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The Big Green Tent

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,921 ratings  ·  370 reviews
An absorbing novel of dissident life in the Soviet Union, by one of Russia’s most popular writers, The Big Green Tent is the kind of book the  term “Russian novel” was invented for. A sweeping saga, it 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. Thes ...more
Hardcover, 587 pages
Published November 10th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2011)
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Eleonora Scarpa Stalin's funeral. Ulitskaya talks about it in another book, I cannot remember which t the moment…moreStalin's funeral. Ulitskaya talks about it in another book, I cannot remember which t the moment(less)
Eva Joseph Brodsky! I was curious as well, and figured it out through the quotation references in the back. They did call him Joseph, which was also a hin…moreJoseph Brodsky! I was curious as well, and figured it out through the quotation references in the back. They did call him Joseph, which was also a hint. Now, what I don't remember is, if he made an appearance earlier in the book. This novel really would need an index for all the characters :) (less)

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Jim Fonseca
Dec 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya

This is a long book (almost 600 pages); in a way almost an “epic novel” that you can get lost in. On the surface, it’s largely the story of three young men in the USSR beginning around the time of Stalin’s death (1953) through the 1960’s, through Khrushchev and Brezhnev. It’s the era of ‘samizdat’ when publications were copied and passed hand-to-hand at great risk to the authors and to those who possessed or passed on these banned publications. At some poin
Elyse  Walters
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Cruelty and loneliness.....
Soviet dissident movement....1950's --through 1990's with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Post Stalin era....
Non-linear storytelling: YOU WILL GET FRUSTRATED AND LOST AT TIMES......but then something really interesting draws you in like ancient rituals and moral maturity--- and how that plays out between boys and girls when schools are no longer segregated in the USSR.
The 'beginning' of thi
Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
After reading Ulitskaya's 'The Funeral Party' last year, I thought I'd attempt the new, 2015 release 'The Big Green Tent' and I wasn't disappointed. This is mostly a story of three boys in the early 1950's as they attend school, grow up during a crazy time in the world and what they accomplish as they grow older. They are witnessing a time of change and national ideology, yet being scared of the government or even your neighbor hasn't changed: The death of Uncle Joe and Stalinism and the birth o ...more
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The expression “May you live in interesting times” is believed to be an ancient Chinese curse. Centuries ago it was adopted by Russians and altered to become “God spare us from living in era of changes”. Doomed to eternal punishment by the history of their own country, Russians hope for a life in peace.

For generations, Russian writers have examined the lives drained by the love and hate relationship with their country. To name just a few: Leo Tolstoy with his “War and Peace”, Boris Pasternak wi
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
What is this book about? Friendship? Resistance to tyranny? Survival? Art?

It finally occurred to me that maybe the book attempted to answer Russia's most famous question: What Is To Be Done? This question, asked by Tolstoy, Chernyshevsky, Lenin, among others, points to a feeling of dissatisfaction and what is more, an incompleteness that is part of the Russian pathos. Russia is an unfinished work, with hazy frontiers, with too much space, too many different people.

The novel's three main charac
An engrossing story of life in Communist Russia. At times tragic, sometimes darkly funny, it brought home to me that people were living this way even into the 1970s. Life was claustrophobic and controlled. There was little in the way of privacy or freedom of choice. The only way to survive with any confidence was to toe the party line or, at the very least, to give the appearance of doing so.

I enjoyed the pace of this book, only my second audiobook. It’s impossible to compare the experience of l
It’s possible to write a review in glowing, positive terms, praising all the good, playing down the bad. I will try here to give you a balanced review. As a whole, I do like the book and am glad to have read it, but it could have been better.

The Big Green Tent by Lyudmila Ulitskaya draws life in the Soviet Union after the fall of Stalin. There is theme number one. At the start, in 1953, we are introduced to three friends—they are in the sixth grade and thirteen years of age. Friendship is a seco
Roger Brunyate
Not Your Normal Novel

[NOTE: After posting the first half of this review, I received a thoughtful defense of the book by the friend who had first recommended it to me, Anna. Since she was so eloquent, and my own experience incomplete, I obtained her permission to post her account also, as a counterweight to my own review. My star rating now reflects both reviews: 3 stars for my own experience, 5 for hers, averaged to 4. rb]


"Precisely. Because all through the ages there have
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
I have such mixed feelings on this book.

