Banine’s sensual writing and remarkable ability to conjure the emotions of lost childhood recall Colette, but the comic grotesquerie of her accounts of her grandmother’s gossips doing their laundry in a frog-infested pool are all her own... Original, too, is her authorial voice, dashingly translated by Anne Thompson-Ahmadova, its wit combining with tenderness and self-knowledge. “As I now describe my former self,” writes Banine, “I feel neither compassion nor sympathy for her.” But we, her captivated readers, feel both.
Banine is a day-dreamy, bookish child, half-forgotten as the youngest of four daughters, given to wallowing “in visions and sensations”. The first half of the book is a paean to paradise lost. “The champagne flowed freely, to use the classical phrase,” she writes, “thus our world marched toward disaster.” The poignancy is clear from the very first page: we know communism is coming, and with it the end of everything. Childhood slips into adulthood... The language is a free-flowing river — an adventure written decades later. Like Nabokov, fellow writer-in-exile, she writes memoir almost as fiction, as though it happened to someone else... Banine herself shines through as an intelligent and independent spirit, longing for her own self-determination. I would very much like to read her sequel, Days of Paris — yet to be translated — to see what happens next.