Rights sol to: Russia - AST, Poland - ŚWIAT KSIĄŻKI
In 2012, Ludmila Ulitskaya launched the major documentary project “After the Great Victory,” for which people who were children between 1945 and 1953 were invited to send in their childhood memories. Work that Ulitskaya selected was published by AST in 2013 in the collection “Tomorrow There Will Be Happiness” with Ulitskaya’s preface and comments.
This book is yet another project in social portraiture by Lyudmila Ulitskaya. Its goal is to restore historical memory in Russia, a country burned many times over and still being burned. Ulitskaya chooses the relatively rare genre of folk memoir – the stories and witness accounts of “little people”. Written quite subjectively and without artifice, together they create the magical effect of compound vision, where space and the objects in it are simultaneously seen from all sides. Besides these mini-memoirs, the book also contains eighteen forewords by Lyudmila Ulitskaya and a recollection by the noted writer Alexander Kabakov. All this is framed in a wonderful photo gallery – photos from personal archives.
Voices of different people, men and women, villagers and city folk, meld into a many-voiced choir, into a shared story of how they all grew up together. How they embraced in the glow of the fireworks on May 9, 1945, how they pined for a piece of bread, how they dressed in castoffs, went around in father’s patched army shirts, washed in public baths, played with sticks and stones because there were no toys. The details of postwar life emerge sharp and dimensional, long-lost characters step out onto the stage – the result is a vast canvas of a shared life, utterly poor, soaked with fear, but full of hope for an imminent happiness for all.
Ludmila Ulitskaya says: “The genre of this book is close to a documentary, but not quite: collage gives it a very special quality. This book has a long history. My first stories came out of my childhood memories; they were published as the “Childhood 49” in the early 2000s. In 2012 the book was reprinted. This time it created a lot of interest, many readers responded, and it turned out that people had a need to share their memories of growing up after the war with their grandchildren, who knew little about the life of older generations (and weren’t very interested). So my publisher suggested that I compile a book of the memories of children from that time. We ran a story contest – and got bundles of letters. They were amazingly interesting; with descriptions of a life such as we will never see again, with kerosene lamps, food rations, gangs of street urchins, bread cards, photos with faces cut out, cruel games and generous giving… At first I despaired, because I couldn’t imagine what to do with this mountain of raw material that just kept growing. Then I realized that I needed to find some common themes and use them to organize the telling: “how we ate”, “how we drank”, “how we washed”, “our school”, “our neighborhood”. The frame came completely naturally: the time between two key events – end of World War II and Stalin’s death.”
”This book is bitter medicine. It's hard to swallow whole; you have to take it in little spoonfuls.”
-- Maya Kucherskaya, literary critic
“Lyudmila Ulitskaya has brought the eight years after the war as close to us as humanly possible. If you remove the patina of officialdom from the expression ‘portrait of an era’, that’s exactly what it is.”
-- Evgeniy Belzharsky, literary critic