Author: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Once in awhile you see a title that jumps at you and practically forces you to read the book it graces. I went in search of the amazingly titled Petrushevskaya collection There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby and came away instead with There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself. Try to read that title and not fill with curiosity. I dare you.
Petrushevskaya is a Russian writer who was suppressed by the Soviets, and while she seems to finally be getting a lot of attention in her native language, her work is just beginning to be translated into English. I read this slim volume of seventeen stories in one sitting, and I definitely want more.
“Like Penelope” charmingly describes how a loveless woman finds love at first sight with a man she’s always hated by reputation. “The Goddess Parka” features lovers coming together despite themselves over the death of a determined matchmaker. “Hallelujah, Family!,” the centerpiece of the collection and the story the title is adapted from, is so good that I read it, finished the rest of the book, then turned around to read it again. It’s so simple in it’s conceit and execution, yet so dense and full of meaning, that it completely blew me out of the water. While not every story was a winner, there were plenty of little gems scattered throughout the collection.
Like I’m sure many people in post-Soviet Russia must be, the characters in these stories are obsessed with living space. From cramped apartments to summer cottages and sanitariums, every story features characters stumbling over one another in a search for room. The way Petrushevskaya packs such tension and beauty into such small stories mirrors this never-ending quest for space.
Translation is an art in itself, and I’m never sure what praise to give to the original author and what praise to the translator, but there are lines in these stories that took my breath away. Petrushevskaya’s name may be hard to spell, her story collections titled with hard-to-remember mouthfuls, but I’m glad to have found her and can’t wait to read more.