Ludmila Petrushevskaya was born in Moscow in 1938. She comes from an intellectual family, which for several generations was subject to reprisals; this only stopped at the beginning of Perestroika. Petrushevskaya studied Journalism at Lomonossov University. From 1957 to 1973 she worked as a radio and television journalist. From 1974 to 1982, when she was not allowed to publish her works, she worked for the literary magazine ‘Nowyi Mir’.
She started writing her first prose pieces in 1963. Ruthlessly and with documentary precision, her stories record the dark side of Soviet and post-Soviet reality. They are about fathers who have disappeared, alcoholic mothers, neglected children, and older people who have been forgotten. They describe the daily fight to survive and the claustrophobia felt in apartments which are much too small. Petrushevskaya’s prose is at times sober and laconic, but then it becomes hectic and is full of breaks, oblique metaphors, and repetitions. Closer explanations are provided afterwards or placed in brackets. As in Chekhov, with whom Petrushevskaya is frequently compared, in the characters’ dialogues with their many levels of meaning, the tragic only bursts forth in brief allusions to immediately be covered over by empty words and everyday chatter. Since the 70s Petrushevskaya has written more than 30 dramas. The one-act piece ‘Cinzano’ (1973) is one of her best-known pieces. In the 90s she also wrote fairytales, which were published in Germany in books entitled ‘Der Mann, der wie eine Rose roch’ (1993) and ‘Die neuen Abenteuer der schönen Helena’ (1998). In her new narrative prose she is interested in the fantastic. In the book of stories ‘Der schwarze Mantel’ (1999), in the country cottage of her deceased aunt a girl meets the ghost of the Russian poet Alexander Blok, and a woman, whose son pretended to have committed suicide, because he wanted to get a hold of her savings, asks a dying alcoholic who looks like Christ for advice, so as to in the end comfort herself with the knowledge that her own suffering is relative.
Petrushevskaya’s poems did not hide behind the heroic image of the worker and farmer state prescribed by the state and were for the most part censored. The stories and dramas could first be published in the course of Perestroika. Today she is considered one of Russia’s most important writers. She has received various prizes. In 1995 a five-volume set of her writings was published in Russia. Petrushevskaya lives in Moscow.
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