Short Stories & Miniatures > "Matryona's Home"

"Matryona's Home"

A hundred and eighty-four kilometers from Moscow trains were still slowing down to a crawl a good six months after it happened. Passengers stood glued to the windows or went out to stand by the doors. Was the line under repair, or what? Would the train be late?

It was all right. Past the crossing the train picked up speed again and the passengers went back to their seats.

Only the engine-drivers knew what it was all about.

The engine-drivers and I.
Solzhenitsyn-meltsevo

So begins “Matryona’s Home”.

This is Solzhenitsyn’s best-known—and arguably his best—short story, written in 1959. As befits Solzhenitsyn’s fidelity to the realism of nineteenth-century Russian literature, the story’s characters and events are not invented but come from real life. The artistry lies in patterning the particulars so that thematic meaning emerges. Ignatich, the narrator, closely parallels Solzhenitsyn as an ex-prisoner who, after serving a prison term in the Gulag, is now released from his subsequent sentence of “perpetual exile” in Kazakhstan and moves back to Russia, taking lodging with the real-life Matryona in the actual village of Miltsevo.

The plot moves inexorably toward its fatal climax.  Toward the petty and tawdry villagers who instigate the tragic events, Solzhenitsyn is unsparing, despite his love of the Russian people.  Characterization is typically his greatest strength as a writer of fiction, and in Matryona he rises to the demanding challenge of creating a character who is both good and credible. A life filled with suffering has not beaten her down. She consistently exhibits moral nobility as she overcomes adversity, takes joy from work well done, lives in harmony with nature, helps even unappreciative neighbors, and harms no one. The first syllable of Matryona’s name is the Russian word for “mother,” and in her life readers may glimpse symbolic aspects of long-suffering Mother Russia. The conclusion alludes to Abraham’s prayer for the city of Sodom, in Genesis 18, and suggests that Matryona, though not formally religious, embodies a God-pleasing righteousness

-- by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney, The Solzhenitsyn Reader


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The Solzhenitsyn Reader
Includes the definitive translation of
"Matryona’s Home", by H.T. Willetts
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The Portable Twentieth-Century Russian Reader
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