Ludmila Ulitskaya

MEDEA AND HER CHILDREN


Schocken Books/Random House
New York, 2004

Hardback, $24.00
ISBN 0-8052-4196-5
Paperback, $13.00
ISBN 0-8052-1144-6
320 pages

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Ludmila Ulitskaya was awarded the Booker Russian Novel Prize in 2001.

In this novel, Medea Sinoply Mendez is an iconic figure in her Crimean village, the last remaining pureblooded Greek in a family that has lived on that coast for centuries. Looking like "a portrait Goya had omitted to paint" in the widow's black she has worn since the death of her husband - a jolly Jewish dentist - many years before, the childless Medea is the touchstone of a large family of nieces and nephews who, together with their spouses, children, and friends, gather each spring and summer at her home.

Ageless and unflappable, Medea greets each successive wave of visitors with calm warmth and welcome and wryly observes their romantic entanglements, disappointments, conflicts, and passions.

Ludmila Ulitskaya, one of contemporary Russia's great novelists, weaves the story of the sprawling Sinoply family into a brilliantly detailed and richly textured tapestry.


Ludmila Ulitskaya

An extract. Medea's grand-niece, Masha, is having an affair:

If before she had been no stranger to insomnia, in these months Masha slept a ragged and fitful sleep full of sounds, lines of verse and disturbing images. Unreal animals came to her in her dreams, animals with many legs, many eyes, half-birds, half-cats, with symbolic allusions. One, fearfully familiar, rubbed up against her, and its name was also familiar to her. It consisted of a series of numbers and letters. When she woke she remembered its strange name: Zh4836. She burst out laughing. It was the number printed in thick black ink on the linen ribbon she sewed to the bed sheets before sending them to the laundry.

 

All this nonsense was imbued with significance. One time she dreamed a completely finished poem which she wrote down while half asleep. She was amazed when she read it the following morning. "It isn't mine, it isn't mine. I could never have written this myself."

Through lust to love and into the abyss
of destinations reached past our contriving:
I give the words that tell of you and this,
I serve as target too of all your striving;
and in the brooding darkness of our blood
the instant blazes like a blunderbuss,
and all is swept away as in a flood
and leaves no brim between the one of us.

 

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