Autobiography of an acclaimed Russian writer who grew up “hungrier, dirtier, and colder than everyone else.”
In a lively, irreverent memoir, journalist and fiction writer Petrushevskaya (There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In, 2014, etc.), known for her subversive fairy tales, recalls a nightmarish childhood. She was born in 1938 in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, the city’s “most famed residential building.” While she was still an infant, her family members, Bolshevik intellectuals, were deemed “enemies of the people.” In 1941, she, her mother, grandmother, and aunt fled Moscow in a cattle car for Kuibyshev, where they were treated as “pariahs, untouchables.” In gritty detail, the author depicts their precarious life during the war. Always starving, the author “ate glue in secret because of the rumor that it was flavored with real cherries.” The family foraged in neighbors’ garbage, and her aunt made soup from cabbage leaves picked up from the ground at the market. Dirty, “shaggy, covered with lice and bedbug bites,” for a time she begged in the streets, once pretending to be crippled. After the war, she and her mother were able to return to the Metropol, but by then she was “an unmanageable, wild child” and therefore unwelcome at the hotel. She was sent to a summer camp, which nurtured her “hatred of constant supervision and collectivism of any kind, and at the same time admiration to the point of tears at the sight of a marching squad.” Feisty and incorrigible, Petrushevskaya managed to get through high school, despite earning low grades, and she went on to study journalism in college. “We had to read endless tomes on the Communist press, primarily by Lenin,” she writes. “We were being trained to become ideologically sound ignoramuses,” but she was determined to get a diploma so that she could work as a professional journalist. With spunk and defiance, she survived, and transcended, the privations of her youth.
A terse, spirited memoir that reads like a picaresque novel.