There Once Lived a Woman, By Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

"There once lived a woman who was killed, then brought back to life." "There once lived a woman who was so fat, she couldn't fit in a taxi." Such weird, button-holing beginnings are typical of this collection of strange fables.

Divided into four sections – "Songs of the Eastern Savs", "Allegories", "Fairy Stories" and "Requiems" – they are full of sudden deaths and resurrections, bitter hardships and magical transformations. A family hides out in the woods, living on mushrooms, dandelions and goat's milk; it's not clear what they are hiding from, but soon it will come for them. Two ballet dancers are fused together in one body by a wizard. A woman is given a lift by a lorry driver who never stops grinning, and his companion, a skeleton in an overcoat. Characters forget their names, walk into unknown houses with food waiting for them, hear footsteps in empty flats.

An entrancing collection of tales, as humane and unsentimental as Chekhov, as grim and funny as Beckett, as dark and unsettling as Poe.

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