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Sonechka: A Novella and Stories

Sonechka: A Novella and Stories

by Ludmila Ulitskaya

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The Los Angeles Times said of Ludmila Ulitskaya’s The Funeral Party, “In America we have friends, family, lovers, and parents–four kinds of love. Could it really be that in Russia they have more? Ludmila Ulitskaya makes it seem so.” In Sonechka: A Novella and Stories, Ulitskaya brings us tales of these other loves in


The Los Angeles Times said of Ludmila Ulitskaya’s The Funeral Party, “In America we have friends, family, lovers, and parents–four kinds of love. Could it really be that in Russia they have more? Ludmila Ulitskaya makes it seem so.” In Sonechka: A Novella and Stories, Ulitskaya brings us tales of these other loves in her richly lyrical prose, populated with captivating and unusual characters.

In “Queen of Spades,” Anna, a successful ophthalmologic surgeon in her sixties; her daughter, Katya; and Katya’s teenage daughter and young son live in constant terror of Anna’s mother, a domineering, autocratic, aging former beauty queen. In “Angel,” a closeted middle-aged professor marries an uneducated charwoman for love of her young son, raising the child in his image. In “The Orlov-Sokolovs,” perfectly matched young lovers are pulled apart by the Soviet academic bureaucracy. And in the stunning novella “Sonechka,” the heroine, a bookworm turned muse turned mother, reveals a love and loyalty at once astounding in its generosity and grotesque in its pathos.

In these stories, love and life are lived under the radar of oppression, in want of material comfort, in obeisance to or matter-of-fact rejection of the pervasive restrictions of Soviet rule. If living well is the best revenge, then Ludmila Ulitskaya’s characters, in choosing to embrace the unique gifts that their lives bring them, are small heroes of the quotidian, their stories as funny and tender as they are brilliantly told.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“From one of the most important living Russian writers comes a collection of storytelling miracles. The Russian women in Ludmila Ulitskaya’s stories are unlike any you have met before. They are charming, intelligent, seductive, and strong enough to carry an entire dysfunctional country on their backs.”

–Gary Shteyngart, author of
The Russian Debutante’s Handbook

Library Journal
In her first short story collection, Russian Booker Prize winner Ulitskaya (The Funeral Party) covers the tumultuous terrain of relationships and love in 20th-century Russia. While some details in this engaging collection are time- and place-specific (e.g., communal apartments during the Soviet era), the characters' motives and feelings rise to the universal. In the title story, Sonechka so loves her husband and their life together that she accepts what many would find unthinkable. In "The Queen of Spades," Anna considers her love for and fear of her controlling mother as she watches her ex-husband neatly manage the elderly woman. "Zurich" explores the course of love and happiness in Lidia's life when she leaves her homeland and marries a Swiss businessman. Many of the stories contain echoes of classical Russian literature, among them "Angel," in which a professor marries a woman in order to be physically close to his true love-her son. Recommended for academic and public collections.-Heather Wright, ASRC Aerospace Corp., Cincinnati Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A masterly novella and six stories portray the depths of the Russian character, in a third English-language appearance by this geneticist-turned-novelist (Medea and Her Children, 2002, etc.). The Moscow-based Ulitskaya has intimate access to characters in vastly different stations of Russian society. With the same bracing elan, she describes the most elevated, aged aristocrat (like the supremely supercilious grandmother Mour, in the story "Queen of Spades," who speaks only of the famous men she has bedded while scorning her own family, and the lowly seamstress Sonechka, for whom the love of husband and daughter offers a reprieve from her peasant mediocrity. The mean-spirited crone Mour still orders her daughter, Anna, around, correcting the record of her fabulous life with famous lovers, always demanding something "elusive and indefinable" while her daughter, a doctor and grandmother herself, palliates and humors her mother's latest caprice. Anna's prosperous ex-husband arrives from South Africa, bringing unheard-of riches and turning the Moscow apartment upside down, yet the mother-daughter dynamic remains fatally rooted in place. The title novella's Sonechka, on the other hand, is lifted from her dutiful work in the library-where she experiences a kind of religious ecstasy in reading Russian literature-by marriage to an older revolutionary artist, exiled in Paris but now returned to Soviet Russia to scrounge work designing theater sets. Despite the unimaginable cold and hunger the family must endure, Sonechka is happy in love; even when her elderly husband takes up with the canny Polish girl Jasia, and finds new life painting her, Sonechka acts nobly, shining with "a quiet joy ofliterary perfection." In "Zurich," Ulitskaya yanks her reader into the brutal exigencies of modern-day Russian economics as 30-year-old Lida, highly educated, enterprising and desperate to find a way out of her no-end poverty, strategically courts a Swiss businessman, vanquishes him and triumphs as the prosperous owner of a Zurich restaurant. Ulitskaya brilliantly evokes these resilient characters, showing us the Russian soul as transformed throughout its complicated history.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.52(w) x 5.73(h) x 0.98(d)

Meet the Author

Ludmila Ulitskaya was born in Bashkiria, in the Ural region, and was trained as a geneticist. Her novels and short stories have been published in more than twenty-five languages. She has received many awards for her writing, including the first Russian Booker Prize and the Medici Prize. She lives in Moscow.

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