A Novel

By Svetlana Boym

Subjects: Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Hardcover : 9780791457733, 324 pages, August 2003

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Table of contents

1. In which the murder takes place

2. In which you catch a glimpse of my green card and sample immigrant crêpes

3. In which I try to examine Nina's diary but speak with the strangers instead

4. In which we observe émigrés on the beach and learn everything we need to know about potential murder suspects

5. In which we revisit Nina's childhood and play hide-and-seek in the Summer Gardens

6. In which the detective gets unexpected mail

7. In which we finally learn about the men in Nina's life and meet "the Eurasian genius"

8. In which we attend the Eurasian tea party and lose all respect for Attila the Hun

9. Which might make you blush

10. In which we learn about the "other woman" and read the Manifesto of the Kinopeople

11. In which we all go to a Hungarian party and learn about Soviet missile launchers

12. In which I finally see Ninotchka and wonder about the consequences

13. In which I spend some time in the Bibliothéque Nationale and stumble upon a conspiracy theory ciphered in the script of Ninotchka

14. A digression on common fears and on the importance of dusting, preferably with a wet rag

15. In which the best part happens behind the scenes, so the anxious reader can just skip this chapter altogether

15-A. Hardly a chapter at all, a couple of loose pages from my computer diary

16. Which tells you how to cure a common cold with roasted salt and potato steam and how to remove stains on your red Pioneer tie

17. In which the detective misbehaves in the movie theater while watching a film with Gerard Depardieu

18. In which we finally meet Nina's last lover Lionel, learn of his desire to become a great American writer and read his sketch about Russian roulette

19. Which tells you what to do when you run into your lover's wife in the supermarket

20. In which we learn how Ninotchka was conceived and what made Greta Garbo laugh

21. In which a mysterious character from the third row packs his bags and makes a confession

22. Up in the air

23. In which we travel to Russia and watch a musical dedicated to the Soviet Constitution

24. In which my beautiful grandmother takes her last stroll in Paris

25. In which I invite you to come home with me but Tram No. 30 runs very slowly

26. In which I bury my grandmother

27. Which offers you seven elephants of happiness

28. In which we dispel our sad thoughts and learn what Ninel Markovna really did in Paris

29. In which you meet my English professor and drink the cheap wine of our youth

30. In which we taste a fruit drink and cabbage pirogi at my Alma Mater and learn what happened to Boris Krestovsky in Russia

31. In which we stop making Eurasian jokes and explore the double life of Yuri Poltavsky-Rizhsky

32. In which you follow me to Moscow and have a pickle treat

33. In which we eavesdrop on Comrade Kaganovich

34. In which we watch The Lilac Sunset and listen to Kachalsky's songs

35. In which I meet Cossacks and have a romantic escapade at the Pizza Hut

36. In which the murderer makes a scene

37. In which we get homesick in Gorky Park

38. In which we leave Russia and bid farewell to Rabinovich and Anka the machine gunner

39. Which tells you that there is no place like home

40. Greta Garbo's Last Smile


A Russian émigré living in New York travels to Paris to try to reconstruct the secret life of another Russian woman who was murdered there on the eve of World War II.


A playful literary mystery set in the 1930s and 1990s, Ninochka tells the double tale of two women exiles who are both homesick and sick of home. Tanya, a Russian immigrant living in New York, travels to Paris in an attempt to reconstruct the secret life of Nina B. , who was murdered there almost sixty years ago, on the eve of World War II. The murder was never solved, and in an attempt to crack the case, Tanya takes possession of Nina's handbag, which contains her diaries, love letters, kits for embroidering Russian blouses, a mysterious treatise on Eurasian supremacy, and a review of Ninotchka, the film in which Greta Garbo played a KGB agent who finds romance in Paris.

Among the potential murder suspects are a charismatic professor and nationalist leader, an aspiring American songwriter, an aging Trotskyite, a Hungarian con artist, a heavy-drinking singer of nostalgic romance, and an athletic Comrade X of unknown origins who was rumored to have returned to the Soviet Union. As Tanya is drawn into this immigrant underworld of displaced people, double agents, and dreamers, she finds herself more and more implicated in the life of the murdered woman. Ultimately, she is forced to return to her native country, where she confronts her own homesickness in the changing post-Soviet world.

Svetlana Boym is Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature at Harvard University. She is the author of several books, including The Future of Nostalgia and Kosmos: Remembrances of the Future, as well as short stories and plays.