Teffi’s Memories

“Teffi, nom de plume of Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, was born in 1872 into a prominent Russian family. Following in the footsteps of her older sister Maria—poet Mirra Lokhvitskaya—Teffi published poetry and prose from the age of 29. She soon rose to fame by practicing a unique brand of self-deprecating humor and topical social satire. In her 1907 hit one-act play The Woman Question, subtitled A Fantasy, Teffi imagined a world in which a women’s revolution against men achieves a full role reversal. Women come to occupy the prominent political, military, academic, professional, and bureaucratic roles, while men are subjugated to the childcare and household management tasks. Though the play’s ending largely dismisses this scenario and trivializes the feminist cause, through humor, the piece makes the point that bad behavior—infidelity, sexual harassment, excessive drinking, pettiness—is a function of social status rather than of biological sex.

By the time of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Teffi had nearly a dozen books to her name, and new printings of her story collections sold out instantly. With Lenin at the helm of the government, her fame became a liability. Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea opens with Teffi being talked into going on tour to Ukraine (then outside of Lenin’s domain)….”

Read the rest of this review in The Common.

José Eduardo Agualusa’s A General Theory of Oblivion

War. Diamonds and oil and war. If in the United Sagualusatates we’ve heard anything about Angola, it’s likely related to the protracted bloodshed or to the trade in oil and diamonds. The seventh largest country in Africa, situated on the Atlantic coast just north of Namibia, Angola became a Portuguese colony in the 16th century. Fighting for self-government began in 1961 and went on until the 1974 Carnation Revolution and the end of the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal led to the country’s withdrawal and, in 1975, Angolan independence. This did not end war in Angola, however….

Ludovica “Ludo” Fernandes Mano—whose true story became the basis for José Eduardo Agualusa’s novel, A General Theory of Oblivion—leaves Portugal and arrives in Luanda, Angola’s capital, months before Independence Day in 1975. She makes the move reluctantly, following her newly married sister, Odete, whose husband, Orlando, an Angolan mining engineer, works for a diamond company. A shut-in since early in her life (for tragic reasons that become clear in the second half of the novel), Ludo occupies her time cooking for the newlyweds and managing their luxury apartment on the 11th floor of a building in the center of Luanda. Life, even before the narrative turns dramatic, is a little too much for Ludo.

My review of José Eduardo Agualusa’s novel A General Theory of Oblivion, in full, appears in The Common.