Short-listed in 1992 for the newly established Russian Booker Prize, Petrushevskaya's short novel (her first to be translated into English) is especially meaningful if its literary echoes are pre-established for the non-Russian reader. The narrator is an aging poet named Anna, pointed namesake of Anna Akhmatova, who shares her great predecessor's fate of having had a son in jail. But there the close resemblances end, for this Anna is in a sense an anti-Akhmatova: a frump without mystery, grace, or beauty in suffering. Her pain is homely, and what feeds her poetry is anyone's guess. She supports and lives with any number of essentially ungrateful relatives, mostly her flighty daughter Alyona; the two children Alyona bears with various unsatisfactory consorts and then pretty much gives up to her mother's care; Anna's own gone-around-the-bend mother; and now and then her son, Andrei—no noble gulag-ite, but a cadging, thankless wretch. The life here is hectically, hilariously close: Russian domesticity at its most unsparing, with everyone in each other's hair, minds, lives. Anna's narrative is interspersed with Alyona's romantic and hopeless diaries (read on the sly by her snooping mother, who, much to the author's credit, is anything but a saint), which operate as a plane of yearning for heights that daily life never reaches. The novel's affective core, though, is Anna's love for her grandson Tima, and it's here that Anna's credibility as a poet comes to the fore: ``Great thick curling lashes, little fans! All parents, and grandparents especially, love their babies physically like this, make them make up for everything else in life. It's sinful love I tell you...But what can you do? Nature intended for us to love.'' Told in an intimate, loose, over-the-back-fence style, this is an alternately funny and desperate book—a welcome introduction to a strong talent.
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