Sofka Zinovieff

With an ancestral background steeped in rich and colourful history, author and journalist Sofka Zinovieff brings a wonderful mixture of fiction and memoir to the literary table.  

Of Russian descent on her father’s side, Sofka was born in London and studied social anthropology at Cambridge. It was her doctoral research on modern Greek identity and tourism which took Sofka to Greece in the 1980s, where she lived in Nafplio in the Peloponnese. On a trip to discover her Russian roots in 1990, she visited the Greek Embassy in Moscow to interview the consul for an article she was writing. It was there that she met her Greek husband, and they lived in Moscow for 18 months where Sofka worked as a freelance journalist writings mainly for British publications including The Independent Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, The Financial Times, The London Magazine.

The couple moved to England in 1992 and had two daughters, later spending five years living in Rome before moving to Greece in 2001.

In 2005, Sofka published the memoir Eurydice Street, an account of her first year living in Athens. This was followed in 2008 by Red Princess, a biography of her Russian grandmother.

Sofka’s first fictional novel The House on Paradise Street was released to critical acclaim in 2012 and was chosen for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. The story takes readers from the war-torn streets of Nazi-occupied Athens through the military junta years and on into the troubled city of recent times. 

Her latest book, The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me tells the story of how Lord Berners fell in love with Sofka’s grandfather as a young man, and took him to live at his beautiful home in Oxfordshire – Faringdon House. Sofka traces the extraordinary history of her maternal grandfather, and how he came to live with the eccentric composer Lord Berners at Faringdon House. 

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Athens, 1942 two sisters divided by politics and tragedy…  

In 2008 Antigone Perifanis returns to her old family home in Athens after 60 years in exile. She has come to attend the funeral of her only son, Nikitas, who was born in prison, and whom she has not seen since she left him as a baby. Nikitas had been distressed in the days before his death and, curious to find out why, his English widow Maud starts to investigate his complicated past. In so doing, she finds herself reigniting a bitter family feud, discovering a heartbreaking story of a young mother caught up in the political tides of the Greek Civil War and forced to make a terrible decision that would blight not only her life but that of future generations…

The House on Paradise Street is an epic tale of love and loss, which takes readers from the war-torn streets of Nazi-occupied Athens through the military junta years and on into the troubled city of recent times and shows what happens when ideology threatens to subsume our sense of humanity.


Sofka Zinovieff had fallen in love with Greece as a student, but little suspected that years later she would, return for good with an expatriate Greek husband and two young daughters. This book is a wonderfully fresh, funny, and inquiring account of her first year as an Athenian. The whole family have to come to grips with their new life and identities—the children start school and tackle a new language, and Sofka’s husband, Vassilis, comes home after half a lifetime away. Meanwhile, Sofka resolves to get to know her new city and become a Greek citizen, which turns out to be a process of Byzantine complexity. As the months go by, Sofka’s discovers how memories of Athens’ past haunt its present in its music, poetry, and history. She also learns about the difficult art of catching a taxi, the importance of smoking, the unimportance of time-keeping, and how to get your Christmas piglet cooked at the baker’s. 


In 1907, Princess Sophy (‘Sofka’) DolgorOuky was born in St Petersburg. Members of the Imperial family had attended her parents’ wedding earlier that same year, and the child was born into a privileged world of nurses, private tutors and elegant tea parties. The Russian Revolution caused the princess to flee across Europe to England, but it was the Second World War that left the deepest marks on her adult life. During those years, she left her first husband and lost her second. Later, she was interned in a Nazi prison camp, where she discovered Communism and showed great bravery in defending the rights of the Jewish prisoners. It was her Communism which took her back to the Soviet Union as an improbable tour guide for British workers. And Communism, albeit indirectly, brought her the last love of her life, Jack, a working-class Londoner who had never been abroad. Sofka’s colourful life also included a close friendship with Laurence Olivier, innumerable lovers, some serious, some quickly discarded, and an abiding love of reading and especially poetry. This affectionate portrait of the ‘red princess’ by her granddaughter and namesake uses letter, diaries and interviews to recreate a vanished world and also explore the author’s own Russian roots.


Faringdon House in Oxfordshire was the home of Lord Berners, composer, writer, painter, friend of Stravinsky and Gertrude Stein, a man renowned for his eccentricity – masks, practical jokes, a flock of multi-coloured doves – and his homosexuality. Before the war he made Faringdon an aesthete’s paradise, where exquisite food was served to many of the great minds, beauties and wits of the day.

Since the early thirties his companion there was Robert Heber-Percy, twenty-eight years his junior, wildly physical, unscholarly, a hothead who rode naked through the grounds, loved cocktails and nightclubs, and was known to all as the Mad Boy. If the two men made an unlikely couple, at a time when homosexuality was illegal, the addition to the household in 1942 of a pregnant Jennifer Fry, a high society girl known to be ‘fast’, as Robert’s wife was simply astounding.

After Victoria was born the marriage soon foundered (Jennifer later married Alan Ross). Berners died in 1950, leaving Robert in charge of Faringdon, aided by a ferocious Austrian housekeeper who strove to keep the same culinary standards in a more austere age.

This was the world Sofka Zinovieff, Victoria’s daughter, a typical child of the sixties, first encountered at the age of seventeen. Eight years later, to her astonishment, Robert told her he was leaving her Faringdon House. Her book about Faringdon and its people is marvellously witty and full of insight, bringing to life a vanished world and the almost fantastical people who lived in it.


Origins is an extraordinary series that looks at the historic, large-scale movement of people from one country or region to another.

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