Friday, November 14, 2014

A Week Like Any Other Novellas and Stories by Natalya Baranskaya

Natalya Baranskaya is considered one of the Soviet Union's finest short story writers.  Most of her work was written in the 1960's but were eventually translated into English after the Soviet's fall.

A Week Like Any Other: Novellas and Stories is a collection of short stories. They are mostly about women and their lives in Soviet Russia.  It's important to remember she wrote these stories and they were popular in the Soviet Union during her lifetime.  Therefore don't expect any commentary on the harshness of living under a totalitarian regime.

Nevertheless, she does manage to convey the challenges people had trying to combine the ingredients every human wants for a meaningful life:  work, family, friendships.  Her writing is fluid and funny at times but mostly poignant.  It occurred to me that these stories couldn't really be classified as propaganda pieces because they don't spout tired cliches about how blissfully utopian life is under Communist rule.  I wonder if because, living inside that world, Branskaya thought she was presenting an idealistic life without realizing how hard that life was compared to Western countries.

In the first story, the best one I think, A Week Like Any Other, the narrator, a young woman, describes each day and hour of her week.  The pressures of getting up, getting the kids ready for school, breakfast for everyone, rush to work, rush to lunch, rush home to make a late dinner, get kids to bed, start over.

Inside that framework we see the woman's relationship with her husband --strained-- her children--neglected, although no more than any child who spends most of his childhood in daycare--her co-workers, the pressures to succeed and not miss any work regardless of her health or children sick.  She stays late, perpetually trying to get on top of her work, never quite succeeding.  

The story sounds tedious, but it is really quite interesting.  You are the invisible party to her life.  Sympathizing with her kids as they cry for her, hoping she and her husband stick it out, hoping she gets her work done and not get fired.

The other stories are shorter and perhaps not as interesting other than they show life in the Soviet Union.  One of the stories is much like the first one except it is told from a man's perspective.  A man who is trying to get ahead at work but is having to kow tow to ambitious bosses, watch what he says or how he reacts so there isn't a government investigation, and finally having to hide in exile until different leaders come into power that make it safe for him to return to work. 

  The government inspectors are not presented as people to be feared but rather as father figures who "take care" of everyone to make things right.  Nevertheless, there is an element of fear in knowing that there is an umbrella of authority watching every trite thing you do.  

I'm surprised the author got away with exposing such obvious intrusive tactics at the hands of the government.  Maybe this kind of intrusion was so normal under Soviet policy that it occurred to neither her or government censors there was anything wrong or abnormal about it.

What disturbed me was noticing how not very different life in America has become with all our "accountability" to government regulations.  We're not too far behind totalitarian regimes.

The remaining stories are about young women in love, not always requited, a young girl who wants to live with her father instead of her mother until she realizes he has mistresses, and a girl with a bad reputation in her village and how she copes with it, also how she causes it.

Each story provides a colorful view of Russian/ Soviet culture.  I don't know if I would read anything else by the author but I did enjoy this collection. 

1 comment:

  1. Great commentary Sharon.

    It is ironic that stories about tedium can be so interesting. Perhaps it is not the tedium itself but the way that it affects people that make these tales appealing.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.