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There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales [Kindle Edition]

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya , Keith Gessen , Anna Summers
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the World Fantasy Award
One of New York Magazine's 10 Best Books of the Year
One of NPR’s 5 Best Works of Foreign Fiction

The literary event of Halloween: a book of otherworldly power from Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer

Vanishings and aparitions, nightmares and twists of fate, mysterious ailments and supernatural interventions haunt these stories by the Russian master Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, heir to the spellbinding tradition of Gogol and Poe. Blending the miraculous with the macabre, and leavened by a mischievous gallows humor, these bewitching tales are like nothing being written in Russia—or anywhere else in the world—today.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Masterworks of economy and acuity, these brief, trenchant tales by Russian author and playwright Petrushevskaya, selected from her wide-ranging but little translated oeuvre over the past 30 years, offer an enticement to English readers to seek out more of her writing. The tales explore the inexplicable workings of fate, the supernatural, grief and madness, and range from adroit, straightforward narratives to bleak fantasy. Frequently on display are the decrepit values of the Soviet system, as in The New Family Robinson, where a family tries to outsmart everyone by relocating to a ramshackle cabin in the country. Domestic problems get powerful and tender treatment; in My Love, a long-suffering wife and mother triumphs over her husband's desire for another woman. Darker material dominates the last section of the book, with tortuous stories, heavy symbolism and outright weirdness leading to strange and unexpected places. Petrushevskaya's bold, no-nonsense portrayals find fresh, arresting expression in this excellent translation. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"A revelation-it is like reading late-Tolstoy fables, with all of the master's directness and brutal authority. . . . A wonderful book."
-James Wood, The New Yorker Book Bench's Best Books of the Year

"Arresting . . . Incantatory . . . Timeless and troubling . . . This exquisite collection [is] vital, eerie and freighted with the moral messages that attend all cautionary tales. . . . [Petrushevskaya] is hailed as one of Russia's best living writers. This slim volume shows why. Again and again, in surprisingly few words, her witchy magic foments an unsettling brew of conscience and consequences."
-The New York Times Book Review

"The book could catch fire in your hands and you'd still try to be turning pages. It's giving me nightmares, in the nicest way possible."
-Jessica Crispin, Bookslut

"Thrillingly strange . . . Brilliantly disturbing . . . The fact that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is Russia's premier writer of fiction today proves that the literary tradition that produced Dostoyevsky, Gogol, and Babel is alive and well."
-Taylor Antrim, The Daily Beast

"What distinguishes the author is her compression of language, her use of detail and her powerful visual sense. . . . Petrushevskaya is certainly a writer of particular gifts."
-Time Out New York

"Fantastic . . . Spooky, compelling . . . Reading [it] was similar to finding a long-lost friend. . . . I would love to summarize every single story and explain its brilliance, but I'd rather you go out, buy this book, and read it for yourself. It's simply one of the best books I've read in quite some time."
-Jessica Ferri, Bookslut

"Macabre, fantastical doses of reality turned inside out by Soviet oppression, a surreal concoction of a society of 'New Robinson Crusoes' shadow-chasing themselves to the far corners of oblivion, deliciously and wildly told."
-Philip Schulz, The New Yorker Book Bench

"Awesomely creepy."
--New York

"The most attention-grabbing title of the year...Undeniably seductive...Her suspenseful writing calls to mind the creepiness of Poe and the psychological acuity (and sly irony) of Chekhov. And when she goes full-on gruesome...well, Stephen King should watch his back."

"As bleak as Beckett, as astringent as witch hazel, as poetic as your finest private passing moments...There Once Lives a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby gave me nightmares. This celebrated Russian author is so disquieting that long after Solzhenitsyn had been published in the Soviet Union, her fiction was banned--even though nothing about it screams 'political' or 'dissident' or anything else. It just screams...If there's any justice, this humble paperback will be greeted as the pinnacle of modern literature that it is -but as Petrushevskaya would be the first to say, to hope for justice is to invite mockery. Better just to keep your head down and this."

