"Zuleikha", published in Russian in 2015, is a multi-award-winning debut novel by Guzel Yakhina, a Russian writer of Tatar origin. The story is set in the 1930s in a remote Tatar village and follows a young woman whose suffocating family life is soon replaced by a labour camp in Siberia, where she is sent after the Communists kill her husband. The heroine's story is loosely based on the experiences of Yakhina's grandmother, who was exiled to Siberia, as well as memoirs and official records of other survivors of the era. The book has been a great success in Russia but also spurred a wave of emotional response to the depiction of Stalin-era oppression as Russians struggle to come to terms with their past and present. As Yakhina says in an interview with the Guardian, "I am really sorry that behind these angry voices, we can't see the big, positive wave of voices in support. Kind voices are usually quiet. They aren't seen or heard. But there are many of them." Let this be a kind voice of support to this novel that paints a candid picture of an oppressive regime but also is full of sympathy for the people who had the misfortune to be born into it.
Zuleikha is the model of a dutiful wife. Biddible and meek, she has resigned herself to brutal treatment at the hands of her cruel husband and the carping of her despotic mother-in-law. While Russia reels in the aftermath of its recent revolution, life in her small Tatar village is relatively untouched. Or so it seems to Zuleikha, until the day her husband is executed by communist soldiers.
Zuleikha is exiled to Siberia and forced to leave behind everything she knows. Yet in that harsh, desolate wilderness, she begins to build a new life for herself and discovers an inner strength she never knew she had. This is a supremely ambitious epic about one woman’s determination, not only to survive, but to flourish in the face of the greatest adversity.
Praise and awards
WINNER OF THE BIG BOOK AWARD, THE LEO TOLSTOY YASNAYA POLYANA AWARD AND THE BEST PROSE WORK OF THE YEAR AWARD
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2020 READ RUSSIA PRIZE
RUNNER-UP FOR THE EBRD LITERATURE PRIZE, 2020
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