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Billancourt Tales (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – July 7, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The pursuit of fulfillment monetary, psychological or romantic is at the heart of all 13 of these fleet-footed and poignant short stories about life in a Paris suburb settled by Russian ‚migr‚s during the 1930s. Originally written for an ‚migr‚ newspaper, the tales emanate grace even when describing loss and pain. In "The Argentine," a man's attempt to match a single friend with an unmarried woman fails when the woman reveals that she is pregnant and then leaves town before the hesitant suitor can claim her. In "About the Hooks," a man travels into Paris from Billancourt to sell a patent to an industrialist, even bringing a puppy for the industrialist's daughter. The first meeting is promising, but before their second meeting, the young inventor sleeps on a park bench, the puppy dies and the industrialist expires as well. Some stories offer redemption and happiness at the end, all the more welcome for the degradation that precedes them. A lonely, aging woman who is the protagonist of "The Little Stranger" is forced to become her niece's guardian; against all expectations, the girl brightens the woman's later years. In "The Violin of Billancourt," a formerly genteel woman reunites with a long-avoided suitor when they have both encountered hardships and need companionship for survival. The narrator of "The Billancourt Manuscript" changes his formerly negative opinion of a deceased acquaintance after reading a mystical unfinished manuscript (reprinted in the story) bequeathed to him by the deceased. These stories occur against the impressionistic and often seductive backdrop of Billancourt, with its leafy promenades, dilapidated back streets and socially ambitious gentry, all attentively recreated by Berberova's ever-observant eye. At once unsparing and subtle, these stories illuminate a sociological minority struggling to find solid footing in a radically transformed world.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

Delicately fashioned cameos that deserve a place among the minor classics of expatriate fiction. -- Kirkus Reviews, 1 December 2001

Splendid work....[Berberova] excelled in the peculiarly Russian genre called the povest' (long short story). -- World Literature Today, Bonnie Marshall, Summer/Autumn 2002

[A]n astonishingly gifted young writer with a highly original style and an unrivaled eye for detail. -- The New Leader, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, November/December 2001

[F]lee-footed and poignant short stories... the tales emanate grace even when describing loss and pain. -- Publishers Weekly, 15 October 2001 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Paperbook
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Reprint edition (July 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811218333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811218337
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,773,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By S. Smith-Peter on September 30, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These interconnected tales about the lives of emigre Russians in the Parisian industrial suburb of Billancourt are well worth reading, although not Berberova's best work. I would recommend reading the Book of Happiness and Cape of Storms before this, and then this book, where the reader can see Berberova coming into her own over the course of the stories. While it begins in the style of Zoshchenko and the Soviet style short story, by the end Berberova has come into her own voice as a woman, an emigre, and a resident of Paris. One of the things I particularly liked about the book was the sense of life being elsewhere - that somehow people in Paris were living more authentic lives and that the rain there was more real than the rain in Billancourt. That sense of being a bit player in your own life is most likely a key part of emigre experience, and here it is given an eloquent voice.
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Format: Hardcover
Billancourt Tales is an amazing anthology of thirteen stories by the skilled and talented Russian writer Nina Berberova (1901-1993) who left Russia in 1922, lived in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Italy, and then finally settled in Paris in 1925. Ably translated into English for the first time by Marian Schwartz, these stories are set in the Paris suburb of Billancourt and take place from 1928 to 1940, featuring a variety of Russian immigrants seeking to adjust to a strange new land and a new set of customs. Billancourt Tales is an appealing, highly enjoyable and recommended literary classic that withstands the test of time and the boundaries of language.
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