The story of Matryona Grigorieva’s life and death is told—and remarked on—by a narrator whose full name is not given, but whom one may take to be a spokesperson for the author. That is, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the narrator has served time in labor camps and has now taken up residence in a village where he will teach mathematics in high school. As the author taught in several places during his exile from 1953 to 1957, following his release from prison, the setting of “Matryona’s House” is a composite of villages in Uzbekistan and in the Ryazan and Vladimir districts of the Soviet Union and is thus a generalized Soviet village, here given the fictional name Tal’novo. The village of Tal’novo is set in contrast to the nearby Soviet collective farm of Torfoprodukt (“Peatproduce”), with its processing factories.
As time passes from summer to winter, one learns from the narrator that his landlady, though a childless widow, has a foster daughter, Kira, who is now married. Anticipating her own death, she has bequeathed to Kira one of the several small structures that make up her dwelling place (the Russian word dvor means “homestead,” rather than merely “house”). The actual cottage in which Matryona and her boarder live, though built within living memory of the villagers, seems almost ancient. The caulking has come loose from the logs, and in its walls live myriad mice and cockroaches. The cottage has begun to decay, just as Matryona has become old and sickly.
In a series of casually...
(The entire section is 629 words.)