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Kidnapped. A Story in Crimes


Full English translation available

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Russia’s greatest living absurdist and surrealistic writer, the New York Times bestselling and The World Fantasy Award winning author of scary fairy-tales, has written a traditional family drama meet a burlesque social satire, enveloped in a Bollywood soap-opera plot.

Set in the 1980s through 1990s, the novel focuses on the life of Alina, 21y.o., a promising language student who has to drop her academic career because of an unplanned pregnancy. Alina decides to give up a baby for adoption after birth and is set to leave the hospital alone. In the hospital she meets another girl, Masha, a graduate from the Moscow Institute of Foreign Affairs, who is happily looking forward to the childbirth and speaks up of her life plans with the husband, Sergei, (he, too, is a future diplomat) in a republic in South Asia. Their family has been chosen for work in the Soviet trade mission there – a fantastic career for young specialists.

Masha dies in childbirth, and Alina who delivers her baby at the same time, on an impulse exchanges bracelets with newborns’ names between the babies – she wishes a brighter future for her own son, and believes that the widowed father will still take the baby along abroad, away from the dull Soviet reality. By then Alina feels connected with her baby and feels sorry for Masha’s newborn son, and she agrees to breastfeed both babies while in the hospital. Soon Alina is told that her boy died from infection, but she is the only one who knows that her son is alive, since she exchanged the names bracelets. What she does not know, however, is that the baby did not die as reported – the management in the hospital have long worked out a scheme to ease the trade of babies left for adoption – and that the buyer chose her boy (listed as Masha’s son) and the management unscrupulously exchanged the bracelets with names again.

Sergei is devastated, Masha’s death puts his career plans on threat – only married couples enlist for a foreign service. He approaches Alina with an offer to take over his dead wife’s identity and to travel together with his baby. Alina, who is certain that Sergei’s son is her own biological baby, agrees. She cannot even imagine what the future has in stock for her –there will be sexual and physical abuse from the spiteful factitious husband; survival against all odds in unthinkable circumstances in the strange country; a miraculous reunion with her own son in Moscow; struggling for living with two kids and without income or work in the turbulent 1990s. What Alina is certain about when she accepts Sergei’s unscrupulous offer is that she will learn to be a good mother.

Petrushevskaya’s impeccable style reaches its heights in the writer’s chef-d’oeuvre. The author’s exceptional command in rendering direct speech of her characters fills archetypical heroes with life and volume, while the high-pitch tension involves readers to otherwise stereotypical, if not trite, conflicts. The flamboyant cast of characters – girls who blackmail their future husbands with pregnancy; a father-in-law who banishes newlyweds in case they might claim rights for a flat in Moscow; a husband who is ready to exchange his dead wife for a stranger for the career’s sake; staff of maternity hospital who trade children left for adoption, documenting them as dead; a whimsical elderly lady who falls in love with an old handicapped genius artist; Alina’s former college mates with their lovers; Sergei’s driver building his private paradise in an offshore country and his wife, nicknamed Kustodiev, with a certainly distinguished figure – they all form a grand choir singing a hymn to the motherhood, a driving force of Petrushevskaya’s universe, where everyone is a criminal and a victim, and the author feels compassion for each.

The best novel of the year, in every page there’s more wit and talent than in the whole contemporary Russian prose, everyone forgive me. Written with much physiology, humor, the novel is at times scaring, always fascinating and precise from a playwright’s perspective.

— Dmitry Bykov the nationally-awarded author of The Living Souls

The scope is epic — the world of Petrushevskaya has no division between important and secondary events, main characters and the rest; each character is measured in scale of fate, the light from cosmos flowing equally though everyone <...> The new moment in this apotheosis of the “matriarchy is that the great mother, the main hero in Petrushevskaya’s fiction, includes this time both mothers and grandmothers who save other’s children not only from death but also from the orphanhood.

Kidnapped is an inventive novel — a hymn to building a family on one’s own terms, whatever form that family takes.

— Foreword Reviews


..there’s plenty of cutting satire of corruption in late- and post-Soviet Russia. This irreverent and absurdist outing will keep readers guessing to the very end.

— Publisher’s Weekly

Kidnapped is a cold war soap opera par excellence, replete with spies, Angolan freedom fighters, and stu- dent dormitories filled with the many nationalities of the Soviet Union. <...> Bipolar or multipolar, it is still a man’s world. People are still just schemers and strivers, Petrushevskaya tells us, claiming whatever and whomever they want as their own. Such stark, sobering truths are not incompatible with a happy ending.


Book details


Novel, 2017

320 pp

Rights sold

  • World English Deep Vellum

  • Turkish Fol Kitap

  • Norwegian Solum

  • Macedonian Antolog

  • Bulgarian Colibri

  • Danish Silkefyret

  • Hungarian Typotex

Literary awards

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