Grinzane Cavour Literary Award Winner 2008 (Italy)
Novel of the Year Prize (2004, Russia)
Rights sold: Bulgaria - FAKEL EKSPRESS, China – POPULAR LITERATURE, Croatia – FRAKTURA, Denmark - GYLDENDAL, Estonia – TANAPAEV, France - GALLIMARD, Germany - HANSER, Hungary – MAGVETO, Italy - FRASSINELLI, Latvia - Zvaigzne ABC, Poland - PHILIP WILSON, Romania – HUMANITAS, Portugal – RELOGIO D’AGUA, Serbia - PAIDEIA, Spain – ANAGRAMA, Spain (catalan language) – QUADERNS CREMA, Taiwan - LOCUS
In Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel “Sincerely yours, Shurik” the plot is simple: a very good, smart, strong-willed Grandmother Elizaveta Ivanovna and her daughter Vera, a very nice, tender, but quite confused mother raise their boy Shurik in an atmosphere of idyllic family love.
The boy becomes a kind man, very helpful and quite responsive to those in need around him. Shurik has grown into a well educated, mature and attractive young man from a good family and appears to display all the right qualities to become a good person and a trusting, accommodating man, a considerate lover; a good match and an excellent specimen for furthering the species.
In short Shurik has all the makings of an excellent life-partner for any woman and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the people who are most interested in his help are in fact, red-blooded women.
But while Shurik dedicates himself to “gratuitously helping” women at work, in bed and in their everyday lives, he must offset his sensitivities with humbly serving his defenceless mother Vera and come to terms with his own time, irretrievably passing through his fingers.
At eighteen Shurik falls in love and his love is pure and true, but relationships come to sudden and abrupt end. Later Shurik gets a second fatefully ironic chance at love and even in this instance, life seems to mock him without pity; after many years without seeing his first and only “true” love, the mature independent Lilya, she describes him alternatively as “poor Shurik”, “a bit of a saint” and “a complete moron”.
His undeveloped affair with a cheerful French woman, Joel, is also nipped in the bud because of his imposed (or assumed) obligations. Shurik has neither the strength nor the wherewithal to fight for his right to love and be happy as even his own mother treats him as a personal toolkit to repair the flaws all around her. Shurik is relegated to being a secondary character in the theatre that is Vera’s life as well.
At the end of book Shurik is a thirty-something amalgam of disjointed, mismatched bits and pieces, like several balls of multicoloured thread, odds and ends and found objects that are other person’s lives.
“Sincerely yours, Shurik” is a metaphor for the relationship between the sexes because it puts into question the established concept of how the roles of “victim” and “aggressor” are divided between the contemporary male and female. The book represents an analysis of the changing (or more so, the changed but not yet realized) role of woman in modern society.
The story of Shurik Korn is just one more typical example of how a man can squander away the precious time that is life and effort, leading inevitably to a personality that becomes diluted beyond recognition, while others seem to know what their goals are and seem to strive tirelessly to achieve them, at whatever cost.
The style and expressiveness of this book deserve a special mention. Ulitskaya’s novel is written in her characteristic extremely rich, savoury narrative manner, employing the seamlessly harmonious substance of literary reality that is the domain of her characters.
She creates fascinatingly convincing juxtapositions between meticulous attention to small details and trivia, a light, ironic prose to emphasize the novel’s theme as entirely removed from the holistic and philosophical questions that govern the human mind.
“Sincerely yours, Shurik” by Ludmila Ulitskaya is certainly a masterpiece and among the most fascinating prose written in narrative fiction today. An immensely pleasurable and quirky book to read, it is a wellspring for discussion and contemplation.
The author examines and analyses the most common, “basic” notions and concepts (love, compassion, family, among others) from an uncommon and surprising point of view. These notions and concepts are all present in the novel, as they are in the life of the main character, but something’s gone seriously wrong, there’s a fly in the ointment and that fly is Shurik Korn, a topsy-turvy Don Juan; so nice, and so darling, that one doesn’t know whether to embrace him or to strangle him.