An exciting contemporary Russian writer explores terra incognita: the still-living margins of history.
Following the death of her aunt, the narrator of In Memory of Memory is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century.
In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Dipping into various forms—essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue, and historical documents—Maria Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities, offering an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.
Praise for In Memory of Memory:
“A luminous, rigorous, and mesmerizing interrogation of the relationship between personal history, family history, and capital-H History. I couldn’t put it down; it felt sort of like watching a hypnotic YouTube unboxing-video of the gift-and-burden that is the twentieth century. In Memory of Memory has that trick of feeling both completely original and already classic, and I confidently expect this translation to bring Maria Stepanova a rabid American fan base on the order of the one she already enjoys in Russia.” —Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
“There is simply no book in contemporary Russian literature like In Memory of Memory. A microcosm all its own, it is an inimitable journey through a family history which, as the reader quickly realizes, becomes a much larger quest than yet another captivating family narrative. Why? Because it asks us if history can be examined at all, yes, but does so with incredible lyricism and fearlessness. Because Stepanova teaches us to find beauty where no one else sees it. Because Stepanova teaches us to show tenderness towards the tiny, awkward, missed details of our beautiful private lives. Because she shows us that in the end our hidden strangeness is what makes us human. This, I think, is what makes her a truly major European writer. I am especially grateful to Sasha Dugdale for her precise and flawless translation which makes this book such a joy to read in English. This is a voice to live with.” —Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
“Dazzling erudition and deep empathy come together in Maria Stepanova’s profound engagement with the power and potential of memory, the mother of all muses. An exploration of the vast field between reminiscence and remembrance, In Memory of Memory is a poetic appraisal of the ways the stories of others are the fabric of our history.” —Esther Kinsky, author of Grove
“A book to plunge into. ‘Everyone else’s ancestors had taken part in history’ writes Stepanova; building itself via accumulation, these chapters become an important testimony to the cultural and political lives of the people held beneath the surface of the tides of history” —Andrew McMillan, author of Playtime
“Extraordinary—a work of haunting power, grace and originality.” —Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
“The poet Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory, beautifully translated by Sasha Dugdale, is a deeply intelligent quest for the significance of minutiae that survive while grand narratives of history sweep over them. It makes for powerful and magical reading, reminiscent of Nabokov’s Speak Memory. Time and again the sheer richness of the task sustains us and drives us on. This is a wholly marvellous book that extends our knowledge of all that is valued and lost.” —George Szirtes, author of The Photographer at Sixteen
Praise for In Memory of Memory:
‘Someone Else’s Diary’: Read an excerpt from In Memory of Memory —The Paris Review
“[Stepanova is] a writer who will likely be spoken about in the same breath as Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk and Belarus’s Svetlana Alexievich in years to come… 2021 is the year of Stepanova.” —The Guardian
“[A] daring combination of family history and roving cultural analysis… a kaleidoscopic, time-shuffling look at one family of Russian Jews throughout a fiercely eventful century.” —John Williams, The New York Times
“This remarkable account of the author’s Russian-Jewish family expands into a reflection on the role of art and ethics in informing memory. After the death of an aunt, Stepanova examines family lore and heirlooms that hint at how the family largely survived the atrocities of the tsarist and Soviet eras. She probes gaps in her knowledge, and—drawing on artists and writers including Charlotte Salomon and Marina Tsvetaeva—considers how memories are perpetuated and manipulated.” —The New Yorker
“A remarkable work of the imagination—and, yes, memory.” —Kirkus, Starred Review
“Stepanova’s finely crafted debut follows a woman’s lifelong efforts to better understand her ancestors, Russian Jews whose stories fascinated her as a child growing up in the Soviet Union.” —Publishers Weekly
