The Big Green Tent tells the story of three school friends who meet in Moscow in the 1950s and go on to embody the heroism, folly, compromise, and hope of the Soviet dissident experience. These three boys—an orphaned poet, a gifted yet fragile pianist, and a budding photographer with a talent for collecting secrets—struggle to reach adulthood in a society where their heroes have been censored and exiled.
The Big Green Tent offers a panoramic survey of life after Stalin and a dramatic investigation into the possibilities for individual integrity in a society defined by the KGB. Each of the central characters seeks to transcend an oppressive regime through art, a love of Russian literature, and activism. And each of them ends up face-to-face with a secret police that is highly skilled at provoking paranoia, division, and self-betrayal. Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel ultimately belongs to the tradition of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pasternak: it is a work consumed with politics, love, and belief—and a discovery of light in dark times.
“As grand, solid, and impressively all-encompassing as the title implies.”—Lara Vapnyar, The New York Times Book Review
“You don’t have to be a compatriot to admire Ulitskaya’s honesty and straight-faced irony, or her uncanny ability to marshal endless digressions and intentional stumbles into a gripping tale.”—Leonid Bershidsky, The Atlantic
“Like that other plot-forward dissident, Nobel winner Boris Pasternak, Ulitskaya puts characters first and politics second. According to the oddsmakers, she might follow him to Stockholm one day.”—Boris Kachka, New York magazine
"The Big Green Tent, for all its grand ambition, manages an intimacy that can leave a reader reeling . . . a masterpiece."—Colin Dwyer, NPR
"With both intimacy and cosmic scope, Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya weaves an engaging tale of a group of cold war-era Soviet friends . . . Ulitskaya’s easy-going manner and sense of humor are attractive and it doesn’t take long to trust she knows what she’s doing . . . The translation, by Polly Gannon, is light and lively, wonderfully devoid of accent or awkwardnesses."—The Christian Science Monitor
"Often it is achievement enough for a writer to depict a vast array of characters with insight and great sensitivity for each; Ulitskaya does this and more . . . It is undeniable that with this novel Ulitskaya has pulled off a multipronged feat."—Kim Hedges, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A sweeping novel of life in the Cold War Soviet Union, with plenty between the lines about life in Putin’s Russia today . . . The greatest tragedy of Ulitskaya’s story is that it comes to an end. Worthy of shelving alongside Doctor Zhivago: memorable and moving."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"For Western readers, the novel's sparkling imagery makes real the drab and dangerous Soviet era, with its scarcities and constant presence of the KGB. The characters are drawn with humor and melancholy yet endowed with hope and a love of literature. A great introduction for readers new to Ulitskaya."—Library Journal (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
THOSE WONDROUS SCHOOL YEARS
It’s fascinating to trace the trajectories of people destined to meet. Sometimes such encounters happen without any special help from fate, without elaborate convolutions of plot, following the...