Andreï Makine 1957-
(Also transliterated as Andrei Makine) Russian-born French novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Makine's career through 2003.
Makine has been characterized as a writer caught between two cultures and two languages, and the search for cultural identity is a major theme in his novels. His novels span multiple generations and cross borders between different historical periods in both Russia and France. While Russian is Makine's first language, he writes in a lyrical French. As a non-Frenchman, however, he had trouble gaining acceptance in the sometimes insular circle of French literature until the critical and popular success of Le testament français (1995; Dreams of My Russian Summers).
Makine was born in Siberia and attended school in Moscow. He taught philology in Novgorod. In 1987 Makine moved to Paris to seek political asylum. He spent his early period there sleeping in a cemetery crypt while he wrote his first book, La fille d'un héros de l'Union soviétique (1990). The novel was turned down by several publishing houses until he asserted that he actually wrote in Russian and that his work was subsequently translated into French. When the publishers asked to see a copy of the Russian original, he had to quickly translate his French novel into Russian. He was turned down for French citizenship several times until Dreams of My Russian Summers garnered him critical honors. Makine was the first non-Frenchman to win the Prix Goncourt and the first writer to win both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Médicis. This novel also won the Prix Goncourt des lycéens, given out by French students. Makine has become an outspoken social, cultural, and literary commentator and has continued to write novels in French.
Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu (1992; Confessions of a Lapsed Standard-Bearer) focuses on Alyosha and his friend, Arkady, two youths growing up in a town outside Leningrad during the 1960s. The narrative touches on their parents' experiences during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II, and takes the form of a letter written by Alyosha to Arkady. A nostalgic look at a communist youth camp where the boys march, parade, and embrace the propaganda of the party, the novel turns when they begin to learn of the suffering their parents endured in the war. Au temps du fleuve Amour (1994; Once upon the River Love) centers on three teenage boys living in Siberia who become enamored of the West through watching French films starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. The boys see the West as an escape from the rigid dogmatism of Russia. Dreams of My Russian Summers is a celebration of French life as seen through the eyes of a Russian adolescent growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Alyosha spends summers with his French-born grandmother in southern Russia. She tells him stories about France and shares her treasures from her former life in Paris. The novel is a blend of history and memoir and spans cultural and geographical borders between France and Russia. Le crime d'Olga Arbélina (1998; The Crime of Olga Arbyelina) features Olga, a Russian expatriate living in Paris. She is estranged from her husband and lives alone with her son, who suffers from hemophilia. Olga's son drugs her at night in order to pursue an incestuous affair with her—which she discovers—and the novel explores Olga's complicity and pleasure in their forbidden relationship. Requiem pour l'Est (2000; Requiem for the East) presents the events of twentieth-century Russia through the eyes of a former Soviet secret agent. The narrator relates his own story, and that of his father and grandfather, to portray the violence and chaos of this period in history. La musique d'une vie (2001; Music of a Life) portrays the life of Andrei Berg, a piano player whose career is cut short when the Nazis invade the Ukraine in the 1940s. His parents are arrested, and he takes on the identity of a dead Soviet soldier. In the end his identity is revealed when a young woman tries to teach him to play piano, and he is unable to hide his talent. In La terre et le ciel de Jacques Dorme (2003; The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme) the narrator, an orphaned Soviet teen, is nurtured by an older French woman. He becomes interested in the story of a missing aviator—a figure likely based on René Dorme, a French pilot killed during World War I. This novel treats similar themes from Dreams of My Russian Summers and Requiem for the East, including a quest for personal identity and the conflict between two cultural and linguistic heritages.
