Nina Berberova, a Russian-born poet, novelist, playwright, critic and professor of literature whose biography is a classic of the Russian émigré Diaspora, died on Sunday at a nursing home in Philadelphia. She was 92.
She died of complications from a fall last March, said Dr. Murl G. Barker, a friend, who is chairman of the Russian department at Rutgers University.
Miss Berberova is best known for her 1969 autobiography, "The Italics Are Mine," written during the years 1960 to 1965. Many of the figures in the worlds of émigré arts and politics — including Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Blok, Vladimir Nabokov, Maxim Gorky and Fyodor Sologub — come vividly alive in her reminiscences.
"She has brilliantly evoked the atmosphere of literary Petrograd," wrote a critic in The New York Times Book Review in 1969, adding that the memoirs "have yielded some remarkable portraits and vignettes." The book was re-issued last year by Alfred A. Knopf in a revised translation.
A Film From Her Novella
Recognition for her fiction came late, but French, German and English critics have compared Miss Berberova’s sharp, incisive writing to that of Turgenev’s and Chekhov’s. Her 1934 novella "The Accompanist," about a young woman pianist who accompanies and competes with a soprano, was made into a film this year by the French director Claude Miller.
A selection of Miss Berberova’s novellas, "The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels," was published by Knopf in 1991. Michiko Kakutani, writing in The Times, said: "Long overdue in America, this collection of stories deserves a wide and appreciative audience, while Miss Berberova herself deserves recognition as one of the most captivating Russian writers alive today."
Her fiction has been on best-seller lists in France, and she was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government in 1989.
Miss Berberova (pronounced bur-BEAR-uh-vuh) was born in 1901 in St. Petersburg; her father was an Armenian civil servant; her mother was Russian. She attended Rostov University and was involved in the literary and artistic ferment in that city until she left in 1922, accompanying the poet Vladislav Khodasevich. Together they traveled about Europe as members of the household of Maxim Gorky, before settling in Paris in 1925. Reported the News
Miss Berberova then began a 15-year affiliation with the Russian-language daily Poslednye Novosti, reporting news events and writing book reviews, critical articles, short fiction and theater and movie reviews. She was also one of the founders of the émigré weekly Russkaya Mysl’ in 1947.
She wrote four novels and "Tchaikovsky," a biography of the composer. Appearing in 1937, the book created a sensation because it dealt openly with the composer’s homosexuality.
In 1950 Miss Berberova immigrated to the United States, working at a variety of jobs until she became the editor of the journal Mosty. In 1958 she joined the Slavic department at Yale University, and in 1963 she moved on to Princeton, where she taught until 1971.
Miss Berberova was the partner of Khodasevich until the 1930′s, but they were never married. She married Nikolai Makeyev, a journalist, in 1937; and in the 1950′s, George Kochevitsky, a musician who died last month. Both marriages ended in divorce.
Miss Berberova, who became a United States citizen, returned to Russia in 1989.
She received an honorary doctorate from Middlebury College in 1983, and another from Yale University last year. She moved from Princeton to Philadelphia in 1990. — Glenn Collins, New York Times, September 29, 1993