Quieter Than Water, Lower Than Grass: Growing Up Afraid in Russia, my Essay in Narrative Magazine

I’m deeply grateful to my friends at Narrative Magazine for publishing a personal essay that was born as a reaction to the news of Russia’s new round of war in Ukraine. As so many people around the world, I watch the developing news with horror and with absolute certainty that Putin must be stopped.

On February 24, 2022, the day Putin ordered Russian forces to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, I turned forty-three years old. As Ukrainians began to mount a fierce response to the aggressor, watching the bombs fall from afar, I was astonished and awed by their courage and determination to stop Putin’s army. I was also from-the-bottom-of-my-heart grateful. Like many of my peers who grew up in Russia, I have spent most of my life afraid of violence. I have not had the courage to face my fear but instead tried to outrun it.

I was born in 1979, in Leningrad, to a Jewish family. At about eight years old, when I decided I was old enough to pick up the family’s telephone, I took a call for “Nikolai Dmitrievich.”

https://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/winter-2022/nonfiction/quieter-water-lower-grass-growing-afraid-russia-olga-zilberbourg

Particular thanks to editors Carol Edgarian and Mimi Kusch and to Jack Schiff for working with me on this publication.

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.