Juliet Butler: The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep

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Juliet Butler The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep
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    The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep
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    Историческая проза / на английском языке
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The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Based on a true story, is a tale of survival and self-determination, innocence and lies. Dasha cannot imagine life without her sister. Masha is feisty and fearless. Dasha is gentle, quiet and fears everything; from the Soviet scientists who study them, to the other ‘defective’ children who bully them and the ‘healthies’ from whom they must be locked away. For the twins have been born conjoined in a society where flaws must be hidden from sight and where their inseparability is the most terrible flaw of all. Through the seismic shifts of Stalin’s communism to the beginnings of Putin’s democracy, Dasha and her irrepressible sister strive to be more than just ‘the together twins’, finding hope – and love – in the unlikeliest of places. But will their quest for shared happiness always be threatened by the differences that divide them? And can a life lived in a sister’s shadow only ever be half a life? ‘We’re waiting. I squeeze my eyes shut and dig my fingers into Masha’s neck where I’m holding her. She digs hers into mine. The curtains slowly open. I can’t see anything because the spotlight is on us, bright as anything and blinding me, but I can hear the gasp go up. They always gasp.’

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Juliet Butler


To David Llewelyn – literary consultant – without whose persistence Dasha’s story would never have been told.

‘A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.’

Helen Keller


12 April 2003, 12:05

I know I’m dying. I just don’t know how.

The ceiling rushes past me in the First City Hospital as we’re pushed down the corridor in a white-coated swirl of medics. First City; we’ve been here before. Masha, my Mashinka, you’re here with me. But this time it’s different. This time I’m alone.

Two nurses are running along with us, one on each side. They’re talking, their voices muffled through their surgical masks.

How long has she got?

God knows!

Where are we taking them?

Emergency unit.

Do the doctors know? Can they separate them?

No, no, of course not, they’d need a team of twenty surgeons.

Everyone’s always thought we’re fools. That we can’t understand, because we’re Together.

What do we tell her?

Nothing, of course. Tell her nothing.

The nurse bends over me and speaks loudly and slowly.

Masha’s fine, she’s just sleeping, that’s all.

I start crying.

Hush, hush now, everything’s going to be fine…



‘One cannot hold on to power through terror alone. Lies are just as important.’

Josef Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party, 1922–53

Age 6

January 1956


‘I’m bored,’ says Masha.

Mummy’s sitting by our cot, and she doesn’t look up from all her writing.

‘I’m really, really booored.’

‘You’re always bored, Masha. Play with Dasha.’

‘She’s booooring.’

‘No, I’m not,’ I say. ‘You’re boring.’

Masha sticks her tongue out at me. ‘You stink.’

‘Girls!’ Mummy puts down her pencil and stares at us over the bars, all cross.

We don’t say anything for a bit, while she goes back to writing. Skritch. Skritch.

‘Sing us the lullaby, Mummy – bye-oo bye-ooshki – sing that again,’ says Masha.

‘Not now.’

Skritch. Skritch.

‘What you writing, Mummy?’

‘None of your business, Masha.’

‘Yes, but what you writing?’

No answer.

Masha squashes her face through the bars of the cot. ‘When can we have those all-colours bricks back to play with? The all-colours ones?’

‘What’s the point of that, when Dasha builds them and you just knock them down?’ Mummy doesn’t even look up.

‘That’s because she likes building, and I like knocking.’


‘Can I draw, then?’

‘You mean scribble.’

‘I can draw our Box, I can, and I can draw you with your stethoscope too.’

A bell rings from outside the door to our room, and Mummy closes her book. A bit of grey hair falls down so she pushes it behind her ear with her pencil.

‘Well, it’s five o’clock. Time for me to go home.’

‘Can we come home with you, Mummy?’ I say. ‘Can we? Now it’s five clock?’

‘No, Dashinka. How many times do I have to tell you that this hospital is your home.’

‘Is your home a hospital too? Another one?’

‘No. I live in a flat. Outside. You live in this cot, in a glass box, all safe and sound.’

‘But all children go home with their mummies, the nannies told us so.’

‘The nannies should talk less.’ She stands up. ‘You know exactly how lucky you are to be cared for and fed in here. Don’t you?’ We both nod. ‘Right, then.’ She gets up to kiss us on top of our heads. One kiss, two kisses. ‘Be good.’ I push my hand through the cot to hold on to her white coat, but she pulls it away all sharp, so I bang my wrist. I suck on where the bang is.

The door to the room opens. Boom.

‘Ah, here’s the cleaner,’ says Mummy, ‘she’ll be company for you. Tomorrow’s the weekend, so I’ll see you on Monday.’

She opens the glass door to our Box with a klyak, and then goes out of the door to our room, making another boom. We can hear the cleaner outside our Box, banging her bucket about, but we can’t see her through all the white swirls painted over the glass. When she comes into the Box to clean, we see it’s Nasty Nastya.

‘What are you looking so glum about?’ she says, splishing her mop in the water. She’s flipped her mask up because Nastya doesn’t care if we get her germs and die.

‘Mummy’s gone home all weekend, is what,’ says Masha, all low.

‘She’s not your yobinny mummy. Your mummy probably went mad as soon as she saw you two freaks. Or died giving birth to you. That there, who’s just left, is one of the staff. And you’re one of the sick. She works here, you morons. Mummy indeed…’

I put my hands over my ears.

‘She is our yobinny mummy!’ shouts Masha.

‘Don’t you swear at me, you little mutant, or I’ll knock you senseless with the sharp end of this mop!’ We go all crunched into the corner of the cot then, and don’t say anything else because she did really hit Masha once, and she cried for hours. And Nastya said she’d do something much much worse, if we told on her.

When she’s gone, we come out of the corner of the cot into the middle.

‘She is our mummy anyway,’ says Masha. ‘Nastya’s lying like mad, she is, because she’s mean.’

I sniff. ‘Of course she’s our mummy,’ I say.

Supper time and bedtime in the Box

Then one of our nannies comes into our room with our bucket of food. She puts it down with a clang on the floor outside the Box, and we both reach up with our noses, and smell to see what she’s brought. It’s our Guess-the-Food-and-Nanny game. We can’t see her, but the smell comes bouncing over the glass wall and into our noses, and it’s whoever guesses first.

‘Fish soup!’ Masha laughs. ‘And Aunty Dusya!’

I love it when Masha laughs; it comes bubbling up inside me and then I can’t stop laughing.

‘Fish soup it is, you little bed bugs,’ calls Aunty Dusya from outside the Box. Then she clicks open the glass door and comes in with our bowl, all smiling in her eyes.

‘Open up.’ We both put our heads between the bars with our mouths wide open, to get all the soup one by one spoonful each.

Nyet!! – she’s getting the fish eyes, I saw, I saw!’

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