Lyudmila Petrushevskaya was born in Moscow shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, and, like all her generation, was marked for life by the events of her childhood: war, evacuation, the post-war hunger and deprivation, as well as the intangible, universal fear generated by Stalin’s Terror.
After leaving school in 1956 Petrushevskaya studied journalism at Moscow University, and in the 1960s worked as a reporter and reviewer in radio and television and on the magazine Krugozor. Married and widowed in her twenties, she spent several years struggling to fend for herself and her first child. Later she remarried, and in the early 1970s became a full-time writer, earning her living with reviews, screenplays, and translations from Polish. She now lives with her family in Moscow.
Petrushevskaya made her début as a writer in 1972, publishing two short stories in the Leningrad magazine Avrora. Over the next fifteen years, a handful of other stories appeared, at long intervals, in Avrora, Druzhba narodov, and the Estonianbased journal Raduga (Rainbow). But it soon became clear that few editors would risk publishing her prose. In 1969 she had taken her first stories to the then editor of Novy mir, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, who decreed: ‘Withhold publication, but don’t lose track of the author.’ As far as Novy mir was concerned, that decision was to stand for almost two decades, and as late as 1987, when we first met, Petrushevskaya was doubtful that her collected stories would ever see the light of day.
In the mid-1970s, however, Petrushevskaya turned instead to writing plays, encouraged by the playwright Aleksei Arbuzov whose workshop she attended. It was these early plays, performed in back rooms, makeshift theatres, and factory clubs, that first established Petrushevskaya’s name among a limited circle of Moscow cognoscenti. Today many of those who sat or stood in those cramped rooms recall the extraordinary emotional impact of the plays: the shocked laughter and tears of people who seemed for the first time to have seen and heard a true account of themselves. Reflecting on the more immediate success of her plays,