|Sofia Petrovna / Lydia Chukovskaya;|
trans. from the Russian by Aline Werth
Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1994, c1965.
In this society, a whisper holds power and a person can go from powerful government official to prisoner in a day. This uncertainty makes everyone afraid to trust, afraid to connect, even splitting spouses and families.
Sofia Petrovna is a simple woman, a widow who works at a stable job as a typist at a publisher's house. But the jealousies between office mates change as Stalinist propaganda grows -- now those jealousies and desire for someone else's job, someone's apartment, can lead to denunciations based only on wishes and dislikes.
Sofia has a son, a young man who she is very proud and protective of. He's become an engineer and been sent off to some camp somewhere to work. He comes up with a great innovation and is praised in the newspapers. Sofia feels relief; surely this will be enough to save him from any purge.
But no. He's arrested, and Sofia then spends all of her time waiting in line at the prison, believing that he is innocent so of course, therefore, as soon as the officials understand this her son will be freed. She doesn't grasp that innocence has nothing to do with anything any longer.
She doesn't get to see him, and hopes for a letter from him so that she can send him something -- food, clothing, anything he needs -- to keep him well. But she waits and waits. And in the meantime there are more suspicions, more disappearances, and a close friend who commits suicide rather than continue. Sofia is slowly becoming adapted to the atmosphere of the purges.
And then she does get a letter. And the final few pages are shocking, terrifying, and immensely sad. I didn't expect what was coming but it says so, so much about this kind of society in just a few words and actions.
This is an immensely striking book, powerful and truthful in a way that feels very personal. I'd recommend it to anyone, especially now.