‘Love’s labours should be lost’: Maria Stepanova, Russia’s next great writer

The Muscovite’s work is arriving in English this year in three books of remarkable memoir, poems and essays that, she explains, reach for ‘the truth of the past’

Years ago, Maria Stepanova visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC to do research for a book she would end up working on for 30 years. After telling him of her plan, the museum adviser replied: “Ah. One of those books where the author travels around the world in search of his or her roots – there are plenty of those now.” “Yes,” replied Stepanova. “And now there will be one more.”

In Memory of Memory is an astounding collision of personal and cultural history, and Stepanova’s first full-length book published in English, translated by Sasha Dugdale. It is a remarkable work from a writer who has won Russia’s most prestigious honours (including the Big Book award for In Memory of Memory, the NOS literary prize, the Andrei Bely prize and a Joseph Brodsky fellowship); a writer who will likely be spoken about in the same breath as Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk and Belarus’s Svetlana Alexievich in years to come. But 2021 is the year of Stepanova: in addition to In Memory of Memory, her poetry collection War of the Beasts and the Animals, and a collection of essays and poems titled The Voice Over, will also be published in English this year. “I feel a bit funny about it,” she jokes, from her dacha outside Moscow. “Isn’t it a bit of an overkill?”

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‘Love’s labours should be lost’: Maria Stepanova, Russia’s next great writer