Victoria Tokarjeva was born in Leningrad in 1937. At the age of 18 she was awarded a diploma as a pianist at the Leningrad college of music. After marrying a physicist she moved to Moscow, where she worked as a piano teacher for three years. She had started writing young and so enrolled to study screenplay writing at the Moscow film school to escape the life of a piano teacher. She was awarded her diploma in 1968. Amost twenty of her scripts have been filmed to date. Victoria Tokarjeva has twice won first prize at the Moscow international film festival for her screenplays, and in 1981 she was awarded first prize at the international documentary film festival.
She published her first short story ‘Den‘ bez vranja’ (Engl: One Day without a Lie) in the magazine ‘Molodaja gvardija’ in 1964 – shortly before Khrushchev’s resignation and the end of the thaw in Soviet politics – and was immediately successful. She remained largely exempt from Soviet censorship despite the fact that her stories, which mostly revolve around the theme of love, insist on the right to privacy and intimacy. She had numerous short stories published before Perestroika and is extremely popular in Russia. In Germany, more than half of her short stories have been translated, as well as her only novel „Ptica Scastija“ (t: Lucky fellow).
Tokarjeva’s stories are set in the Russian metropolis. The people there, whose lives are steeped in everyday banality, occasionally dream the dream of true love, intensive feelings and a life with a purpose, fear loneliness, or yearn for life. There is the girl who loves her piano teacher – but doesn’t dare tell him (‘Raraka’); the star pianist in a midlife crisis (‘Ne sotvori’); and the man-eating new Russian woman who ends up falling in love again (‘Pervaja popytka’). Her characters are usually robbed of their illusions in the end, but gain a tiny piece of wisdom and, at times, even something like happiness.
Tokarjeva’s film-industry background is evident in her short stories: images are lined up one after another in simple, unpretentious language, and the scene is set with a few strokes of the pen. The figures are enriched with character through their gestures and through small, everyday actions. Like her idol Chekhov, Tokarjeva observes life with both great sensitivity and cool distance. She writes a ‘Russian sociology en miniature’, typically melancholy, but with ever-present laconic humour.
© international literature festival berlin