Some reviewers have noted the influence of Marcel Proust and Ivan Bunin on Makine's work. Others have found Makine's writing similar to that of Anton Chekhov. Critics have praised Makine's lyrical style and his superb command of the French language. Reviewers have discussed the way Makine interweaves present action with reminiscences or memories of the past. For example, Sam Phipps asserted, “One of Makine's most distinctive tricks is the way he strips away layers of the past, freezing a fine detail or image in time and then returning to it again and again from a different angle, each reprise conjuring a fresh nuance or revelation as the main narrative drives forward. The effect is cumulative, powerful and somehow meditative.” Most reviewers note how deftly Makine recreates the struggle for cultural identity in many of his novels, but especially in Dreams of My Russian Summers. There is some disagreement among critics about whether Makine sought to make a judgement about the relative superiority of Russian or French culture in this work, but most agree that he successfully portrays the tension felt by a person caught between two cultures. One recurring criticism of Makine's writing is of his reliance on plot contrivances to move the story along, but most reviewers agree that this does not mar the overall quality of his novels. Francis King asserted, “when I describe Andreï Makine as a great writer, this is no journalistic exaggeration but my wholly sincere estimate of a man of prodigious gifts. In his combination of clarity, concision, tenderness and elegiac lyricism, he is the heir to Ivan Bunin, the first Russian ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.”
*La fille d'un héros de l'Union soviétique [The Hero's Daughter] (novel) 1990
*†Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu [Confessions of a Lapsed Standard-Bearer] (novel) 1992
Au temps du fleuve Amour [Once upon the River Love] (novel) 1994
Le testament français [Dreams of My Russian Summers] (novel) 1995
Le crime d'Olga Arbélina [The Crime of Olga Arbyelina (novel) 1998
‡Requiem pour l'Est [Requiem for the East] (novel) 2000
§La musique d'une vie [Music of a Life] (novel) 2001
La terre et le ciel de Jacques Dorme [The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme] (novel) 2003
La femme qui attendait (novel) 2004
*Also translated as A Hero's Daughter, and referred to as The Daughter of a Hero of the Soviet Union and A Soviet Hero's Daughter.
†Also translated as The Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer in 2000.
‡Also translated as Requiem for a Lost Empire in 2001.
§Also translated as A Life's Music.
SOURCE: Gunn, Dan. “The Chosen Country.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4842 (19 January 1996): 11.
[In the following review, Gunn compares Vassilis Alexakis's La langue maternelle with Makine's Le testament français, examining their place within French literature.]
Both these prize-winning works [La langue maternelle, by Vassilis Alexakis and Le testament français, by Makine] purport to be novels, though they come on strongly, unashamedly indeed for the bulk of their length—and they are long—as memoirs, reminiscences, autobiographies. Both are by “foreigners” who have sought to escape their homelands into France, and...
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SOURCE: Knorr, Katherine. “Andreï Makine's Poetics of Nostalgia.” New Criterion 14, no. 7 (March 1996): 32-6.
[In the following essay, Knorr assesses Makine's work and its place within contemporary French literature.]
French book prizes get more attention when there is a story attached. The book isn't the thing; the author must have a legend. Thus we had Marguerite Duras boasting that L'Amant was all a true story, or the prize winner who turned out to be a salesman in a newspaper kiosk.
The story was better than usual this time when both the Médicis and Goncourt prizes were won by Andreï Makine, an impecunious Russian living in a...
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SOURCE: Jones, Tobin H. Review of Le testament français, by Andreï Makine. French Review 70, no. 1 (October 1996): 147-48.
[In the following review, Jones states that Le testament français centers on the protagonist's search for his cultural and social identity.]
Russian-born Andreï Makine's fourth novel and recipient of the Prix Goncourt (1995), Le testament français, invites comparisons. It explores interstices between the literary dimensions of the fictional memoir and eulogy, among radically different historical periods and cultural contexts, and between the social ideologies of the France of the Belle Epoque and Third Republic and the...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
SOURCE: Wright, Barbara. “Charlotte Russe.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4912 (23 May 1997): 21.
[In the following review, Wright praises Le testament français, lauding its juxtaposition of life in France and Russia.]
Le testament français sent me back to Dr Zhivago, and I don't think the association is too outrageous. This autobiographical novel is told in the first person by a Russian boy painfully living through his adolescent years in the 1970s. He is bright, sensitive, independent-minded, and the constraints of the Soviet system magnify the normal torments of adolescence, until he finds them almost impossible to bear. And yet he is...
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SOURCE: Lottman, Herbert R. “From Russia—and France—with Love.” Publishers Weekly 244, no. 27 (7 July 1997): 18.
