“Auntie Motia”, not exactly an Aunty

“Auntie Motia”, not exactly an Aunty
“Auntie Motia”, not exactly an Aunty
Astrel (2012)
ISBN 978-5-271-44970-3
512 pages
Maya Kucherskaya is the author of the once bestselling humorous and somewhat conventional collection of short stories entitled, Faith & Humor : To Be Read in Times of Despair alongside her novel The Rain God. Her new book Antie Motia, which has recently been published by Moscow-based Astrel Publisher, has already inflamed emotion and sparked fierce debate. .

Readers enamoured with the book hailed Kucherskaya as heir to the Great Russian literary tradition and proclaimed it as signifying the emergence of the 21st Century Russian novel. Of course there were dissenters but on balance more are in favour rather than against the spirit of her work. We would say “Plenty of promises, but not much delivery”.

Marina, the lead character in the book, is a thirty year old proof reader at one of Moscow’s daily newspapers, well educated, refined and hails from a good family. Her husband also calls her Matryosha, Motia or Auntie Motia depending on his mood. She raised in a single parent family with her mother managing to instil in her the delights of the best of Russian literature.

Motia found life difficult to deal with especially with her dull job and unhappy marriage. Her husband Nikolai was not terribly bothered with his wife’s problems; in fact he did not give much thought to them although it could not be said that he was a particularly bad man, just somewhat disinterested. Of course she would have left him if it had not been for the child as always; she would have slammed the door behind her and never looked back. Things are different with children in the equation.

Bang in the middle of her troubled life Marina meets Lanin, a journalist of fame, a TV star at the peak of his popularity and also a damn good writer. He is cosmopolitan and likes to roam the world but with a somewhat hippie attitude to guide him and to also keep him in check. After a glimpse at Lanin’s work Marina falls in love and Lanin feels the same about her. They become kindred spirits with a sense of unity, understanding each other completely. But do they have any future together? She is married with child, he has a wife dying of cancer and a young daughter.

From the beginning of the novel it is impossible to believe that Marina is capable of proper feelings, which seems odd as Marina is held in high regard. Her husband recalls how he fell madly in love with her and one can see how much her son adores her. Her friends and her mother have only positive things to say about her. They speak of her as a lovely, refined young lady of infinite charm.

It is unclear how this image is spoiled. Is it the boredom from which Marina suffers almost like Pushkin’s Tatiana? Tatiana was young, intact and inexperienced, something which could not be said about Marina. From the outset she treated her husband with disgust. One may accept Kucherskaya’s mundane explanation that the girl was a virgin and did not understand sex, when they got married at a young age, but complete rejection does not fit the young lady at all.

One thing though is for sure: the unhappy gloomy and bored thirty-year-old with an awkward nickname becomes an aunty. The author claims that all is psychological and that everyday life has destroyed her. It seems like Kucherskaya is trying to make us feel sorry for the main character, however underneath she finds her repulsive.

Something is not right with the structure of the novel. The novel within a novel that describes ancient times and the life of one orthodox priest’s family, does not fit into the story of modern times. It is obvious that current life is being contrasted with the past, similar to the author’s tactical attempts to talk about faith and family values.

It is difficult to say why the book is so coarsely written. Kucherskaya cannot be accused of insufficient skill, although one might find some stylistic faults. The problem is that the book falls into unequal bits and is written from a very feminine perspective, in the worst sense of this word.

After her two completely different but equally brilliant works Faith & Humor and The Rain God it is sad that Maya Kucherskaya does not attempt to write something fresh and totally different but chooses instead to try to fuse the ideas of her previous two works into one. As a result, the image of the female philologist does not turn out as remarkable and moving, as the character from The Rain God, but simply as just plain dull.

Reviewed by the Let’s Read Magazine
Translated by Janina Surowiec, Ivan Slade