cover image The Girl from the Metropol Hotel

The Girl from the Metropol Hotel

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, trans. from the Russian by Anna Summers. Penguin, $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-14-312997-4

In this memoir, acclaimed novelist Petrushevskaya (There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby) recounts her impoverished Moscow childhood with a blend of dark humor and clipped, piercing realism. She was born in 1938 to a family of Bolshevik intellectuals who lived in Moscow’s preeminent Metropol Hotel. Petrushevskaya, along with her mother, aunt, and grandmother, soon had to flee the city for Kuibyshev in 1941, when the family was deemed “enemies of the people.” Leaving Moscow on a cattle car at the start of the war was downright luxurious compared to the near-starvation that Petrushevskaya and her family suffered for years to come, with Petrushevskaya taking to begging on the street, often pretending to be an orphan or disabled. But despite the hardships she endured, her impish spirit flourished and she ran around the streets, shoeless but never beaten down. After returning to Moscow at age nine, a wild child, she was sent to a series of summer camps in an effort to civilize her (they were not entirely successful); despite mediocre grades in college, she still managed to squeak by with a degree in journalism. The definition of incorrigible and indomitable, both on the page and in her life, Petrushevskaya shows that even in the harshest of circumstances, spirited determination can prevail. (Feb.)