“Sonechka” by Ludmila Ulitskaya

Usually, I won’t start a book unless I’ve seen several positive reviews of the book.  But this one I stumbled on to, reading the back cover.   Also given the strong tradition of Russian literature and all the strong Russian novels and stories from Pushkin to Gogol to Tolstoy I’ve read, I’m always on the lookout for new Russian writers.   Ludmila Ulitskaya was the first recipient of the Russian Booker prize in the mid-1990s.

Still, I approached this book with some trepidation, being completely unfamiliar with the author.  I decided to read one story and then choose whether or not to continue.  I read “The Queen of Spades” a medium length story, first.  This was such a delightful story I decided to read the rest of the book.  This story has all the ingredients that make her stories so much fun to read.  All of the stories have several strong female characters, usually within the context of a family.  Thus you might have a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter, all strong-willed and stubborn.  Ulitskaya puts a lot of irony and humor in her stories.  She uses the “F” word often, but only where it is proper and appropriate, ie when women are talking to each other.  The men are off somewhere either getting drunk or killing each other in wars.

Also Ulitskaya puts a lot of literary references in her stories.  I believe “The Queen of Spades” is also a Pushkin story.    There are references to Bunin and Solzhenitzyn and Nabokov also.  Especially because so little great literature came out of the Soviet Union during the Communist era, Ulitskaya takes a dim view of the Soviet Communist years.  Also from her stories you get the idea that Ulitskaya is a proud unique individual who wouldn’t want to get ground down by an all-pervasive bureaucracy

All of the stories in this book are fun to read.  The title novella, “Sonechka”, is the Russian endearment for Sonya.    It is about a girl who loves reading, gets involved with a man in about as romantic a setting as possible, has a family.  Circumstances cause her to return to reading for her sustenance.  She has a long happy life.

To sum up what I see as the theme of this book, it would be that women with the right humorous slant of mind can have a happy fulfilling life in what seem miserable difficult circumstances.   But it helps to have friends and family and other interests.

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