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Medea and Her Children Paperback – 1 Jan 2004
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"One of today's best Russian writers . . . Alternately witty and affecting, with an impeccable style."
"Ulitskaya's epic narrative of life well lived under the radar of Soviet totalitarianism becomes a testament to the power of that other formidable regime we so innocently refer to as 'family.' "
"Medea and Her Children is everything one would expect from a modern Russian novel."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review
About the Author
Ludmila Ulitskaya's fiction has been published in many countries, including Russia, France, and Germany; Medea and Her Children is her second novel to be published in America. She lives in Moscow.
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The story is the echo of a troubled century and we cannot imagine what that century was for people in the Russian Empire and then in the USSR and now in Russia and its exploded dependencies. The echo of the two world wars, of the two revolutions, though essentially the Bolshevik one, the civil war, Stalin, the collectivization of agriculture, sports, corruption, and so many other events before, during and after Stalin.
But it is only an echo of all that. There is nothing more than a testimony of little facts seen through the eyes of little people who do not want in any way to judge or assess. The aim is to give what the author considers a balanced vision of tragic and heroic times. So much so that the genealogical tree of the Sinoply family given at the very beginning of the book, even before the title page, gives the birth dates of the members of Medea's generation, thirteen brothers and sisters but not their death dates and no dates for the generations before and the generations after. It is a testimony but cut off from any dramatic perspective. Of course they died but that is an accident, if not an incident. As Medea says:
"God help us, my brother Philip was shot by the Reds; my brother Nikifor was hanged by the Whites, but before that both of them had become murderers themselves. This one [speaking of Samuel Yakovlevich who courted Medea and who had been an officer in the Red Army during the War Communism years and had not been able to shot three farmers who had been found guilty of hiding grains in famine time] couldn't do it, and he's lamenting his weakness. Truly, the wind of the Spirit blows where it wills." (68)
That will not explain history but it is a phenomenal though involuntary testimony that in that 20th century some political forces, on the extreme left or on the extreme right, tried to force history in one direction or another and the result was a general holocaust of tens of millions of people and if we take into account the two world wars and the various soviet and pro-soviet revolutions along with Italian fascism, German Nazism and all other forms of fascist dictatorship and war in Spain or Portugal, in Greece or Hungary, in Slovenia or Serbia, we should not be far from over 100 million people, and I am probably conservative in that evaluation, not to speak of all those who were not born for innumerable reasons.
You will slowly develop a feeling of boredom because you feel some serious matter is being witnessed but it is smoothened down, if not smothered, to some soft feathery reality, which it was not. We miss the strong wind, not of the Spirit, but of the history that was being built and then destroyed in the 20th century. We miss the tragedy and we don't even have the drama, we are to satisfy ourselves with the melodramatic tragicomedy of something that sounds like a Fifth Avenue musical or a Parisian Boulevard comedy, or at times something close to a farce.
But do not be misled by the title. I only found one allusion to the Medea everyone knows in the world, "the other, mythical one" (79). Medea is only the name of a woman of mixed Greek and Jewish descent born, raised and who lived in the Crimea through most of the 20th century. And even the expulsion of the Tatars from the Crimea after WW2 by Stalin is reduced to some back page news in a tabloid newspaper. I would have sworn that it was a major crime against humanity. But here is it reduced to a consequence of the lack of support of the Tatars for Stalin during the war, in other words an act of justified vengeance for what is seen as a treason of the father- or motherland.
But you can always try to read the book as if it were a novel, but you will not find the dynamic action and confrontation you expect from a novel about a family. Far, far from the Godfather or the Goodfellas or so many other sagas in that line. It sounds at times like the Gospels without Jesus, or the USSR without Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and all the others after them, including Beria in his carpet.
The meat may be good but it is cooked without any oil, boiled in water, without salt or any herbs or condiments at least three times too long, hence practically pre-digested. I am very disappointed with this post-Soviet Russian literature.
Dr jacques COULARDEAU
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
"Medea and her children" is one of my favorite books. I am rereading it couple of times per year. Every time it teaches me more about understanding and accepting life and people than before. I call it my Bible or my "Tao te Ching" (if you are like me into Eastern thought). I belong to Jewish community and Ulitskya helped me to become more accepting of Christianity.
I encourage you to try reading it yourself. You might find a life long teacher and friend. If you find it boring, just put aside without criticizing it. It is a great book, even if it is not so for you.