Friday 27 January 2023

Ulitzkaja, Ljudmila "Medea and Her Children"

Ulitzkaja, Ljudmila "Medea and Her Children" (Russian: Медея и её дети/ Medeja i eë deti) - 1996

This book was suggested to us by a book club member. It was said that Ukrainian history would be presented here through a family from Crimea. Well, after the description I had imagined something else and was glad to have read "Ukraine verstehen" [Understanding Ukraine: History, Politics and Struggle for Freedom] by Steffen Dobbert beforehand. I had heard a lot about the Ukraine, including the problems with Russia, long before they first annexed Crimea and then invaded the country, but it was good to hear more details that also helped to understand this book.

Medea is the good soul of the Sinopli family. She lives in Crimea, where her ancestors came from, and every summer the family comes to visit. Not only are they now scattered all over the Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries, they also all have different problems and motives, as is usual in large families, which lead them to Aunt Medea. The family also has many different origins. While she would probably describe herself primarily as Greek, her ancestors come from many other places as well.

At the beginning of the book we are shown a family tree, which I think could have been a bit more detailed, especially since surnames, patronyms, nicknames, etc. are used again and again, which can lead to confusion. Also, the author mentions in the foreword that she is talking about her family, but I think this is more of a novel based on her family.

The various characters are described very well, you feel somehow in the middle of the family. In that respect it is an excellent book. I had already read "The Green Tent" by Ljudmila Ulitzkaja and found it simply remarkable. I probably also put too much expectation into this book, or was misprepared, but I didn't have the same feeling as I did with the first book. And most book club members had the same opinion. But that won't stop me from reading more books by this author.

From the back cover:

"Medea Georgievna Sinoply Mendez is an iconic figure in her Crimean village, the last remaining pure-blooded Greek in a family that has lived on that coast for centuries. Childless Medea is the touchstone of a large family, which gathers each spring and summer at her home. There are her nieces (sexy Nike and shy Masha), her nephew Georgii (who shares Medea’s devotion to the Crimea), and their friends. In this single summer, the languor of love will permeate the Crimean air, hearts will be broken, and old memories will float to consciousness, allowing us to experience not only the shifting currents of erotic attraction and competition, but also the dramatic saga of this family amid the forces of dislocation, war, and upheaval of twentieth-century Russian life."