"Mysteries, nightmares, magic: these stories are the fever dreams of a nation stricken by public disorder and personal anomie. They establish Ludmilla Petrushevskaya as one of the greatest writers in Russia today and a vital force in contemporary world literature."
--KEN KALFUS, author of A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

"Thrilling, delicious, and shuddersome. Lucky readers (I am one) reading Petrushevskaya for the first time will quickly recognize a master of the short story form, a kindred spirit to writers like Angela Carter and Yumiko Kurahashi. This is a feast of a book."
--KELLY LINK, author of Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen

"There is no other writer who can blend the absurd and the real in such a scary, amazing and wonderful way."
--LARA VAPNYAR, author of Ther Are Jews in My House and Memoirs of a Muse

"Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's deceptively simple tales unfold in a shadowy borderland between reality and nightmare, between life and death, where saints and witches walk alongside present-day murderers and drunks, where wintry woods and murky basements become matter-of-fact settings for the end of the world and Christ's second coming. This land is dark, haunted, often terrifying; but every ten or fifteen pages one is suddenly blinded by a bright flash of light-- some small act of humanity, some shy movement of soul, a heartbreaking moment of redemption or revelation--and the memory of that miraculous light lingers for days afterward. This is an extraordinary, powerful collection by a master of the Russian short story."
--OLGA GRUSHIN, author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov

Product Details

  • File Size: 497 KB
  • Print Length: 223 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Original edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002NT3B1Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,835 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Orchards of Unsual Possibilities" November 22, 2009
Twisted, ghostly, and apocalyptic describe these tales, with characters that are on the brink of madness or despair. Most start out like simple, but slightly off folk tales - "There once lived a woman whose son hanged himself," "There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life," "There once lived a girl who found herself in an unknown place, on a cold winter night."

Then suddenly the stories take us out of ordinary existence and into strange, nightmarish worlds, described by the author as "orchards of unusual possibilities."

Some recognizable tropes appear, but the landscape is completely unfamiliar and disconcerting. Instead of a child lost in the woods, we have a father with no children, a husband with no wife. He has no memory of who his family is and yet he keeps searching for them.

"There once lived a father who couldn't find his children. He went everywhere, asked everyone--had his little children come running in here? But whenever people responded with the simplest of questions--'What do they look like?' 'What are their names?' 'Are they boys or girls?'--he didn't know how to answer. He simply knew that his children were somewhere, and he kept looking."

What starts out seemingly as a ghost story, There's Someone in the House, becomes something quite different. Who or what is the woman in the house battling against? A ghost, her daughter or herself?

"...Someone is secretly, soundlessly creeping from room to room. That's how it seems.

The woman doesn't tell anyone about her poltergeist: It's still hiding, not knocking, not causing mischief, not setting anything on fire. The refrigerator isn't hooping around the apartment; the poltergeist isn't chasing her into a corner.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars scary fairy tales indeed. October 24, 2009
I'd heard good things about this book, so when I saw it at the bookstore the other day, I picked it up, and didn't put it down until I finished it that evening. The stories read more like fairy tales than traditional ghost stories. They all have an otherworldly quality, but sometimes the supernatural element does not appear until the end, and often she leaves questions unanswered. The worlds Petrushevskaya describes are bleak, spooky, and thoroughly believable. Unlike many short story collections, these stories never felt uneven. Each story is as good, if not better, than the one preceding it, and I imagine I will get even more out of the book when I read it a second time.

