by Lydia Chukovskaya
Translated by Aline Werth
Preface by Dr Helen Tilly
From the blurb:
"One of the few surviving contemporaneous accounts of the Great Purge, Sofia Petrovna is an intense, brave, brief piece of writing composed secretly in a school notebook in lilac ink during the winter of 1939-40."
"...the genius of the book is the subtle way Sofia Petrovna, and the reader, sees the horror of Stalin's Purges unfolding against a background of complete and utter ordinariness."
|The endpaper for Persephone Books' new edition of Sofia Petrovna is taken from a cotton print called 'Construction Site', a cotton print dating from between 1920-1930, probably designed by O Bogoslovskaya|
Sofia Petrovna is a bleak yet totally absorbing novel which lays bare the stark truths of life in 1930s Stalinist Russia. It tells the chilling story of Sofia, a doctor’s widow working as a typist in Leningrad, who is a devoted mother to her engineer son, Kolya. When she loses him to the horror of the Stalinist state she spirals into madness. The prose is lean; it is a story told simply and truthfully, and its power rests in its limited scale and relentless mundanity. There is a certain fluidity to the characters, a blurring at the edges, and as a result the reader understands that they could be any man or any woman – the specific becomes universal.
The novel portrays a system where patriots are arrested on a whim, where those who dare to think for themselves or fall victim to misplaced rumours are destroyed, jailed, or lose what little sanity they have and are driven to suicide. There is a systematic withholding of information – any information – and mothers, sisters, husbands and brothers, queue for days, weeks and moths to try to find out what has happened to their sons, fathers, daughters and wives.
Sofia Petrovna reveals a world where self-deception is necessary to survive – where citizens believe the Party would never misinform them and the state doesn’t arrest those who are innocent. It examines the perils of blind trust, the dangers of denial and the power of government lies. Chukovskaya herself said: ‘[Sofia is] a personification of those who seriously believed that what took place was rational and just. “We don’t imprison people for no reason” Lose that faith and you’re lost; nothing’s left but to hang yourself’. Sadly, her novel is as relevant now as it was when it was first written.
(Published 19th October 2023 by Persephone Books - www.persephonebooks.co.uk)