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Lyudmila Petrushevskaya

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Lyudmila Petrushevskaya
In New York City, November 2009.
In New York City, November 2009.
Born (1938-05-26) 26 May 1938 (age 86)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
GenreFiction, drama, film, songwriting, singing, visual arts

Lyudmila Stefanovna Petrushevskaya (Russian: Людмила Стефановна Петрушевская; born 26 May 1938) is a Russian writer, novelist and playwright. She began her career writing short stories and plays, which were often censored by the Soviet government,[1] and following perestroika, published a number of well-respected works of prose.[1]

She is best known for her plays, novels, including The Time: Night, and collections of short stories, notably There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby. In 2017, she published a memoir, The Girl from the Metropol Hotel.[2] She is considered one of Russia's premier living literary figures, having been compared in style to Anton Chekhov[2] and in influence to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.[3] Her works have won a number of accolades, including the Russian Booker Prize, the Pushkin Prize, and the World Fantasy Award.[4]

Her creative interests and successes are wide-ranging, as she is also a singer and has worked in film animation, screenwriting, and as a painter.[5]

Early life


Petrushevskaya was born in Moscow, USSR, on 26 May 1938, in the stately Metropol Hotel.[2][3][6] She lived there with her family until 1941, when her father, a Bolshevik intellectual, was declared an enemy of the state. He abandoned Petrushevskaya and her mother, who were forced to flee the city for Kuibyshev (now Samara).[3][6] Following this, Petrushevskaya recounts a harrowing early childhood spent in group homes, on the streets, and later in communal apartments.[2][3][6] She states in The Girl from the Metropol Hotel that she earned the nickname "The Moscow Matchstick" from other children during this time, due to her thinness.[6]

At age nine, Petrushevskaya and her mother returned to Moscow, where she spent the rest of her childhood and adolescence. She attended Moscow State University, from which she graduated with a degree in journalism.[6]



Petrushevskaya is regarded as one of Russia's most prominent contemporary writers, and one of the most acclaimed writers at work in Eastern Europe; Publishers Weekly has stated that she is "generally considered to be one of the finest living Russian writers".[7] In recent decades, her work has become increasingly well-known in the West.[8] Her writing combines postmodernist trends with the psychological insights and parodic touches of writers such as Anton Chekhov.[5]

She spent most of her early career until perestroika writing and putting on plays rather than novels and stories, as the censorship of theater was often in practice less strict than that of written work.[8] She recounts, nevertheless, being frequently monitored by the KGB,[3] and facing resistance from Soviet censors to having her work performed.[citation needed] In an interview with the Financial Times, she recalls presenting an early work of prose to the prominent literary journal Novy Mir, and having it deemed too risky to publish: “They said they couldn’t protect me. Those were very bloody times ... If they had published me I would have had a terrible sort of fame. It would have been dangerous. I would have ended up in prison."[3] Nevertheless, she produced a number of respected plays, one of the most prominent of which is Andante. Additionally, in 1979, she was a co-writer for the influential Russian animated film, Tale of Tales; her influence in Russian film continued when she served as a jury member in the 3rd Open Russian Festival of Animated Film in 1998.

Following Gorbachev-era governmental reforms, she began to publish novels and short stories that she had previously kept to herself. With her first collection of stories, Immortal Love, she "became a household name virtually overnight," and published in Novy Mir as she had not been able to only a couple of decades earlier.[3][9] Other later works include the novels The Time: Night (1992) and The Number One, both short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize. Since the late 1980s her plays, stories and novels have been published in more than 30 languages, and she has earned a number of accolades. In 2003 she was awarded the Pushkin Prize in Russian literature by the Alfred Toepfer Foundation in Germany. She was additionally awarded the Russian State Prize for arts in 2004, the Stanislavsky Award in 2005, and the Triumph Prize in 2006.

