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The Still Life of Love

It is all interconnected. Directly or indirectly. Especially human fates. Mostly with a great love involved or a total lack of it. Marina Stepnova, a popular modern Russian author, skillfully explains this chain of dependencies in her bestselling novel The Women of Lazarus. Published in English last year, it falls into the hands of worldwide reading audience.

The novel is a family saga starting in 1918 and finishing in almost our days. Though one could hardly name it a ‘family’: no true family attributes or even relationship exposed. And there’s nothing biblical implied by Lazarus. Not so sure about the motive of resurrection though. Probably the metaphor might be envisaged in the actual lives of three female characters, however this transformation does not necessarily turns into a positive outcome. But you better read for yourselves.

A key bridge connecting three female portraits is Lazarus Lindt, a scientific genius, deprived of all emotions except love. Being totally monogamous in this sense, he tries to keep his love object beside him forever, regardless that he’s not loved as a man in return. The first time Lindt meets the love of his life is in 1918 when he’s only eighteen and crosses the threshold of his mentor’s apartment. It’s his friend and workmate’s wife Marusia who’s already forty-nine. A childless woman immediately accepts Lazarus as her son she’s been waiting and praying for all her life. But Lindt feels not a motherly love towards Marusia, though never discloses his feelings, believing she’ll live beside him forever. And probably she lingers around even after her inevitable death.

The second time Lazarus falls in love it’s a totally opposite situation. Now he is fifty-eight when he accidentally enters the institute’s laboratory where a young and beautiful seventeen year old Galochka works as an assistant. He feels overwhelmed by a great love again. But the same moment totally smashes Galochka’s life and dreams into pieces. Forced into marriage with an outstanding Soviet scientist Galochka loses everything, including her life. The only thing she gains is a pure hatred towards her genius of a husband, which changes her forever into a solid piece of ice, deprived of compassion, solicitude and love.

Probably the worst thing is that her granddaughter Lidochka has to pay with her own miserable life for the shattered dreams of her granny. She is five when her life goes down the tubes. Her mother drowns in the Black See during their family vacation and Lidochka is left alone with her heartless young grandmother Galina Petrovna (ex Galochka). Growing up unwanted and unloved, she totally loses her character and obeys to whatever life brings on her. But just to a final point…

The novel is not just an attempt to portray three different women and their fate. It explicitly depicts the entire Soviet era from its very beginning (the year after Revolution), Stalin’s repressions, World War II and the tragic follow-up, which broke the fates of millions of innocent people. The ones who have been through this hell would pick up the mocking irony expressed by the writer, though Western readers might not get to the core. And not because they are worse readers but because they can’t even imagine it could be true.

Moreover, the style the novel is written in is a true art of word poetry constructed into a continuous calm flow of stories, thoughts, dialogues and imaginations. With all respect to the novel’s translators, this book would never sound the same in any other language, except the original. Because it is an inseparable part of the impact the novel carries in itself.

But the language of love is universal and any reader would be capable of experience the tangle of feelings the main characters get themselves involved in, sadly with no way out.

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