Quick Study: Ludmila Ulitskaya is one of Russia’s most popular and celebrated writers: she is known for creating vivid characters who populate fiction that is set in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras and often includes elements of history and science.
The Ulitskaya File: Ludmila Ulitskaya came to writing fiction relatively late in life but her debut in long-form fiction was auspicious: her first novella, Sonechka, was published in the literary journal Novyi mir in 1992 and nominated for the 1993 Russian Booker Prize. Ulitskaya went on to publish Medea and Her Children and The Funeral Party in Novyi mir; Medea was shortlisted for the Russian Booker in 1997. The Kukotsky Case, also published in Novyi mir, won the 2001 Russian Booker and Daniel Stein, Interpreter, a novel that blends fact and fiction, won the 2007 Big Book Award and was shortlisted for the 2007 Russian Booker as well as the Russian Booker of the Decade. Ulitskaya has written plays that have been staged in Russia and Germany, and some of her novels have been adapted: The Funeral Party and The Kukotsky Case were adapted for screen and the novel Sincerely Yours, Shurik, was staged in Hungary. In the 2000s and 2010s, Ulitskaya released several compilations of stories, plays, and nonfiction: they include books for children about tolerance and patience as well as Discarded Relics, a book of essays and reminiscences that reflect on life and death, including an account of fighting breast cancer. Ulitskaya’s correspondence with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos who was sentenced to prison for financial crimes, was published in 2009 by the journal Znamia, which awarded them a prize. Ulitskaya’s books have been published in translation in over two dozen countries.
Psssst………: Ulitskaya has worked as a geneticist and as repertory director at the Hebrew Theatre of Moscow… When asked in an interview with the magazine Medved (The Bear) about countries she enjoys visiting, Ulitskaya said, “Italy, Italy, Italy.”
Ulitskaya’s Places: Born in Davlekanovo, Bashkiria; her parents were evacuated during World War 2… studied genetics at Moscow State University in the early 1960s just after the pseudogenetics of Trofim Lysenko had been discredited… lives in Moscow…
The Word on Ulitskaya: Reviewing Ulitskaya’s The Funeral Party in The New York Times Book Review, M.G. Lord writes, “In less acerbic hands, The Funeral Party might have been a dull snapshot of a refugee community. As presented by Ulitskaya, it is riotously funny -- a quirky, tender story whose themes of love, loss and identity soar over the boundaries of language and geography.”
Ulitskaya on Ulitskaya: When asked in a 2012 interview with PEN if she was surprised at how Daniel Stein, Interpreter was received in Russia, Ulitskaya said, “Yes, the staggering success of the book. I was convinced that I was writing a book that would only appeal to a narrow circle of highly cultured, broad-minded people. But as it turned out, the book also attracted a much broader readership and audiences that I wasn’t counting on at all.”
On Writing: When PEN asked Ulitskaya in a 2012 interview how she decided to write Daniel Stein as a mix of narrative and documents, she answered, in part, “I think the most accurate answer I can give is that the book itself decided to be like that. I had trouble writing it for many years precisely because I couldn’t find the right format for such a difficult conversation. There’s an expression in Russian, ‘It’s the retinue that makes the king.’ Well, I needed to create the right retinue of characters to cast light on my Daniel, my dear and beloved protagonist, whose appearance and entire demeanor were otherwise quite ordinary.”
Ulitskaya Recommends: In an interview with Russian Newspaper in February 2011, Ulitskaya discussed her respect for Lev Tolstoy, saying “I love his books, the big novels and the little stories, for example the brilliant story ‘Alyosha the Pot’.” She also called Tolstoy a “great commentator on Russian history,” saying she reads and rereads his War and Peace. In a 2012 interview with the magazine Medved, Ulitskaya mentioned enjoying works by anthropologist Bruce Chatwin.
Translating Ulitskaya: When asked about challenges of translating a bestseller like Daniel Stein, Arch Tait said in an interview with the PEN American Center Web site, “It’s less a challenge than a delight! This is an epic novel, by a profoundly thoughtful writer. It moves through Poland, Russia, Belorussia, Germany, America, Palestine, Israel, and the Vatican, so that in purely technical terms there were a lot of names and titles to be checked, a lot of scriptural quotations to be located and names of religious festivals to get right, but otherwise Ludmila writes elegant classical Russian prose which is a joy to translate. I hope the English-speaking world will find it as fascinating as it has proved to Russians and many other nationalities.”
Photo Credit: Dmitry Rozhkov, Creative Commons