Premise: Even in the midst of Communist Russia, perhaps especially in such a place, people desire human connection. In this collection of dark short stories, each person lives a life in close quarters with others, yet still can’t seem to manage healthy close relationships. Women reach out to married men for romance, men cheat on their wives looking for excitement, children desire affection, and all under the haze of alcohol to block out the pain they wallow in.
We bump against people every day. We make decisions that lead to unforeseen consequences. Those consequences are passed on through generations for more decisions to be made, and so on. This is the human condition. Underneath it all is a need for everyone to have love.
Themes: These short stories are proclaimed to be love stories, and that they are. But they are more. Each short story tells the tale of a person’s search for love, but also their desire to be loved and accepted, not always requited by others, but always searching.
On a general scope, the stories of There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself show us what life is like under an oppressive communist regime and the misery it can bring to the people. In their group apartments, basic needs are hard to come by as they share lives never quite having enough to get by, yet still somehow surviving.
Pros: More than anything, I felt a very human experience through these stories. They are far from flashy or even very exciting, but on the grand scale the views of these very ordinary people’s lives seem to create a spectrum of emotions both in the characters and in the reader. Whether it is pity, sympathy, sorrow, or hatred, you will feel something from reading these so-called love stories. You may not be able to relate directly to the characters in their circumstances, but there will be some sense in which you can relate to what they are feeling in spite of their circumstances.
Cons: Some of the things in There Once Lived a Girl can be difficult to relate to because of culture gap from not living in a communist country. Most of the amoral decisions made by characters, including promiscuity, women chasing after married men, men beating and cheating on their wives, and an overall drunkenness in the culture seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was probably the most difficult thing to see past while reading this collection, not to mention it is fairly depressing.
Recommendations: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself brings to light the lives of everyday people living in misery under the oppressive Soviet Union. The stories illuminate our interconnectedness and what it really means to be human. We each have, on some level, a desire for love, acceptance, and self-worth that can only be fostered through relationships with other people. Through these characters, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya makes us see other people with more sensitive eyes and with the realization that each of us has our own story to tell. Give this collection of dark short love stories a chance and you might just find yourself appreciating the loved ones you have even more.
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.