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The Big Green Tent, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015, (translated from the Russian by Bela Shayeviich, orig pub in Russia, 2011) 573 pp
Summary from Goodreads: The Big Green Tent is the kind of book the term “Russian novel” was invented for. A sweeping saga, it tells the story of three school friends who meet in Moscow in the 1950s and go on to embody the heroism, folly, compromise, and hope of the Soviet dissident experience.
Imagine you are a boy growing up in 1950s Soviet Moscow. You are just a bit outside the norm for a schoolboy in those times, the type who is bullied, the type who has dreams about how his life might go. You find two other boys like you and form a bond that lasts for a lifetime.
Better yet, the three of you find yourselves in a class taught by a man who can bring literature alive and who takes you under his wing. You learn that not all of life needs to be lived in fear of the KGB, in lock step to Soviet rules and plans.
So do Ilya, who loves photography, Mikha and his bent towards writing poems, and Sanya, lost in the wonder of music, become touchstones for each other. Stalin dies, there is a moment of leniency when Khrushchev comes to power, and for young people the dissident life is the thing. People still betray others who are then sent to prison camps. Maybe because these things happen daily and young people often hate injustice and desire change, they believe they can make a difference.
Despite the continuing horrors of the times, this is a great novel in the tradition of great Russian literature but set in our times and written by a woman! Ludmila Ulitskaya revels in story telling and has clearly thought deeply about her country and the souls of the Russian people.
Her novel is filled with many characters, with the thrill of defying authority, with love and loss, joy and sorrow, bravery and cowardice. The pages fly by. No wonder she is one of Russia's most popular writers.
(The Big Green Tent is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)