On one hand, there are breathtaking sections on love, music, and friendship. There are very deliberate and moving thematic elements that move with the characters through their life journeys. And, as a lover of Soviet history, there was something really special about seeing characters navigate this challenging world I know so well from my history books.

But the pacing and structure was so odd. We're supposed to be following three young boys (who grow into yo
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I should have loved. It started out so good. It followed 3 friends and their favorite literature teacher but as the book went on and more and more and more and then some more characters were introduced it got fragmented and I lost interest. I considered a DNF but I did care enough about the main characters to finish also there were some really fun literary mentions. I have a feeling that this was just not the right book at the right time for me.
Sep 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translations
Beautifully written and evidently also beautifully translated, this novel was worthy of two weeks of my time! (Crazy!) Many changes in the time periods and the characters left me wondering how it all would fit together at times. I still feel as though I missed some of the connections, but I loved it anyway. Worthy of a re-read!
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
A fantastic book from a skilled author who knows the human heart. Ulitzkaja is my discovery of the year.
Somehow cramming 20th century Russia into just under 600 pages works. Maybe the last 100 pages dragged a bit, but overall, this was kind of an easy read in terms of pace and tone, while being incredibly complicated in terms of characters and connections. Ulitskaya focuses on post-Stalinist Russia's aftermath on families and artists. From children who never got to know their parents thanks to state-initiated "disappearances", deadly imprisonments in labor camps, or exhiles-gone-wrong to adults tr ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Stela by: Ema
The Guilt of the Innocent

“It’s a strange, inexplicable law that the most innocent people among us are the ones predisposed to the greatest sense of guilt.”

While looking up the Internet for possible meanings of the title of Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel, I found this interesting information that, in the Qur’an, the martyrs are gathered in a big green tent at the shore of a river close to the door of Paradise, from which provisions are brought to them day and night. Therefore, they don’t
Sotiris Karaiskos
Something between a novel and a collection of interconnected short stories about life in the Soviet Union from the 1950s on. Any way we call it, in this book we follow closely and from afar a group of friends, from their school years until deep in their adult life, from their upbringing in idealistic certainties about the greatness of their country and their system of government until deep into their realization of the mediocrity that is limiting their lives through endless persecutions. Even in ...more
Imagine you are a boy growing up in 1950s Soviet Moscow. You are just a bit outside the norm for a schoolboy in those times, the type who is bullied, the type who has dreams about how his life might go. You find two other boys like you and form a bond that lasts for a lifetime.

Better yet, the three of you find yourselves in a class taught by a man who can bring literature alive and who takes you under his wing. You learn that not all of life needs to be lived in fear of the KGB, in lock step to
Marianna Neal
I need to sleep on this, will come back and share some thoughts tomorrow.
Not sure what to rate it yet either.

UPDATE: it's tomorrow...
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars

