Galina Scherbakova (1932-2010) used to say that only in the post-Soviet years she really started saying what she had always wanted to say. She could write about love and human relationship like no one else – with great insight and sympathy but without sentimentality. She wrote for and about ordinary people, on subjects as old as the world, and her plot-driven stories paint vivid and accurate pictures of people’s lives at a crucial point.
Born in a little town near Donetsk she began her career as a provincial teacher. Later she worked as a reporter on various papers (which she hated) and wrote children's stories (which she loved). She always felt that journalism dulled her senses and polluted her mind by inevitably imposing self-censorship, something wholly alien to creative writing. It is only in her early fifties that she finally managed to abandon journalism and devote herself full-time to fiction-writing which instantly brought her nationwide fame. She published her first story "Beyond Your Wildest Dreams" in 1979 in Youth, a liberal-minded magazine with a circulation of over a million copies at the time, which instantly made her famous. Later it was made into a very successful film and a play. After having lived in various cities in the Urals and on the Volga she moved to Moscow, where she never felt quite at home and, in her own words, never managed to get rid of her provincial inferiority complex. Fear of a big city, her daughter's illness and lack of friends in a new place made her miserable until she found an outlet in creative writing. She was a very prolific and widely published author, and yet she used to say wistfully: "If only you could get your writings published as soon as they’ve been written it would make such a difference!" Many of her stories had been shelved for years before finding a way to the public, but today most of them are considered as modern classics.
Scherbakova was always fascinated with simple human stories, marveling at the variety of destinies, delusions, and decisions. She created an impressive collection of characters from all walks of life, old and young, rich and poor, but the unifying theme is always an irresistible love which compels a person to put everything else to the background. The author believes that whatever is one’s apparent aim – fame, money, success – it is love we are actually looking for. She shows the fateful impact of parents’ errors on their children’s lives and takes her characters through various ordeals before they reach their goal. But her stories invariably inspire hopes for a better future.
Scherbakova has some 30 books to her credit and numerous stories published in periodicals. Her stories have been published in Germany, China, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland. She left several short novels and more than 20 collections of stories. All of her books are constantly reprinted to this day and have lost nothing of their relevance. Most of them have been adapted for films.
Her English translations include: "The Mandarine Year" and "The Wall" in Balancing Acts (Indiana University Press.) and “Three Loves of Masha Peredreeva” (in Glas#3).
Selected titles by Galina Scherbakova
Mandarine Year. A nove, 150 pp.
The story is a veritable anatomy of divorce. It brings to mind Tolstoy’s maxim about all happy families being alike and all unhappy families being unhappy in their own way. The wife, a schoolteacher, takes things for granted in her family life without being aware of her fading looks and unimaginative clothing, her complete immersion in the dull routine of house-keeping and child-caring. The husband, who works in a publishing house, takes a lover with whom he obtains what he is missing at home. Each of the participants in this family drama provides their personal view of the situation and the reasons for it. The disagreements at home affect the teenage daughter who grows up callous and unfeeling. She takes hard her parents separation and the ensuing fight for the ownership of the apartment. But then she demands a rich car for her agreement to the separation and she does not care where her father gets the money. The cunning mistress uses all sorts of intrigue to borrow the money for the car and thus get the daughter out of the way. Meanwhile friends and the social organizations at work interfere from all sides int the attempt to influence the warring spouses, but only pour oil on troubled water. Torn out between several loyalties, the husband finally gets fed up with both women. In the end he has a heart attack and dies.
That winter there was suddenly a profusion of imported mandarins on sale everywhere. “A truly mandarin year!” people were saying as they stocked up on the exotic fruit.
The Season of Landscape Design. A novel, 150 pp.
The novel is an accurate portrait of post-perestroika Russia in the throes of violent change, affecting not only people’s daily lives but also their mentality. There are witness accounts of many significant episodes of those days, such as the shelling of the Moscow White House, horrible inflation, ex-scholars working as shuttle traders, heated political debates, etc.
The novel is also a subtle psychological drama about an intelligent modern-minded young woman called Inga. Her father is a liberal democrat, her mother is a confirmed communist, and her grandmother is a pious believer – all this causes much disputing in the family while Inga, who works as a journalist, is trying to find her bearings in the fast-changing world. Inga is inexorably alienated from her husband who abandons her for another woman. She is a victim of deception, humiliation, and mental anguish, but she stubbornly fights for her dignity and her character is tempered in the process.
Inga is an ordinary person in every way: no outstanding talents or beauty, she is usually indecisive and vulnerable, she fears solitude – such people find it hard to survive in the world of pragmatic dealers and self-assured womanizers. However Inga manages to overcome all the tests life puts in her way: these include her husband’s unfaithfulness, the death of her beloved father, and a brutal murder of her best friend whose little daughter Inga adopts. Unemployment makes Inga take a course in landscape design and she becomes a reasonably successful designer.
Finally she makes it up with her ex-husband and life comes to normal.
Women in the Game without Rules. A novel, 150 pp.
The Weak are Carried off by the Wind. A novel, 130 pp.
These two short novels form a dilogy about three women representing three generations of a family: granddaughter-daughter, mother-daughter, and mother-grandmother. The generation gaps between them reflect different values and interests. Grandmother who used to subscribe to traditional values suddenly falls madly in love with a much younger man, losing her head completely. Her grown-up daughter has a painful divorce and on the rebound she takes a complete stranger for a love, has a child by him and finally realizes that he is the main love of her life. Meanwhile the teenage granddaughter is tortured by her unrealized sexuality and does her best to poison the lives of both her mother and grandmother. The author tells the story in the name of a psychologist who takes an outside view of the situation without sympathizing either with the victims or the culprits because all of them are powerless before the hurricane of love.
One Desperate Fall. A novel, 150 pp.
This is a poignant story about fragile teenage love, involving several youngsters who find themselves in a situation of a multiple love triangle they can’t cope with. As in Scherbakova’s many other stories her characters experience violent emotions, live their lives intensely, dream and hope with abandon, and do outrageous things. All this is described so convincingly that the reader cannot help co-feel with the young people.