Misunderstanding in Moscow is Simone de Beauvoir’s latest book to appear in English, written in the 1960s but not published in French until 1992 (six years after her death). A slow-paced but charming novella, it tells of a 60-something French couple, Nicole and André, visiting Russia one summer in the 1960s. They have been to Moscow before, in 1963, when “everything was new; this time, almost nothing was”.
Then as now, they visit Macha, André’s daughter from an earlier marriage. But this time, the couple are struggling with their age, and an inability to talk of their concerns. Nicole has lost her “intimate, almost tender relationship” with her appearance, and has declared herself “too old for sexual pleasures”; André is filled by a sense that he has “dried up” and that his time is running out. Neither can express their difficulties without falling into an argument, then silence.
Their miscommunications are paralleled by those between Macha and André, who argue over the state of the USSR: “What did it feel like to be someone from the Soviet Union? To what extent did the singing young people on these avenues resemble French young people?” To add to the melancholy, Nicole feels “vaguely jealous” of André’s affection for his daughter, but fails to tell André and, instead, ruminates on her loneliness.