Petrushevskaya addresses many important issues in her dark novel. One that strikes me most is the linkage between poverty, disintegration of family as an institution in Soviet/Russian society, and the conflicting emotions of independent but poor women on their most basic natural need to bear and have children. The novel was written/published in 1992, when low birth rates and high abortion rates in the disintegrated USSR were a norm. Russia’s total fertility rate (according to the CIA) in 1990 was estimated to be 2.0 children per Russian woman (www.prb.org). The minimum rate for a population to replace itself is 2.0-2.5 births per woman (according to various estimates). According to mosnews.com in 1990, 1.6 million women in Russia had abortions while 1.5 million gave birth, meaning that the number of abortions exceeded the number of births. The situation became even worse in late 1990s and early 2000s.
Economy in turmoil led many people to become jobless, and many marriages divorced. The new category of single mothers is described by Petrushevskaya. The main character, Anna Andrianova, is jobless and confused mother of two children, Alyona and Andrei, and grandmother of three kids. Alyona has hopelessly poor judgment of men: different men fathered her three kids and walked away. Anna insists on Alyone having abortions instead of having kids she cannot support: ‘Heavens above, girl, everyone has abortions even when they’re far gone…for money,’ I (Anna) tell her. ‘Right up to God knows when. For money!’ ‘What money? Whose money?’ she (Alyona) mutters. (pp. 132-133) Ethical issue presented here is complex and with no simple solution. The absence of emotionally and financially responsible men in lives of these women, given their own dire financial situtation, makes their situation impossible. Motherly experience of Anna provides a voice of rationality, while emotional, motherly instincts of young Alyona (along with the lack of money) lead her to having kids she cannot possibly raise on her own.
The issue of abortion is explosive one in the US. How do you feel about Anna’s and Alyona’s conflicting views on abortion?