Tuesday, October 19, 2010
A friend mentioned Ludmila Ulitskaya the other day and the name sounded familiar. Sure enough, I had a copy of Sonechka: A Novella and Stories sitting on my shelf and read Sonechka that night. Odd little story as it seems more a sketch for a broader novel that Ulitskaya had in mind than a novella. The story starts to get quite complicated as Sonechka's elderly husband finds himself infatuated with their daughter's beguiling friend, Jasia, a Polish girl who was trying to re-invent herself in Moscow in the late 70s. Sonechka seems oblivious to these events swirling around her, remaining devoted to her books which consoled her during her mundane childhood and years in a public library. You expect more to come out of this story, but it doesn't. It just trails off with Sonechka once again absorbing herself in her books.
The story is quite interesting, as Sonechka was born out of WWII whereas Robert, her husband, was a well-known artist who had managed to survive the concentration camps and moved back to the Ukraine after the war. After some time in the shetls, the two move to Moscow with their young daughter. Sonechka had inherited her mother's sewing machine and saved up money to buy three rooms of a wood house in an old quarter of the city. Robert had revived his painting. Tanya, their daughter, was budding into an attractive high school girl, but then she meets Jasia at night school and the peaceful life Sonechka had long imagined is turned upside down. Sonechka made me think of Kathe Kollwitz, especially as she sunk into old age.
I read one of the other stories, Dauntless Women of the Russian Steppe, which had a very eye-catching title. It focused on three Russian women drinking away their man-problems in a New York apartment in the early 90s. Seemed to echo Moscow Does not Believe in Tears.
Not quite sure what to make of Ulitskaya after this little foray. My friend tells me that Daniel Stern, Translator is well worth reading, but it doesn't seem there is a copy in English. The Funeral Party has been well received. May turn there next.