So, the thing is, my experience reading The Big Green Tent was very uneven. I was loving the beginning. Then the novel changed up the storytelling structure on me, and I didn't get along with that so well. See, Ulitskaya does something that sounds really cool: her novel is like a quilt, a collection of stories from different characters tha
I love a good saga and this certainly fell within that class of book for me. It is not a family saga but a saga of life in the Soviet Union from the early 1950's to 1996, with most of the book from the time of Stalin's death through the 80's. The families, friends, and acquaintances provide support for the life stories of a group of three boys (Ilya, Mikha, Sanya) and a group of three girls (Olga, Tamara, Gayla). The book goes back and forth chronologically many times, returning to the boys and ...more
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved it. Ulitzkaia had touched in her novel a lot of themes, some of them very sensitive. she is a great storyteller.
The story starts linear, but after a breaking point, the stories and the characters intertwine. It was a good choice to produce a global image of Russia in those years (1955 - 1981 more or less).
Well documented, nice literary references. I cannot wait to read Pasternak, Soljenitsin, Nabokov.
Strong characters, strong story. it is worth a read.
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
An epic love letter to Russian literature and history that delves into the soul of the Soviet people. The Green Tent is both chunky in terms of page count and density - certainly not a book to sail through quickly. It is a richly told coming-of-age tale of three young Soviet boys growing up in Moscow and the timeline begins on the day of Stalin’s death in 1953. In a nutshell this is a tale of samizdat, or the illegal reproduction and distribution of banned books in the Soviet Union, and how the ...more
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-novel
Let me begin by saying Russian literature is not for everyone. I have been lucky enough in my life to be acquainted with the likes of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turganev, Gorky and Gogol. Thus The Big Green Tent's style and rhythm were familiar to me. It's at once deep, complex, dark and gloomy-yet there is a measure of repressed joy and promise.
It's the story of dissidents in post Stalin Russia. Told primarily from the viewpoints of three elementary school friends (Ilya, Snya and Mikha) the story sp
Martha Tomhave
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I have read in decades. It initially seemed to be about three school boys and their lives from Stalin's death in the early fifties through the seventies, but it very quickly expanded to include their girlfriends, wives, relatives, friends, fellow dissidents and the KGB. But to say it's 'about' anything or anybody hardly conveys this book's magic: it's an extraordinary experience of feeling - yearning for freedom, joy in poetry, absorption in music, tiredness with tyranny, a ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia
A great big Russian Novel beginning with the death of Stalin when things were supposed to get better. This novel is not about the peasant poor but the educated poor and the constant fear they lived in never knowing who would tell that they were reading smuggled western literature.
quite a saga at almost 600 pages, set in ussr 1950's (but going back to 1825 decemberists, and pushkin and tolstoy and doestoevsky, this really is a novel of the politics, books, music, poetry, spirit and soul of russia) up to about 1991, but not really 1991, more like 1988, but also up to 1996.
it gets a bit rambling, with a cast of 1000's, with idea of 'fate' directing, or not directing humans pitiful ways of trying to be happy,friendly, fair, in love, being love vs avaricious, jealousy, sadism
This is a very big book, and a marvelous introduction to the beauties and pain of life in the former Soviet Union. I loved the premise, following a group of friends from Stalin through the rest of the century. However, I grew increasingly anxious as it dawdled on its way to the future. I wanted to devour this and felt I was being forced to sup slowly and lightly. Could be my schedule, but I would have slowed down if I was reassured we would get some real depth eventually, which I did not see on ...more
D Dyer
Dec 31, 2019 rated it liked it
I struggled with this book. The characters were interesting, particularly when portrayed as boys or young men and the glimpse into Soviet era Russia is a distinct departure from what are usually read and provided an interesting glimpse at a world I have no contact for but this is a very long book. And while some of the passages pulled me in there were also long stretches where I felt disengaged. And the perfusion of characters and nonlinear storytelling left me feeling at times a bit discombobul ...more
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian
Russians have a word, “byt,” that roughly translates as “everyday life,” standing as a contrast to high-culture concepts such as the arts, science and philosophy. And because Ludmila Ulitskaya’s latest novel, “The Big Green Tent,” is grounded in “byt” rather than historic events or abstract philosophical questions, it’s far more intimate and personal than what most people think of when they see a thick Russian novel.

The novel is still what one could call “sweeping”: not sweeping in the sense of
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I can't decide if I want to give this book 4 or 5 stars, so I will average it out at 4.5.

In one review I read about The Big Green Tent, the reviewer compares it to a tree: the prologue is the roots, the first six chapters are the trunk, and the remainder of the book is the branches. In another review with Ulitskaya, she says that the book is about stories; both the stories we tell and the stories others tell. She also said that many of the characters are based on real people and many of the eve
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautiful book—full of culture and wisdom and feeling.

“… we live not in nature, but in history … And Pasternak walked down this very lane twenty years before. And one hundred fifty years ago—Pushkin. And we are walking down it too, skirting the eternal puddles.”

“Samizdat” is a system created to distribute government-suppressed literature. “The phenomenon itself is remarkable and unprecedented. It’s vital energy that is spread from source to source, establishing threads, forming a sort of spide
Nov 11, 2015 rated it liked it
(3.5) The first section of hundred pages or more is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale that hearkens the great classics of Russian literature. I was enchanted. Then, Ulitskaya stages a coup, and in confounding George RR Martin fashion (I know I'm crossing genres), she 'forgets' about two of the most interesting characters in favor of introducing a panorama of new characters through nonlinear vignettes. Her major character, Olga, never sticks, especially after Ulitskaya steamrolls through her life, be ...more
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Людмила Евгеньевна Улицкая

Lyudmila Ulitskaya is a critically acclaimed modern Russian novelist and short-story writer. She was born in the town of Davlekanovo in Bashkiria in 1943. She grew up in Moscow where she studied biology at the Moscow State University.

Having worked in the field of genetics and biochemistry, Ulitskaya began her literary career by joining the Jewish drama theatre as a litera

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