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Le Nouvel Observateur - BibliObs  
Vera, by Alexandre Skorobogatov

BY JENNIFER

When we talk about wife abuse, we think straightaway about Afghanistan, Thailand, Somalia. But what about Russian women?

Just Google “Russian women” and you will find that, like their Asian or African sisters, women from Russia and Eastern European countries in general are considered as docile objects to be manipulated.

In his first novel translated into French, Aleksandr Skorobogatov describes the every day life of Vera, who is married to a pathologically jealous alcoholic.

The author describes the destructive feeling reinforced by alcohol with heart rending realism and brutality. Nikolai cannot stand seeing his wife flourish with other people and he beats her violently in sudden fits of fury. He beats her because he is unhappy, sad and powerless against the feeling of inferiority caused by Vera’s extreme beauty. The more violent he gets, the more he is afraid that she will leave him. This vicious circle intensifies the paranoid images which haunt his spirit and his verbal and physicalabuse.

Nikolai's friend Bertrand, who plays an ambiguous role, praises Vera’s beauty but also Nikolai’s strength: “You’re a man, you have been given strength. You have the power. You should be in charge!” A brutal and macho society is laid bare.

Wedged between these men, Vera hardly expresses herself. She suffers insults, blows… and forgives. She even agrees to leave her job as an actress in a theatre to become a cleaner because her husband cannot bear to see her on the stage alongside other men. And when she finally expresses herself it is to defend her husband and accuse others of not understanding him.

But behind this story of jealousy and a submissive woman lurks a critique of the Soviet era. Some men, like Nikolai, drown themselves in vodka and when they run out they have to bribe a supermarket employee to get it for them -- otherwise they have to queue with no certainty that they will be able to buy anything at all. The author shows us the face of a corrupt society where it is enough to pay with money or one's body to get what one wants.

A rather detached novel, with poignant characters, that show a small part of the Soviet reality rarely mentioned.

J. S.