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NINE

of Russia's Foremost Women Writers

ISBN 5-7172-0063-3
an anthology, 288 pp. with photographs and authors' notes

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of free speech (and publishing), Russian women have become a force in the world of letters. Where in the past they were known chiefly as literary widows or devoted wives, occasionally as poets or critics, and only very rarely as novelists, today they are beginning to dominate publishing lists in fiction and non-fiction alike.

GLAS's third collection of top women writers (see Glas 3 and 13), NINE includes three internationally known names - Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Ludmila Ulitskaya, and Svetlana Alexiyevich - as well as half a dozen other foremost women authors appearing here for the first time in English.

Svetlana Alexiyevich, a Byelorussian dissident, constructs powerful narrative collages out of "live human voices" culled from her interviews with witnesses to and participants in the most shattering national events. "She follows life rather than trying to invent it and she does so with great talent and keen vision." Her "Landscape of Loneliness" shows how tragic social circumstances deprive people of an ability to experience and enjoy love.

Svetlana Alexiyevich born in 1948, graduated in journalism from Minsk University then worked on various papers while trying her hand at short stories. In her search for "a literary method that would allow the closest possible approximation of real life", Alexiyevich evolved a writing style all her own: she constructs her narratives out of "live voices" culled from interviews with witnesses to and participants in 20th-century cataclysms. Says Alexiyevich: "That is how I hear and see the world - as a chorus of individual voices and a collage of everyday minutiae." Alexieyevich's books have sold some 2 million copies in Russia and been translated into more than twenty languages.
The War's Unwomanly Face, Alexieyevich's first book, detailed the lives of Soviet women who fought in WWII (pilots, parachutists, snipers) while The Last Witnesses looked at that war's children. Boys in Zinc (1989) addressed the problem of post-traumatic-stress syndrome in veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war. Enchanted by Death (1993) focused on those driven to suicide by the collapse of the Soviet Union and their socialist illusions. 1997 saw the publication of Alexiyevich's requiem for the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, The Chernobyl Prayer. All of Alexiyevich's books grapple with the question: "Who are we and what country do we live in now?" Her latest book, The Wonderful Deer of the Eternal Hunt, is a series of Russian love stories while "Landscape of Loneliness" excerpts three female voices from the book.

Maria Arbatova - a leading feminist famed for her frank, outspoken and witty style - is Russia's Erica Jong. "My Name is Woman" takes place in an abortion clinic where the heroine reflects on her failed love affair and women's submissive role in love and life.

Maria Arbatova born in 1957, holds degrees from Moscow University (Philosophy) and the Literary Institute (Drama). An award-winning writer and dramatist as well as an outspoken feminist, she has been hailed as "Russia's Erica Jong". Her best-selling books include: My Name is Woman (published last year in France), A Visit from a Middle-aged Lady, Mobile Affairs, Reading Plays. Her latest book, Farewell to the 20th Century, is a revised and supplemented version of her autobiographical novel I'm Forty (published in 1998 and excerpted in Glas 13, A Will and a Way).

Nina Gorlanova sets "Lake Joy" in her native Siberian city of Perm - in the small, closed world of a maternity ward. As a new life is born their suburb is being flooded and they are moved to new homes to start a new life.

Nina Gorlanova born in 1947, grew up in the Siberian city of Perm where she lives still and where most of her stories and novels are set. By returning to one and the same place, she creates a somewhat fantastic world populated with curious characters and possessing its own mythology. The life in her invented Perm is squalid but merry, risky but indestructible. Gorlanova's short novel Love in Rubber Gloves won first prize at the International Competition for Women's Prose. Her Learning a Lesson was short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize (1996).

Anastasia Gosteva takes the reader on an unusual journey around India and America ("Closed America"). The heroine's attempt to run away from herself and an unrequited love is in fact a desperate effort to come to terms with who she really is.

Anastasia Gosteva born in 1975, a graduate of Moscow University (Physics), belongs to the first generation to come of age in post-Soviet Russia and to travel freely beyond it. She works in Moscow as a journalist and translator while writing poetry and prose. Her Samurai's Daughter won the Znamya prize for Best Debut Novel of 1997. Next came Travel Agnus Dei (1998) and a number of short stories in leading literary journals. Her latest novel, The Den of the Enlightened, looks at modern-day love affairs conducted over the Internet.

