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The Little Girl From the Metropol


Full English translation available

This is not a typical fiction memoir. Through the prism of the story of her family, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya draws a compelling portrait of the era of communist Russia.

With brilliant precision and telling details, Petrushevskaya draws a gallery of portraits of the Muscovite intelligentsia as they struggle to survive in the new—poverty-stricken and ignorant—country. The author recalls her beautiful grandmother, whom the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was in love with; her great-aunt, lover of head-of-state Mikhail Kalinin; and her grandfather, a celebrated linguist, one of the fathers of the Moscow linguistic circle. These characters are set next to violent and ruthless neighbors who attack Ludmilla’s grandmother with an axe when she wants to use the bathroom in their communal flat, and beat Ludmilla if she is found rummaging in their slop-pail for the remains of food. The 8-year-old girl grows up in the company of fatherless boys, homeless beggars and war invalids that crowded the streets of Saratov (then Kuibyshev), where her family lived as evacuees during the war.

As the story of a small girl in the hungry post-war years unfolds, the fate of the enormous country appears before the reader — a country where the magical is intertwined with the mundane, beautiful and refined neighbor with terrible ones, and despair with hope. A family forest grows out of Petrushevskaya’s memoir, one in which each tree is at once “a child, a parent, and a personality.

Powerful… Like a stained-glass Chagall window, Petrushevskaya’s Soviet-era memoir creates a larger panorama out of tiny, vivid chapters, shattered fragments of different color and shape... [It] brings to mind Auden’s famous words about Yeats: ‘Mad Ireland hurt him into poetry.’ This memoir shows us how Soviet life hurt Ludmila Petrushevskaya into crystalline prose.

— The New York Times Book Review

[An] extraordinary memoir... Lively, bold, iconoclastic... [Petrushevskaya] has succeeded Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as the country’s greatest writer and authentic moral voice.

— Orlando Figes, The New York Review of Books

A gritty, surprisingly disarming portrait of the grim Stalinist era.

— BBC, “Ten Books You Should Read in February"

Devastating, unjudgmental, and curiously uplifting, the memoir is a profound testament to the power of the creative, loving human spirit to vanquish brutal circumstance... The stories she tells... show a girl of unerodable pride and defiant character, intent on finding joy.

— The Christian Science Monitor

Petrushevskaya is blessed with good material... [Her] sunny outlook seems all the more remarkable as we learn more details of her childhood, some of which might read as straight out of the Brothers Grimm... A preternaturally nimble and resourceful heroine, she keeps emerging unscathed... Her memoir has the fairy-tale ending its plucky heroine deserves.


Biting but beautiful, it’s an autobiography that says much about the world both then and now.

— Refinery29

A well-crafted glimpse into the past of one of Russia’s most intriguing writers... Spare, often darkly humorous. Many memories have a touch of the magic Petrushevskaya includes in her fiction... Her perspective is decidedly original.

— BookPage

A terse, spirited memoir that reads like a picaresque novel... Lively, irreverent . With spunk and defiance, [Petrushevskaya] survived, and transcended, the privations of her youth.

— Kirkus Reviews

A blend of dark humor and clipped, piercing realism... Petrushevskaya is the definition of incorrigible and indomitable, both on the page and in her life.

— Publishers Weekly

Book details

Amphora, 2006

Autobiographical novel

103 pp

Rights sold

  • English (US) Penguin

  • French Christian Bourgois

  • Lithuanian Vaga

  • Romanian Meteor

  • German Schoeffling

  • Italian Brioschi Editore

  • Arabic Almada Group

  • Portuguese (Brazil) Companhia das Lettras

  • Simplified Chinese Shanghai Readers’ Culture

  • Czech Pistorious&Olshanska

  • Malayalam (India) Green Books

  • Turkish Fol Kitap

Literary awards

  • Finalist of The National Book Critics Circle Award 2017, USA

  • The Gogol Prize 2008

  • Longlisted for the National Bestseller Prize 2007

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