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My Dinner With Rasputin

Teffi | New York Review of Books | May 3, 2016 | 10,692 words

Writing in 1924, Teffi, a Russian writer in exile known for her wit, recalls a series of humorous (but increasingly ominous) encounters with the trusted friend of the last Tsar of Russia.

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My Dinner With Rasputin

Writing in 1924, Teffi, a Russian writer in exile known for her wit, recalls a series of humorous (but increasingly ominous) encounters with the trusted friend of the last Tsar of Russia.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

Teffi | Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi | New York Review Books Classics | May 2016 | 39 minutes (10,692 words)

The essay below appears in the new collection Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi, released this month for New York Review Books Classics. Teffi, whose real name was Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, was born in St. Petersburg in 1872 and went into exile in 1919, first in Istanbul, then in Paris. “Rasputin” was orginally published in Paris in 1924.  This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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This isn’t simply because he was so very famous. In my life I’ve met many famous people.

There are people who are remarkable because of their talent, intelligence or public standing, people whom you often meet and whom you know well. You have an accurate sense of what these people are like, but all the same they pass through your life in a blur, as if your psychic lens can never quite focus on them, and your memory of them always remains vague. There’s nothing you can say about them that everyone doesn’t already know. They were tall or they were short; they were married; they were affable or arrogant, unassuming or ambitious; they lived in some place or other and they saw a lot of so-and-so. The blurred negatives of the amateur photographer. You can look all you like, but you still don’t know whether you’re looking at a little girl or a ram.

The person I want to talk about flashed by in a mere two brief encounters. But how firmly and vividly his character is etched into my memory, as if with a fine needle.

And this isn’t simply because he was so very famous. In my life I’ve met many famous people, people who have truly earned their renown. Nor is it because he played such a tragic role in the fate of Russia. No. This man was unique, one of a kind, like a character out of a novel; he lived in legend, he died in legend, and his memory is cloaked in legend.

A semi-literate peasant and a counsellor to the Tsar, a hardened sinner and a man of prayer, a shape-shifter with the name of God on his lips.

They called him cunning. Was there really nothing to him but cunning?

I shall tell you about my two brief encounters with him.

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