Cover image for The book of happiness
The book of happiness
Berberova, N. (Nina).
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Kniga schastʹi͡a. English
Publication Information:
New York : New Directions, 1999.
Physical Description:
205 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PG3476.B425 K5813 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Book of Happiness is one of the outstanding novels the great Russian author Nina Berberova wrote during the years she lived in Paris, and by far the most autobiographical. Vera, the protagonist of The Book of Happiness, is seen first in Paris where she leads a dreary life tied down by a demanding invalid husband. She is summoned to the scene of a suicide, that of her childhood's boon companion, Sam Adler. Sam's family had left Russia in the early days of the Revolution and Vera has not seen her friend for many years. His death reduces Vera to a flood of tears and memories of the times before Sam's departure, and thoughts about how her life has gone since. Not a cheerful prospect. Berberova spins the story with a wonderful unsentimental poignancy.

Author Notes

Born in 1901 in pre-Revolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia, Nina Berberova emigrated in 1922, living in several European countries before settling in the United States. She wrote frequently for the leading journals and anthologies of the first wave of the Russian emigration. The Italics Are Mine (1969), her autobiography, is an important record of that period.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Russian ‚migr‚ writer Berberova, who died in 1993, is known primarily for her memoirs and her criticism. Marian Schwartz, the translator of this and previous works, helps to round out the picture with this novel, giving voice to Berberova's finely tuned, tersely evocative fiction. The heroine, Vera, is much like Berberova describes herself in her autobiography: a woman with a cool head in the hothouse world of Russian ‚migr‚s' Europe in the 1920s. Immediately signaling the ironic title, the narrative begins with a suicide. Sam Adler, once a musical prodigy, shoots himself in a hotel room in Paris. A hotel clerk calls Vera, to whom he has left a note: "Life tricked me... and I'm surrendering with honor before it's too late." By this Lubitsch-like conceit we then move wholly into Vera's existence. Sam is her childhood friend, and his death brings up memories of prerevolutionary St. Petersburg. Berberova vividly evokes the flight of the upper classes when the revolution strikes; how the crammed opulence of those Petersburg mansions blocks the exits. Vera, who is similarly privileged, stays, while Sam's family emigrates to America. There, he fails to find the successful career he expected; years later, he returns to Paris to die. Meanwhile, Vera meets the sickly but charismatic Alexander Albertovich, who takes her from the Soviet Union to Paris. Albertovich is reminiscent of Berberova's real-life lover, Khodasavich. He drowns Vera's youth in his own lingering death, so that when he dies, Vera feels released. She travels to Nice and embarks on love affairs, one of which sends her fleeing back to Paris with her ex-lover and his ex-wife on her heels. Berberova makes Vera's inner life so opaque that the reasons why Vera seems repeatedly to define herself in terms of sickly men remains enigmatic. Yet this book is an important addition to ‚migr‚ literature, which, as we are discovering, is much more than just Nabokov. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved