Magazine article World Literature Today

Baba Dunja's Last Love

Magazine article World Literature Today

Baba Dunja's Last Love

Article excerpt

Alina Bronksy

Baba Dunja's Last Love

Trans. Tim Mohr

Europa Editions

Alina Bronsky is skillful at inventing darkly humorous protagonists, and Baba Dunja is no exception. This short novel is a surprising story told by a stubborn, amusing grandmother who lives in an abandoned village that's nestled in a post-Chernobyl "death zone." She's not as menacing and brash as Bronsky's Russian matriarch Rosa from The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, and this makes Baba Dunja all the more compelling to unravel-she's coolly pragmatic yet sentimental, hardened by circumstances, yet a flicker of wonder still quivers beneath her weathered outer shell.

Her world is inhabited by only a handful of neighbors and the occasional visiting biologist, and it's intriguing to explore the village's landscape through Baba Dunja's eyes. Thriving on misshapen fruits and the other foods they're able to sustain, she and the other villagers have established their own strange paradise. And they treat her as the unofficial leader of their secluded, radiation-emitting homeland.

"You are sort of like the mayor here."

"No one has ever insulted me like that before."

Through her frank and quick-witted voice, Baba Dunja establishes herself as an unlikely but strangely likeable leader. And in the closest neighboring cities, it appears she has a reputation as people buzz about "Baba Dunja from the death zone." Her character is revealed in all these encounters, and we discover even more about her as the story pivots into an unexpected, gripping path when a newcomer and his young daughter arrive with the intent of staying in their village. …

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