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A Quiet Pealing of Bells


I haven’t read much by Russian Booker Prize-winner Ludmila Ulitskaya, but it seems I’ve been remiss. A friend sent me this paragraph from “Sonechka,” translated by Arch Tait:

And there was about it something akin to a moment of illumination when he had gone out for a pee one night. Avigdor’s little Rubim–who, with the passing of the years, had been transformed into Robert Victorovich–had thrown back his head and seen all the stars of the universe looking down at him from the sky with live inquisitive eyes, and a quiet pealing of bells filled the firmament like the folds of a cloak, and he, a small boy, seemed to hold in his hands all the bellpulls of the world, each with a little bell at the end of it which rang piercingly, and he himself was the heart of this gigantic musical box, with the whole world obedient to the beating of his heart, to his every sigh, to the pounding of his blood and the coursing of his warm pee. He lowered the hem of his nightshirt again, raised his hands slowly upward as if conducting the celestial concert, and the music flowed through him, a wave of sweetness permeating his very bones ….

Readers of last week’s posts that revolved around Joseph O’Neill’s use of ‘firmament’ will appreciate Ulitskaya’s use of the word. But beyond that detail, the larger picture of peeing beneath a starry sky is pretty astonishingly wonderful, with the stars as “live inquisitive eyes” making me want to read, very much, the rest of this collection.

This weekend, why not explore another of the stories from Sonechka: A Novella and Stories, “The Orlov-Sokolovs,” in the version that appeared in The New Yorker in 2005. It begins:

At first glance, they didn’t make much of an impression. Both seemed rather small, they weren’t particularly striking, and they were so taken with each other that they had no time for the rest of the world. A second glance, however, told you that they were kingpins, and after that it was impossible to recall the impression they had made at first. Nobody at the university could remember a time when they were not an item. They had met while taking the entrance exam, and even before the results went up, the two of them had hightailed it to his dacha. They returned five days later, on July 21st, the day the enrollment list was posted, and went straight to the dreaded bulletin board, which left all but three students trembling with fear. One of the three was Tonya Kolosova, an uninspired swot and, as they subsequently learned, the dean’s niece. They—Andrey Orlov and Tanya Sokolova—were the other two.

You can continue it here. I propose Ludmila Ulitskaya as your Weekend Read.

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August 2021

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