There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby, a short story collection, was published in the U.S. by Penguin Books in October 2009 and became a New York Times Book Review bestseller in December of that year. In 2010, it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.[4] The first major translation of her work by an American publisher, the stories often contain mystical or allegorical elements which are used to illuminate bleak Soviet and post-Soviet living conditions. The collection of stories has been well reviewed, buttressing Petrushevskaya's reputation in the English-speaking world. An article in Dissent called the collection "a striking introduction to the author's work":

"Petrushevskaya's stories could easily be read as bleak grotesques, populated by envious neighbors, selfish adolescents, and parents who overcompensate with exaggerated love. But ultimately, Petrushevskaya's skillful juxtapositions yield glints of light. Resilience and ingenuity thread through the hardship, whether in the form of forgiveness or love. Such traces of humanity are starker—and brighter—because of the darkness that surrounds them."[10]

This collection was followed in 2013 by a second English language book, There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself,[11] and the 2017 memoir The Girl from the Metropol Hotel.[2]

Petrushevskaya tends to shy away from praise of her literary achievements--in a 1993 interview with Sally Laird, she said, "Russia is a land of women Homers, women who tell their stories orally, just like that, without inventing anything. They're extraordinarily talented storytellers. I'm just a listener among them."[12] She has also responded, according to Viv Gruskop, to her fame by stating, "It has nothing to do with me."[3]

In her late 60s, Petrushevskaya started a singing career, creating new lyrics for her favorite songs. Since 2008, she has been regularly performing as a cabaret singer in Moscow (from nightclubs to major venues such as the Moscow House of Music) and across Russia, as well as internationally. She is known to sing French and German jazz songs, and recently has begun writing her own.[3]

Petrushevskaya is also known as a visual artist; her portraits, nudes, and still lifes have been shown in Russia's major museums, including the Tretyakov Gallery, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and State Museum of Literature, and private galleries.[3]


  • Immortal Love (1987) [13][14]
  • The Time: Night (1992) [7]
  • The Number One
  • There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby (2009)
  • There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories (2013)
  • There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved her Children Until They Moved Back In (2014)
  • The Girl from the Metropol Hotel (2017)
  • Kidnapped: A Story of Crimes (2023) [1]


  1. ^ a b c Wilson, Jennifer (5 October 2023). "Mother Russia". The New York Review of Books.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Nonfiction Book Review: The Girl from the Metropol Hotel by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, trans. from the Russian by Anna Summers. Penguin, $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-14-312997-4". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Groskop, Viv. "Russia's last writer," Financial Times, 14 January 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2017
  4. ^ a b World Fantasy Convention (2010). "2010 World Fantasy Award Winners & Nominees". Archived from the original on 27 October 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Complete Interview with Ludmilla Petrushevskaya | Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e Lyudmila, Petrushevskaya (2017). The girl from the Metropol Hotel : growing up in communist Russia. New York, New York. ISBN 978-0143129974. OCLC 950444041.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ a b "Fiction Book Review: The Time: Night by Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Author, Liudmila Petrushevskaia, Author, Ludm Petrushevskaya, Author Pantheon Books $20 (155p) ISBN 978-0-679-43616-4". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  8. ^ a b Summers, Anna (11 July 2017). "The Down-and-Out Muses of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  9. ^ Schwartz, Alexandra (2 December 2009). "Sometimes a Small Redemption: On Ludmilla Petrushevskaya". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  10. ^ Ingrid Norton. "Truth through Fairy Tale: Despair and Hope in the Fiction of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya." Dissent Magazine, October 20th 2009 http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/truth-through-fairy-tale-despair-and-hope-in-the-fiction-of-ludmilla-petrushevskaya
  11. ^ Schappell, Elissa (15 February 2013). "Women on the Verge". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 10 February 2023.
  12. ^ Laird, Sally (1999). Voices of Russian Literature: Interviews with Ten Contemporary Writers. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-815181-4.
  13. ^ Woll, Josephine (21 September 1993). "The Minotaur in the Maze: Remarks on Lyudmila Petrushevskaya". World Literature Today. 67 (1): 125–130. doi:10.2307/40148873. JSTOR 40148873.
  14. ^ "Immortal Love". Kirkus Reviews. 1996.

"Who needs it" (The film based on the play by Ludmila Petrushevskaya, director Vladimir Nepevny)