The Big Green Tent is a masterpiece of massive ambition precisely because Ulitskaya — and, in turn, her translator, Polly Gannon — are so adept at giving tangible life to the smallest details, and even those 'C-list extras.'
Some of these stories are meant to be familiar to a Russian reader, and in fact many are based on real events, just as many of the characters are based on real people. Some are thinly veiled historical figures, others are more thickly camouflaged; others are purely fictional. All of this creates an eerie landscape, as if the dead were walking among the living.
For all the novel’s reach and extension, however, there’s a hastiness that is perplexing: Ulitskaya occasionally but abruptly loses interest in one character or another, and then, practically yawning, she dashes off elsewhere...bored or her imagination having flagged, she’ll suddenly summarize a decade of a hero’s life in a paragraph.