hobart logo
My Nina photo

I can’t remember which year it was exactly, but Nina Stanger got in touch with me because she had just got back from Tangier in Morocco and Ellen Buckingham (my mother’s best friend) had given her my address in London.

Immediately I wanted to meet her because I still felt more at home in Tangier than here where I was still trying to make my way.

She seemed to have brought something from Tangier—that easy style with which people spoke to each other out there—and we enjoyed each other’s company immediately. 

Nina had chosen to go to LSE to read law. “Why law?” I asked her as we walked along the Strand. She answered: “Look! We are going to cross that road and it involves various laws. So I want to know exactly what those laws are, every one of them.”

She never saw studying law as boring; the more intricate, the more she seemed to relish it. And her enthusiasm remained when she sought out laws to use in her cases.

Later, Nina explained to me that justice here in Great Britain depended on the worst criminals having the best defence. However, she found some of her clients perplexing. She once went into the cells of two sisters who had committed atrocities for the IRA and she was soaking wet from the rain. They were very concerned for her, she said, worried she would catch cold and what could they do to get dry clothes for poor Nina! However, when it came to discussing the killing of innocent strangers, their faces went blank and hard and with no regret.

Nina wanted to be a woman barrister who did not dress as an honorary man but as a woman, wearing make-up and beautiful high-heeled shoes. She was once humiliated by a judge who said her wig was half an inch too tilted to one side and she was to leave the court and only return after adjusting it. But it just made her more determined to pave the way for others. 

We liked traveling upstairs on the double decker buses. Once when it was Leap Year Day we both wore red bloomers under our skirts because, Nina said, we then had the right to propose to a man to marry one. Fellow passengers were leaning over to see us when we displayed the bloomers to each other. And we couldn’t stop laughing.

She had beautiful long dark hair and always brushed it assiduously whenever she thought she needed to. 

But when I went to Georgia to study and do fieldwork, we lost touch because of the constraints in the Soviet Union for communicating with the outside world. 

Several years later, however, when I went to live in Oxford after being forced to leave Soviet Georgia, my local friend Steven Lukes said I had to meet this beautiful blond he found wonderful whose name was Nina Stanger. I was perplexed because my Nina Stanger was not a blond. However, when Steven brought us together of course we recognised each other and I promised I wouldn’t mention again that she had not been blond before… it was part of our sense of humour.

As the years went by we married—me to a Soviet Georgian for whom Steven wrote 128 letters to get him to England—and, when we had children, Nina was a great enthusiast of the National Childbirth Trust and their methods for giving birth. And in between Nina was always describing new films or music or books, with a kind of energy that was mesmerising even for me who knew her for so long.

Eventually when she and her family moved to Florence I missed her, had thought of visiting Steven and her and the children and then she left us, a quiet flourish.

But she is always here, always too strong to evaporate into some kind of hereto after. And now we have her book, another gift that is a surprise, the way she liked things to be.

Nina Stanger’s posthumous novel Falcon is published by Romaunce Books. Read an excerpt at 3 AM: Magazine.