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In Memory of Memory
Cover of In Memory of Memory
In Memory of Memory
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With the death of her aunt, Maria Stepanova 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 Dipping into various forms - essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue and historical documents - Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.

With the death of her aunt, Maria Stepanova 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 Dipping into various forms - essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue and historical documents - Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.

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About the Author-
  • Maria Stepanova is a poet, essayist, journalist and the author of ten poetry collections and three books of essays. She has received several Russian and international literary awards (including the prestigious Andrey Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship). In Memory of Memory won Russia's Bolshaya Kniga Award in 2018. Her collection of poems, War and the Beasts and the Animals, is published by Bloodaxe in Sasha Dugdale's translation in 2021, and is a Poetry Book Society Translation Choice. 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.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 21, 2020
    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. The unnamed narrator enters archives, travels to the cities where her great-grandparents and grandparents lived, and scrutinizes their personal possessions. Family letters, postcards, and government documents are quoted throughout, and Stepanova seamlessly references the work of prominent Russian cultural figures—such as poet Osip Mandlestam—to fill in gaps in the narrative on the anti-Semitism she assumes her family faced. Impressively, the book also serves as a critical examination of the narrator’s attempt to construct a personal and cultural history, providing the reader a window into the narrator’s worries over doing justice to her family’s story: “Whether you like it or not, you are simply more visible than those who came before you,” Stepanova writes. Over the course of her research, the narrator comes to terms with the fact that her efforts won’t reveal the past to any great degree. While some of the critical digressions can feel gratuitous, such as a theoretically informed discussion of selfie photos, there are plenty of vivid anecdotes—like a great-grandmother who became a political prisoner in 1907. Stepanova’s admirable cross-genre project will intrigue fans of erudite autofiction.

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