“The hybrid book that Ms. Stepanova has finally produced presents gleanings from her family archives alongside the labyrinthine narrative of her “search for the past,” which she concedes is incomplete and in many ways unsuccessful. And amidst the personal artifacts are essay-like meditations on the tensions that inhere within any act of remembrance. The result is a rich, digressive, deeply introspective work… You can sense the decades of contemplation Ms. Stepanova has dedicated to these questions in the sparkle and density of her prose, which Sasha Dugdale has carried into English so naturally that it’s possible to forget you are reading a translation. This is an erudite, challenging book, but also fundamentally a humble one, as it recognizes that a force works on even the most cherished family possessions that no amount of devotion can gainsay.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“In Memory of Memory is a stunning and ambitious reckoning with the fragility of memory, the Jewish imperative to remember, and the unbridgeable chasm separating us from our ancestors.” —Ali Hassani, BOMB Magazine
Five Noteworthy New Books in Translation —All Lit Up
“Partly, what Stepanova wants to do is to rescue the story of the lives of her family from a catastrophist narrative of Russian 20th-century history, and convey the ordinary daily continuity of their experience, their tangled, opaque whole lives.” —Tessa Hadley, The Guardian
International Praise for In Memory of Memory:
“Maria Stepanova is one of Russia’s most influential cultural figures.” —The Moscow Times, Russia
“One of the most important texts written in Russian in recent years. Stepanova’s book gives grounds for claiming the triumphant return of Russian literature to the world literary scene.” —Lev Oborin, Russian poet, critic and translator
“Maria Stepanova has turned the dead into her co-authors. The result is a book that was unknown in Russian before – and seeks more of its kind in other languages.” —Novaya Gazeta, Russia
“A great literary reconstruction, which has created a whole new genre and sounds the relation between memory, time, and history.” —Literratura, Russia
“In Memory of Memory is a multifaceted essay on the nature of remembering.” —Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany
“In Memory of Memory is so much more than a novel: it is a poetically concentrated, unexaggeratedly formulated reflection on the terms of the possibility, today, to affirm one’s own familial history, especially from a Russian-Jewish perspective.” —NDR, Germany
“[Stepanova writes in] a fragmentary, self-critically reflective and… heavily poetic language.” —Berliner Zeitung, Germany
“The book is a direct and at the same time deeply moving account that reveals the author’s personal experience of having the weight of the dead and their remembrance on her shoulders in the midst of the disruptive entanglements of greater history. Oh, what a book.” —Expressen, Sweden
“It seems as though Stepanova was shaking a kaleidoscope to get a coherent image, only to shake it again… A unique combination of earnestness, precise language and uninhibited tenderness.” —Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden
“It’s been a long time since I have read such a rich, generous book. At once whirling and lucid, strict and delicate, funny and moving. In Memory of Memory is nothing less than a tender masterwork of beauty and intelligence.” —Sydsvenska Dagbladet, Sweden
“With its ingenious style In Memory of Memory is a book that comes at the right time.” —Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland
“Stepanova has given new life to the skaz technique of telling a story through the scrambled speech of an unreliable narrator, using manic wordplay and what one critic called ‘a carnival of images.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
Maria Stepanova, born in Moscow in 1972, is one of the most powerful and distinctive voices of Russia’s first post-Soviet literary generation. An award-winning poet and prose writer, essayist, and journalist, Stepanova is the author of ten poetry collections and three books of essays. Her poems have been translated into numerous languages including English, Italian, German, French, and Hebrew. She has received several Russian and international literary awards, including the prestigious Andrey Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship. Her novel In Memory of Memory is a documentary novel that has been published in over 17 territories. It won the 2018 Bolshaya Kniga Award, an annual Russian literary prize presented for the best book of Russian prose, and the 2019 NOS Literature Prize. Stepanova is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online independent crowd-sourced journal Colta.ru, which covers the cultural, social and political reality of contemporary Russia, reaching audiences of nearly a million visitors a month.
Poet, writer, and translator Sasha Dugdale was born in Sussex, England. She has published five collections of poems with Carcanet Press, most recently Deformations, shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2020, and an Observer Book of the Year 2020. She won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2016 and in 2017 she was awarded a Cholmondeley Prize for Poetry. She is former editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and is Poet-in-Residence at St John’s College, Cambridge (2018-2021).