‘Most Beloved’, by Tatyana Tolstaya

A descendant of Leo Tolstoy, Tatyana Tolstaya’s ravishingly bittersweet stories started appearing in 1983. (I would also point readers to her extraordinary dystopian novel The Slynx, published by NYRB Classics). In ‘Most Beloved’, from her second collection Sleepwalker in a Fog, originally published as part of Penguin’s International Writers series, the life and death of an seemingly unremarkable woman, Zhenechka, a fixture in the household which she serves as devoted housekeeper and governess is sketched in the form of impressions, dreams and wistful – but not whimsical – remembrances of her by those she loved, scolded and taught. It is a supremely Russian story of the Soviet era – yet all the perceived greyness and sterility of that period is transformed, under Tolstaya, into luscious Pushkin-like prose.

(From Sleepwalker in A Fog (Penguin, 1991), translated from Russian by Jamey Gambrell)