NYRB: Teffi's "Other Worlds: Peasants, Pilgrims, Spirits, Saints," with translator Robert Chandler & Taisia Kitaiskaia

April 22, 2021, 5:30 PM

Robert Chandler joins us to discuss his new translation of Teffi's stories, Other Worlds: Peasants, Pilgrims, Spirits, Saints, in conversation with Taisia Kitaiskaia. This program is part of our ongoing series with NYRB Classics and will take place on Zoom. Register here:

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Stories about the occult, folk religions, superstition, and spiritual customs in Russia by one of the most essential twentieth-century writers of short fiction and essays.

Though best known for her comic and satirical sketches of pre-Revolutionary Russia, Teffi was a writer of great range and human sympathy. At times she had to warn her readers that "those seeking laughter should not turn on me and tear me to pieces if, instead, they find tears--the pearls of my soul." The stories on otherworldly themes in this collection are some of Teffi's finest and most profound, displaying her acute psychological sensitivity beneath her characteristic wit and surface brilliance.

Spanning nearly forty years, from stories Teffi wrote in Moscow to those from her perspective as an émigré in Paris, Other Worlds gathers those stories that share the theme of religious experience, both Russian Orthodox Christianity and Russian folk belief, with its often poetic understanding of spiritual matters. In the early story "A Quiet Backwater," a laundress gives a long disquisition on the name days of the different birds, insects, and animals, as well as the Feast of the Holy Spirit, a day on which "no one dares to trouble the earth." The story "Wild Evening" is about the fear of the unknown; "The Kind That Walk," a penetrating study of anti-Semitism, and of xenophobia more generally; and "Baba-Yaga," about the archetypal Russian witch and her longing for wildness and freedom. Teffi traces the persistent influence of the ancient Slavic gods in legends, superstitions, and customs, and the deep connection of the supernatural to everyday life in the Russian provinces. In "Volya," the autobiographical final story, the power and pain of Baba Yaga is Teffi's own.

Robert Chandler’s translations from Russian include Alexander Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter; Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian SketchbookEverything FlowsStalingradLife and Fate, and The Road (all NYRB classics); and Hamid Ismailov’s Central Asian novel, The Railway. His co­translations of Andrey Platonov have won prizes both in the UK and in the US. He is the editor and main translator of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida and Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov. Together with Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, he has co­edited The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. He has also translated selections of Sappho and Apollinaire. As well as running regular transla­tion workshops in London and teaching in an annual literary translation summer school, he works as a mentor for the British Centre for Literary Translation.  

Taisia Kitaiskaia is a Russian-American poet and writer. She is the author of The Nightgown and Other PoemsLiterary Witches, a collaboration with artist Katy Horan; a divination deck, The Literary Witches Oracle; and two books of experimental advice, Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles and its follow-up, Poetic Remedies for Troubled Times from Ask Baba Yaga. Her work has been published in A Public SpaceGulf CoastLos Angeles Review of BooksFenceGuernica, and elsewhere and her work has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Austin, TX.