The Funeral party by Ludmilla Ulitskaya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Funeral Party by Ludmilla Ulitskaya

Russian fiction

Original title -Веселые похороны

Translator – Cathy Porter

Source – personal copy

when the Nobel was due a few weeks ago there were a few betting sites giving odds less than normal but as ever I marked a few of the names that I hadn’t read and haven’t  got books by and the Russian writer Ludmilla Ulitskaya was high on the list and has had a lot of books translated into English over the years. Her first novella was published in 1992 in Russian she has won the Russian booker and was up for the old Man booker prizes and has won awards around the world. She is known for not delving into the past of her characters but the present and moving forward with the situations they are in.

The heat was terrible, with one hundred percent humidity. It was as if the whole of this great city, with its inhuman buildings, its magical parks, its different coloured people and dogs, had reached the point od a phase transition and at any momentits semi-liquefied people would float up int the soupy atomsphere.

The shower was permanently occupied, with a que of people standing outside, For a long time they hadn’t bothered with clothes, although Valentina wore a bra to prevent her large breasts chafing in the heat; normally she never wore one. Everyone was dripping wet, the sweat failed to avaporate from their bodies, towels didn;t dry and hair had to be dried with Hair dryer.

The opening lines give a view of the heat that summer in New york in Alik’s  small apartment

The book follows the last days of a Russian Emigres Alik an artist as he is dying. Those gathered around him remember him and also in the background there is the Uprising in Moscow where tanks came into the city in 1991 as it is a red hot summer in New York. As his wire Nina a drinker but also religous wants him to come back into the church. He has done artworks around the last supper and is an agnostic but will agree if there is also a rabbi with the priest! Alik has fallen on hard times and his bills are being sorted by another of the women around his bed Irina she maybe shows how some Russian Emigres came to thrive in the US. She was an Acrobat and former lover of Alik but has become a reasonable succesful lawyer and pays her old friend’s bills. The woman he was meant to marry in the US Valentina is there a marriage that never happened. Maria an older woman a motherly figure that is trying to save him with her mix of old fashion herbal remedies. One few other men is Firma a Russian doctor reduce to a lab assistant as he isn’t able to pass his US medical exams. What we see is how each has interacted with this Artist that until now was the glue between these people and a vibrant man to be around. As they visit him this hot summer some of his old lady friends get too hot and a strip off this is all part of the comic side of this book.

Father victor arrived at about nine, without socks and in sandals, carrying an attache case and a bulging plastic bag. He was wearing a baggy hirt tucked into light, shortish trousers, and a baseball cap with the innocuous letters “N” and “Y” on it

He tyook off the cap as he came in and rested it on the crook of his arm, greeting everyone with a smile which wrinkled his short nose.

Because it was Saturday there was a large number of visitors: valentina, giola with the little grey dostoyevskt under her arm, Irina, Maika, Faika, Libin and his girlfriend, all the usual crowd. Also present were the Beginsky sisters, recently arrived from Washington

The crowd around his dying bed every day.especially at the weekend

This book captures the myriad of emigres experiences from the settle and succesful to those broken by coming to the US to follow there American dream Alik himself has seen both sides of this world since his arrival in America. He is a womans man given by the women around him in his last days his wife the woman that should have been his wife his ex-lover and the motherly figure all have deep connections to this man this is what Ludmila does so well in this book and that is build up the layers and connection in each characters life. There is a comic tone at times in this book it isn’t all doom and gloom in this small room as some of the women around strip off shocking some of his other visitors. Lisa reviewed this book a number of years ago, I said then I must get a copy I finally did and enjoyed it tis is a writer I will be reading again at some point Nobel win or not !!

 

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