There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – heck of a title.
The enigmatic Russian writer behind it, now 79, lives in Moscow and was curtailed by the USSR due to censorship (which blighted other legendary Russian writers such as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn) – it took 16 years for one of her books to get published!
Anyway, during perestroika (essentially, communist party reforms) and Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness with the US etc.) in the 1980s, she was able to finally get her works published. Russia is still an *ahem* “lenient” place with resident megalomaniac dictator Putin running events.
Reassuring to know! Whatever, censorship is back whilst he’s there but, in 1988, it didn’t stop this collection of novellas from becoming available – they’re gritty, jet black, and can make for difficult reading, but they’re riveting all the same.
There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In
In this short collection we have three short stories: The Time is Night, Chocolates and Liqueur, and Among Friends.
The first is the most extensive – a proper novella – which is one of the most brutal reads we’ve gone through in a long time. It’s about a poetic, beleaguered mother whose children exploit her. Warning: it’s as dark as they come. Bloody hell.
In the introduction by Anna Summers, she writes of how the story’s downtrodden protagonist, Anna, is inspired to struggle on by her love for poetry, despite the terrible hardships she suffers through (largely due to poverty, brought about by the Era of Stagnation – the 1960s to the early 1980s – Gorbachov helped lift this during his political run):
"The famous line by Anna Akhmatova, "If only people knew from what muck poetry grows," comes to mind throughout the novella. Anna has a gift, as did Akhmatova, as did Tsvetaeva, as do all talented poets, to translate the filth and muck of reality into harmonious verse."
Chocolates and Liqueur doesn’t lighten the tone as a young nurse worries about her abusive husband.
Finally, Among Friends is another tale about family life gone hideously wrong. All in all, the three stories (“Three Novellas About Family”) are pitch black, unflinchingly horrific, and detail the type of emotional and physical abuse most of us try and avoid at all costs.
The stories are as much a critique of what an oppressive government has forced its citizens into as much as it is about pinpointing human foibles.
It’s grim stuff, but occasionally peppered with black humour due to, for instance, the likes of The Time is Night’s Anna making some bleak and accurate remark about one of her maniacal family members (“Dear Lord, what possessed the feverish brain of this hormonal female?”).
Stark, uncompromising, provocative, and banned for over a decade, these novellas are certainly an eye-opener.
If you’re looking for twee stories about family life, you won’t find them here – Petrushevskaya slams it a brutal blow to the head and, in doing so, will leave you rather shattered. But, hey, isn’t that what great culture’s supposed to do?
Okay, so this lady is also an all-round entertainer, as you can see in the clip above of her performing at her 75th birthday party!
That’s at the Mayakovsky Theatre in Moscow. She’s also worked in animation, as a screenwriter, and she’s also an artist (her works have apparently appeared in some of Moscow’s top museums) – it’s good to keep oneself busy, non?
Her most recent novel appears to be The Girl from the Metropol Hotel (2006), so we’re not sure if she’s still writing and, you know, we’re not going to go ringing her up asking if she is.
Still, her works are certainly some of the most horrifically realised, compellingly so, and we can recommend them to you with much gusto.