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