies, Vera feels released. She travels to Nice and embarks on love affairs, one of which sends her fleeing back to Paris with her ex-lover and his ex-wife on her heels. Berberova makes Vera's inner life so opaque that the reasons why Vera seems repeatedly to define herself in terms of sickly men remains enigmatic. Yet this book is an important addition to migr literature, which, as we are discovering, is much more than just Nabokov. (Apr.)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780811214018
Publisher:
New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
04/28/1999
Pages:
205
Product dimensions:
5.73(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.90(d)

What People are saying about this

Michael Pinker
Michael Pinker,Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 2000

Berberova evokes Czarist Russia's feckless exiles with so deft a touch, she seems to be writing memoirs of other selves whose loss she only half regrets. Yet while their impression remains, she evokes a wistfulness as charming as it is ambivalent.

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