Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza: REVIEW: The Accompanist, by Nina Berberova

The Accompanist, by Nina Berberova. Published 2003 by New Directions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz.

You know, I'm really getting to like New Directions, the publisher of Nina Berberova's novella The Accompanist. This is the fourth book of theirs I've read, and the fourth intriguing, off-the-beaten-track high quality literary offering I've read of theirs, too. This is the story of Sonetchka, a talented young woman who works as a piano accompanist for a beautiful and charismatic star, Maria, and travels with her and her husband to Paris. Raised by a disgraced single mother and having little to recommend her but herself, she gives up love and a life of her own for the only life she thinks she deserves, one of subservience to the glamorous couple.

But this subservience comes at a cost, and over the years, as Sonetchka gives up more and more, her resentment grows. Quietly, unnoticed and unappreciated, she takes the measure of what she's lost, and what she might do to extract revenge. When Sonetchka suspects Maria of an infidelity to her long-suffering husband Pavel, Sonetchka begins to get ideas about the form this revenge might take. But things quickly escalate out of control, leaving Sonetchka in a place she never imagined she would be.

Read as part of Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza
The Accompanist is a short, haunting novel about sacrifice and ambition, about how circumstances beyond our control shape our lives and rule our hearts. Every character is tragic in his or her own way; even the vaunted Maria seems empty inside. Berberova is a compassionate but cold-eyed realist and her observations are complicated and nuanced. Sonetchka is pitiable and contemptible at different times; Maria is, too. Most of the action takes place outside of Russia and Berberova communicates the limitations and the sense of missed possibilities that haunt her throughout her days. It's a subtle, moving and horrifying portrait of a frustrated young life, recommended for readers with a serious interest in Russian literature and literary short fiction.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.