I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.
The Book of Happiness – Nina Berberova
Yeah, I know. A book about happiness by a Russian. Sure, pull the other one. Really, the book is not about irony. It’s not about life cuffing around worldlings, to leave them with no clue at the end while we knowing readers pat ourselves on the back for having a better bead on things.
Berberova was a writer in the exile of the White Russians in Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. Her tales, as we would expect, are usually dark, dealing with loss, separation, and pervasive failure to achieve happiness outside Mother Russia. Her main idea, I think, is that life has an ebb and flow make feelings, however deep and intense they may be, fleeting.
The main character is Vera, who in Russia had everything required for happiness. She’s young enough to tell herself to be happy through all the trials of the revolution and ends up in Paris in the early Twenties. She dutifully nurses her husband until his death of TB. But the death by suicide of a dear childhood friend provokes grief and nostalgia and disappointment. ''But we have to keep on, we have to keep on,'' Vera tells herself when she wakes up, stressed to marrow of her bones, in the middle of the night. ''We have to keep on with this criminal, this iron love of life, for we have nothing else.''
She goes to live with a female friend in Nice. She meeting a married man, a guy she knows isn’t worth it. Vera’s her own character, not listening to us readers as we shout, “Dump the chump.”
So, the plot is simple and believably moves people through time and space. The characterization is subtle, probably more accessible to women readers, but I won’t go out on that limb. The theme of transiency is presented unobtrusively. A quiet, complicated novel, the reason why certain readers like serious fiction.