Other lives

Trans­la­tor for the UN and of books into English, who in­flu­enced the tele­vi­sion se­ries Ways of See­ing

The Guardian - Journal - - Obituaries - So­nia Lam­bert

As a refugee, trans­la­tor, in­tel­lec­tual, com­mu­nist and fem­i­nist, my grand­mother Anya Berger, who has died aged 94, was wit­ness to many of the events and move­ments that shaped the 20th cen­tury.

In the 1940s she be­came part of a cir­cle of left­wing in­tel­lec­tu­als and artists that would in­clude

Eric Hob­s­bawm, Doris Less­ing, Morde­cai Rich­ler and the artist

Peter de Fran­cia, with whom

Anya had a re­la­tion­ship. She re­viewed fic­tion for the Manch­ester Guardian, and worked as a reader for Methuen and Hutchin­son.

Over the years that fol­lowed, she trans­lated many books into English (as Anna Bo­s­tock), in­clud­ing works by Trot­sky, Lenin, Marx, Le Cor­bus­ier and Ernst Fis­cher.

In 1951 she met the writer John Berger and be­gan a re­la­tion­ship with him in 1958, chang­ing her name to Berger by deed poll. Her in­tel­lec­tual in­flu­ence was re­flected in his books and in the 1972 tele­vi­sion se­ries Ways of See­ing (in which Anya ap­pears).

She was born in Harbin, China, daugh­ter of Matilda (nee Glo­gau) and Vladimir Zis­ser­man. Her fa­ther was a Rus­sian landowner dis­placed by the rev­o­lu­tion. In 1936 Anya trav­elled to Vi­enna to live with her mother’s fam­ily, who were Jew­ish. After the An­schluss, Anya went to the Rathaus to hear Hitler and Goebbels ad­dress the chant­ing crowds. An English­woman she had met on hol­i­day in­vited her to Bri­tain, and she es­caped to Lon­don by train. She at­tended St Paul’s girls’ school, which at the time of­fered a few free places to refugees.

Dur­ing the war Anya be­gan a de­gree in mod­ern lan­guages at Ox­ford, but left to work at a Rus­sian mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice set up by Reuters in Bar­net, north Lon­don, where she trans­lated ra­dio broad­casts from the eastern front, and some of Stalin’s speeches. In 1942 she mar­ried Stephen Bo­s­tock, a Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer. They had two chil­dren, Nina and Dima. The mar­riage broke down after the war, and Anya worked as a trans­la­tor for the newly es­tab­lished United Na­tions. The chil­dren were snatched from New York by her hus­band and taken back to the UK, in a case that be­came a press sen­sa­tion.

Anya and John Berger trav­elled Europe to­gether on his mo­tor­bike, and Anya was able to visit the Soviet Union for the first time. They moved to Geneva, where Anya again worked as a UN trans­la­tor. She be­came in­volved with the women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment, and ran a con­scious­ness­rais­ing group in the south of France, where the cou­ple had a house. They had two chil­dren, Katya and Ja­cob, and split up in the 70s.

Anya con­tin­ued work­ing into her 80s. She en­joyed play­ing Scrab­ble (some­times in sev­eral lan­guages at once) and walk­ing in the moun­tains around Geneva.

She is sur­vived by her chil­dren, nine grand­chil­dren and six great-grand­chil­dren.

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