The Revolt: Nina Berberova

“But reality in the past and present is all twisted and smashed.”

Nina Berberova’s novella The Revolt is a well crafted gem–the story of how WWII intervenes between two lovers. The story opens in Paris with two lovers, facing an unknown future, about to be parted. Olga, a Russian émigrée, who lives with an uncle, a famous writer, is about to say goodbye to the Swedish Einar. It’s September 2, 1939, the day after Hitler invaded Poland. Einar talks of Olga coming to Stockholm, of them travelling to Brazil, of a trip to Russia. They don’t know yet how bad things will become–how travel will become much more difficult and fraught with danger. Many promises are made–promises which prove impossible to keep.

the revolt

The German occupation is marked by four very different visits made to Olga and her uncle: each visit reflects the ever shifting times. The emphasis here is in time passing with an almost dreamlike quality. Olga writes to Einar but the letters are returned unopened and marked “address unknown.” Olga never forgets Einar, and then seven years after they parted, Olga travels to Stockholm to collect an inheritance….

To say more would be to spoil this slim, subtle understated novella, but I will say that Olga who has, as we say these days, no closure, is given an opportunity for love once again. But this time the price is too high.  Sometimes second chances are not the gift they appear to be.

In everyone’s life there are moments when unexpectedly, for no apparent reason, a door that has been shut suddenly cracks open, a trellised window, only just lowered, goes up, a sharp, seemingly final ‘no’ becomes a perhaps’, and in that second the world around us is transformed and we ourselves are filled, transfused, with hopes. 

For Olga, love comes at a price, and the question becomes: is she willing to pay it or not? There’s a lot of talk in our society about ‘unconditional love’–a term, frankly, I’ve never understood. This book explores the price we are willing to pay for love–a topic that goes hand-in-hand with that twisty term: unconditional love. And while unconditional love asks how far a person can go before we stop loving them, Berberova asks how much Olga is willing to sacrifice to be with the man she loves.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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10 Comments

Filed under Berberova, Nina, Fiction

10 responses to “The Revolt: Nina Berberova

  1. Love the sound of this, Guy. When was it written? Is it a fairly recent publication or an older title?

  2. Yes, same questions as Jacqui. Is this a new novel or a reissue? Whichever way it sounds interesting, but if new I’m wondering why someone would write this now, what it adds to WW2 literature, if they’re fair questions?

    • There’s an entire backstory to Berberova translations. Marian Schwartz is Berberova’s principal translator. I read somewhere that Marian Schwartz was translating something of Berberova’s and she asked if there were any other books (paraphrasing here from memory). Berberova indicated a bookshelf and had a huge backlist of Russian books, so I don’t know when this was written in Russian.

  3. I like the sound of this too. Who’s the publisher please?

  4. I haven’t read Ladies of St Petersburg yet so I’ve put this down as one to look out for rather than to get immediately, but it does sound great. Nice find Guy.

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