25 May 2010

Sonechka by Ludmila Ulitskaya

Thoughts and Reflections:
I am most used to studying and reading Russian literature in a academic setting. Yet still, I often find myself lost and wishing for a group setting in which to discuss the themes and the overall meaning of the story. The book is largely non-political, keeping political comments only as a brief descriptor of the environment or explanation of a social condition. Sonechka repeatedly wonders at the wonderful life she has been granted, but then once her life seems to be slipping away, she holds differently and seems to accept that it was all too good to last. I found this heartbreaking. Must life fall apart? Sonechka lives a long and lonely life, yet the mood of the story is neither grim nor depressing. Family, home, and generosity are central, these are all lost and maintained in some form. Sonechka, in all her loss, ugliness, and aging somehow still manages graciousness and strength, whilst resigning to a life of loneliness after the death of her husband. Sonechka is a beautiful story. I very much enjoyed it and will likely continue to muse on the themes and meanings. I most certainly recommend giving this one a go.

This is the story of a frumpy, bookish woman, Sonechka, who marries a painter/ex-con, Robert, in the 1920s in Russia. The story follows them through the trials of the day, but also their marital contentment and parenthood. In his elderly years, Robert begins an affair with Jasia, who was an orphan that the Sonechka and Robert had taken into their home and supported. Robert dies in the arms of his young lover. Aware of the affair, Sonechka seemed to hold no grudge towards Jasia or Robert, rather she maintains her homely duties and even takes care of the mourning Jasia following the death of Robert.

Ludmila Ulitskaya is a renowned Russian author. She was born in the town of Davlekanovo in Bashkiria in 1943 and grew up in Moscow where she studied biology at the Moscow State University. She first worked in genetics and bioengineering before trying her hand in literature and the arts. Sonechka was her first novella and published in Novy Mir in 1992. It was immediately extremely popular, and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Award.

Point of Interest:
Ludmila Ulitskaya has been writing to Michael Khardokovsky, previously Russia's richest man who has been imprisoned for fraud since 2003. Their letters were published by Novaya Gazeta. OpenDemocracy has also published the letters on their website for your reference.

Things I Loved About This Novella:
1) Yes, that's rights, as a Russianist, I loved the Russian component of the story: the people, the descriptions, the cultural backing, etc. It's like candy for a student of Russia.

2) The stumped feeling regarding the meaning, renewing the desire for increased cultural understanding.

3) Sonechka. She is incredibly endearing, strong, and fascinating character.

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