Ludmila Petrushevskaya's absurd middle-aged heroine (in "Waterloo Bridge") finds she has fallen in love with a character in a movie. Seeing the film again and again, she experiences the romantic love she never had in real life. "Petrushevskaya's genius consists in her ability to seize on the disparate details of everyday life and render them as a single perfect whole, in which even the most unpalatable reality is made beautiful by the perfection of her art."

Ludmila Petrushevskaya born in 1938, is the author of The Time: Night, short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize and translated into over 20 languages. In 2002, for life-time achievement Petrushevskaya received Russia's most prestigious prize The Triumph.
Petrushevskaya's rather eccentric style - her black humor and over-the-back-fence style - is often described as critical realism mixed with postmodernism and elements of the absurd. In Petrushevskaya's stories even the most unpalatable reality is made beautiful by the perfection of her art. The author of Immortal Love (also widely translated), On the Way to Eros, The Mystery of the House, Real-life Tales, and Find Me, Sleep, Petrushevskaya has been called "one of Russia's finest living writers".
(See also her "Fairytales for Grownups" in Glas 13, A Will and a Way.)

Margarita Sharapova draws on her unique personal experience as a circus animal tamer to describe the world of popular entertainment. "Brilliantly crafted, inspired prose... unputdownable..."

Margarita Sharapova born in 1962, graduated from the Cinema Institute and then the Literary Institute. As a writer of short stories, she draws on her past life as a circus animal trainer and often uses the road as a connecting element. Her heroes are circus performers, gypsies, would-be writers, alcoholics and vagabonds. Driven by their emotions, a personal sense of duty and determination to preserve their inner freedom, they live their hand-to-mouth lives as best they can. Sharapova has won a number of prizes, including those of the Moscow Writers' Union and the International Democracy Foundation.

Olga Slavnikova, a prolific young author from Yekaterinburg, depicts provincial life in a town where most of the men are involved in the illegal mining and cutting of precious stones. "Krylov's Childhood" combines memorable characters with ethnographic detail.

Olga Slavnikova born in 1957, grew up in Yekaterinburg in the Urals where she majored in journalism. A literary editor and critic, Slavnikova is the author of three widely acclaimed novels: A Dragon-fly the Size of a Dog, short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize (1997); Alone in the Mirror, short-listed for the Anti-Booker and winner of the Pavel Bazhov Prize; and Immortal, awarded the Critics' Academy Apollon Grigoriev Prize and short-listed for both the Belkin Prize and the National Bestseller Prize. "Krylov's Childhood" is the first section of Slavnikova's new novel, Period.

Natalia Smirnova paints a disquieting picture of a provincial town in the Urals where two cultivated women must survive amidst crude working-class surroundings ("The Women and the Shoemakers"). "The Women and the Shoemakers" won Smirnova a Fellowship from the Hawthornden International Writers' Retreat. "Her prose is deep and subtle but by no means female."

Natalia Smirnova born in 1962, grew up in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. She later moved to Yekaterinburg in the Urals where she studied language and literature and now teaches. Smirnova has published two collections of short stories and a novel, Businesswoman. Her prose is subtle and slightly fanciful while her cultivated heroines are trapped in the crude surroundings of drab, provincial lives.

Ludmila Ulitskaya's "Women's Lies" look at women who lie with verve just to escape dreary reality. "Permeated with a tolerant humorous warmth, Ulitskaya's stories exemplify that strand in the humanist tradition that neither denounces nor deifies, but attempts to understand human psychology in its infinitely numerous manifestations."

Ludmila Ulitskaya born in 1942 and a geneticist by training, only began writing in the 1990s. "Ulitskaya's fresh, delicately sensual writing, full of the joys and pitfalls of every day, is a world away from the gloomy, fear-driven reflections on the plight of human beings under the Soviet heel," The Observer wrote of Ulitskaya's first novel Sonechka (see Glas 17). "With Ulitskaya, Russian fiction rediscovers a consoling and universal normality." Sonechka was short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize, translated into 20 languages and awarded France's Medici Prize for foreign fiction. Her novels The Funeral Party and Medea and her Children were also short-listed for the Russian Booker. Her novel The Kukotsky Case won the Russian Booker in 2002.