The Funeral Party, by Ludmila Ulitskaya
Text Claire Marsden
One of Russia’s leading prose writers, Ludmila Ulitskaya, has written and published numerous novels, plays and collections of short stories. Now, ten years after The Funeral Party (her first novel to be translated into English) was published, her tale of a weird and wonderful group of Russian emigrants living in New York has been transformed into a film.
The story takes place in a sweltering Manhattan apartment in which the charismatic protagonist, Alik lies dying. Observing the dying days of this artist and charming philanderer may sound morbid but the colorful, needy and beautiful women who surround, care and bicker over Alik make this short story a bitter, thought-provoking comedy. Ulitskaya observes both the astounding flexibility and the unbelievable flaws of human nature as we are introduced to an array of characters. His neurotic and alcoholic wife, his beautiful first love, Nina; the circus acrobat turned lawyer; and an odd couple, a Priest and a Rabbi, who come to read him his last rites.
The ‘party’ continues as many guests come and go. They drink vodka and remember their first meetings with Alik either many years ago in Soviet Russia or now as aliens to the strange, vibrant city they now live in. As his strange disease worsens, the gathering of displaced Russians watch as their once beloved Moscow descends into the chaos of the Yeltsin Putsch as watched on CNN.
Ulitskaya, who was born in Bashkorkostan in 1943, grew up in Moscow and now lives in New York City. She brings her prose to life by exploring the power of the individual, their ability to adapt to new situations and to share the pain of the past.
Happiness and sadness are entwined in this story of opposites. As a reader, you will struggle to put this book down with its celebration of life and death.