Zinovieva-Annibal, Lydia 1866-1907
ZINOVIEVA-ANNIBAL, Lydia 1866-1907
PERSONAL: Born 1866, in Russia; died in 1907.
CAREER: Russian novelist.
The Tragic Menagerie, translated from the Russian and with an introduction by Jane Costlow, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal was born in Russia in 1866. Her book of short stories, The Tragic Menagerie, was originally published in Russia in 1907, the year she died. Jane Costlow translated it into English and published it in 1999. Vera, the main character in this fictionalized autobiography, is a mischievous girl in pre-Revolutionary Russia who lives with her wealthy family in St. Petersburg and at their summer country estate. Throughout the book she contends with the death of her pet donkey, her mother's illness, wolves, bear cubs and a red spider. As it turns out, the animals at the country estate entertain Vera better than the people do and she becomes spoiled. Vera, with a bit of a mean streak, plays cruel tricks on her family, schoolmates and servants. "I love to lie," she says without guilt or shame. As her mother's nurturing diminishes, she becomes uncontrollable. Vera, however, is also highly sensitive. In the main story, "The Devil," the reader sees the teen-age girl through the eyes of the other townspeople as she is thrown out of local schools and develops crushes on her boarding schoolmates. Her family finally takes the intractable Vera to Italy, where she defiantly faces a four-eyed, red spider in a grotto. Towards the end of this story Vera declares, "Everything that is clenched tight, completely contemptuous, deft and courageous, strong against pain and pity and shame—that is me! That is me!"
William Ferguson writes in the New York Times Review, "Zinovieva-Annibal's book invites comparison with Turgenev's 'Sportsman's Notebook,' in which an aristocratic hunter is repeatedly distracted by visions of the brutal, unprotected life of serfs and peasants who share the land with their masters; Turgenev's volume is said to have moved Czar Alexander II to free the serfs in 1861. Vera's social epiphanies are far more muted, if they can be said to occur at all." Despite the book's seeming lack of social redemption, Ferguson pronounces The Tragic Menagerie "a marvelous evocation of life among the aristocracy before the Bolshevik Revolution." According to Joe Collins, in Booklist, "the tales are some of the most emotional you will ever read....the all-or-nothing prose of the author only heightens the drama." He describes Vera as "weird," but adds, "like many people who can be described that way, she holds our interest." Harold Augenbraum in Library Journal recommends the book for literary and feminist collections. He describes "The Devil" as "extraordinary, powerful, and very current," and concludes, "Though readers might find the early stories too childlike, those who stay the course will be rewarded."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 1999, Joe Collins, review of TheTragic Menagerie.
Library Journal, January, 1999, Harold Augenbraum, review of The Tragic Menagerie.
New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1999, William Ferguson, review of The Tragic Menagerie*.