Tatyana Tolstaya's "Night" relates the story of a middle-aged, retarded man and his eighty-year-old mother, who has devoted her life to caring for him in their Moscow apartment. Characters on the edge of society, such as Alexei and Mamochka, are not unusual in Tolstaya's stories; in fact, she acknowledged in an interview with Publishers Weekly that she writes of Russians who are "always a little bit crazy."
Most of Tolstaya's stories, including "Night," are set in a Russia experiencing the tremendous and sometimes traumatic changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Berlin Wall has been torn down, and the monolithic Soviet Union, with its numerous communist satellite states, is crumbling apart. Russian society is economically and politically fragile, and this is reflected in the vulnerability of such characters as Alexei and Mamochka. They scrabble for a living by selling the cardboard boxes Alexei glues together, and they must tiptoe around the neighbors with whom they share cleaning and cooking space.
The Paris Review published "Night" in 1991 for Western audiences after its Russian publication in 1987. For both her first collection of short stories, On the Golden Porch, and her subsequent collection, Sleepwalkers in a Fog, which includes "Night," Tolstaya received high praise for her magical language and inventive use of imagery.