I'd definitely recommend this book to fans of Angela Carter of Kelly Link, or a horror buff looking to read something a little more "literary".
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderfully "odd" perspective November 13, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read a review of this book in the local paper but I have to admit, it was the title that lead me to buy it. The book is full of short stories that take you down a path and at the end you say "whoa, didn't see that coming." This author is someone I will definitely buy more of - she definitely has an off kilter view of the world.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting take on Russian life January 27, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This collection of stories with a darker edge is an interesting but not totally captivating take on Russian life during the Cold War period. The best stories are those rendered in fairy-tale format such as the title story,the stories that do not work as well are the "ghost" or dream-scape stories. These have the unsatisfying feel of being somehow too vague and incomplete. Perhaps it is more attributable to the choices made by the Editors of the book than to the Author,but the collection as a whole fails to hang together.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
One of the things I love about the reading group in my local independent bookstore is the fact that I get to discover new and different writers that I might never of heard of on my own. This contemporary short story collection, subtitled "Scary Fairy Tales", is an example of modern Russian literature and is indeed one of those wonderful finds. The 206-page book contains a full 19 stories, some of them only a few pages long. The stories are bizarre and unique and rather macabre, illustrating the bleakness of life in the Soviet Union. They all take a trip from reality and have post-modern touches. Yes, the stories are indeed rather gruesome, but they all have a grain of psychological insight and every one of them was succinct and clear, complete in itself and with all loose ends tied up.

Reading these stories brought me face to face with the writer's worldview and through her characters and I gained understanding of the landscape in which she wrote. There's the story of a family facing the end of the world, a story of daily life during an epidemic, a story of two ballerina sisters who were turned into one fat woman, a story of revenge, a story of jealousy and a story of life after death. These characters often depart from physical reality and find themselves struggling in strange places.

Each story evoked an emotional response in me. Mostly it was one of horror. But it was also one of respect for the writer's genius. This is not a pleasant read, but it is certainly worthwhile.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark as Night, But With Light as a Possibility August 30, 2010
Imagine Angela Carter's dark, surrealistic stories are even darker than they are. Got it? Now, go even darker. Now you've got the tone of Petrushevskaya's short tales. Set in Soviet era Russia, these stories explore extremes of poverty and despair. This is a world where there is never enough to eat, where if you have even a little bit you are at once a prime target for theft, where sons rob their mothers and neighbors plot murder.

These are surreal, magical tales. A number take place in that liminal place between life and death, and love can beat death. Some characters find themselves in strange places or even strange bodies. Are these events real, or are they illusions brought on by stress? Are the characters alive or dead? The author leaves us to decide for ourselves. Human relationships are more important than physical reality. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 2 months ago by Susan DeVecchis
5.0 out of 5 stars but I like it.
Thia authoress has a very interesting writing style, I've only read a little bit so far, but I like it.
Published 5 months ago by Robert Wilson
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky and Disturbing Stories
I can't say I "love" this book. It's well written. It's dark. The stories are evocative of Russia in the late Soviet period. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Eric C Schwartz
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark...very dark.
I grew up in a rural house full of dismembered antique dolls and taxidermied animals (seriously). This book felt like going home for a visit. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Stefanie Hutson
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting stories
I must say when a story depletes you, good or bad, the writer is doing something right. needless to say, I am depleted.
Published 14 months ago by Starbelle1030
1.0 out of 5 stars not like the reviews
I bought this book because the cover seemed really eerie and I was looking for some horror books in my life just to spice things up a bit. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Tiffanie pirault
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Love to read I was intrigued by this. Some of the stories were interesting, but not.really my cup og tea unfortunately.
Published 16 months ago by Catherine
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy/Horrow
Brilliant. The only book to which it compares is The Wakers (Volume 1). The stories in this book have hard-hitting messages that rival the message in The Wakers.
Published 17 months ago by Quarkreader
3.0 out of 5 stars Quirky collection with some gems
A rather quirky collection of modern fairy tales. Some stand out such as the story of the lady who carries around her droplet sized baby in a matchbox, and the secret or Marylene,... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Shivaji Das
5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy!
Stories are a combination of those written by Joyce Carol Oates and Edgar Allan Poe! Suspenseful, hilarious, and totally avante=guard. Excellent author.
Published on March 28, 2013 by Cheryl Port
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