Magazine article Russian Life

The Big Green Tent

Magazine article Russian Life

The Big Green Tent

Article excerpt


Ludmila Ulitskaya

Translated by Polly Gannon (FSG, $35)


The beauty of this book is not rooted in excellent turns of phrase, like

"Both of them felt like milk bottles In the hands of a good housewife, ringing with cleanliness after a good wash."

"Everything incidental had drained from Olga's face; all that was left was a sharp, naked beauty, and the Illness Itself."

"Tea and vodka poured out in rivers, kitchens basked In the fervent steam of political dispute, so that the dampness crept up the walls to the hidden microphones behind the tiles at the level of the ceiling."

No, the beauty here is in the steady, comforting accretion of character and detail as the plot builds and develops. It is in Ulitskaya's onion-layer revelations of new facets of her characters by retelling aspects of the story through differing perspectives. It is like the way you get to know someone over many years: first through one type of interaction, then another, then yet another. Soon you have a suitably complex picture of the individual, yet deep down you know there is much more that will never be revealed.

On one level, The Big Green Tent is the story of a handful of young friends coming of age in post-Stalinist Russia, and of the connections, circumstances, and relationships that bind their lives together in a secretive, authoritarian, class obsessed society. …

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