[In the following review, Lottman describes Makine's career path and his rise to critical and popular success.]
It's the stuff of romance—or maybe of grand opera: the Russian émigré in a drafty Montmartre garret, writing with gloves on until a benefactor lends him an electric heater, scribbling on his lap until an endtable is found for him. Then when Andrei Makine is ready to publish his fourth novel, Dreams of My Russian Summers (Arcade's English translation is out next month), he is put off by publishers and bawled out for his...
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SOURCE: Emck, Katy. “Russian Dreams.” New Statesman 126, no. 4355 (10 October 1997): 46.
[In the following review, Emck argues Le testament français “is a novel of charm and feeling,” but is not deserving of the high levels of literary hype it received.]
Novels about growing up court two different extremes. They can be reverential, nostalgic and sentimental. Or they can be comic, exaggerated and cute. A classic example of the comic, worm's-eye mode is Dickens in Great Expectations. At the other extreme there's Proust, with his reverence for the past and his endlessly fine discriminations of feeling.
Andrei Makine, a Russian who...
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SOURCE: Tolstaya, Tatyana. “Love Story.” New York Review of Books 44, no. 18 (20 November 1997): 4, 6.
[In the following review, Tolstaya provides an analysis of Dreams of My Russian Summers and attempts to correct what she believes are mistakes made by other reviewers.]
Russian literature may take pride in a strange success: Andreï Makine, a Russian of indeterminate French origin, was awarded two of the most prestigious literary prizes for a book [Dreams of My Russian Summer] written in French, in France, and about France—a book which is nonetheless quintessentially Russian. In our time, it seems, you have to be born Russian, spend thirty years of...
(The entire section is 2769 words.)
SOURCE: Merlin, Lara. Review of Dreams of My Russian Summers, by Andreï Makine. World Literature Today 72, no. 2 (spring 1998): 339-40.
[In the following review, Merlin posits that Dreams of My Russian Summers examines a person living under the influence of French and Russian cultures—and the impact the two conflicting systems create.]
Surely culture is the most-contemplated category in literature and criticism today. In a trans-, multi-, inter-, high-, pop-, consumer-, and occasionally counter-cultural age, Andreï Makine's Dreams of My Russian Summers (originally Le testament français, 1995) asks unusually provocative questions about...
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SOURCE: Jones, Tobin H. Review of Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu, by Andreï Makine. French Review 71, no. 4 (March 1998): 677-78.
[In the following review, Jones discusses Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu.]
The story of how Russian-born Andreï Makine published his second novel, Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu, now seems apocryphal. Unlike his first novel, La fille d'un héros de l'Union soviétique (1990), which he composed in Russian and had translated, Makine wrote this novel in French. Finding it possible to place only as a translation, he provided Belfond with a Russian “original” he translated from his composition in...
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SOURCE: See, Carolyn. “Breathless.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (9 August 1998): 9.
[In the following review, See contends Once upon the River Love is flawed due to its tired cliches regarding the political situation in Siberia and a glut of passages focusing on movie star Jean-Paul Belmondo.]
When Andrei Makine's Dreams of My Russian Summers was published in America last year, it met with well-deserved acclaim. In these pages, Thomas McGonigle called it “one of the great autobiographical novels of this century.” Now, in 1998, we have Makine's Once upon the River Love, but its European copyright, 1996, is a year earlier than Russian...
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SOURCE: Brookner, Anita. “Violence with Decorum.” Spectator 283, no. 8919 (17 July 1999): 30-1.
[In the following review, Brookner concludes that Makine has further refined his storytelling abilities in The Crime of Olga Arbyelina.]
The Crime of Olga Arbyelina is the fifth novel written by the Russian exile Andrei Makine, best known to the reading public for Le testament français, which won both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Médicis in 1996. What was notable about Le testament français was that it was written in a lyrical and fairly singular French, not Makine's first language, and that it had an equal success in England when a translation...
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SOURCE: Dallas, Lucy. “The Bitterness of Exile.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5030 (27 August 1999): 24.
[In the following review, Dallas contends that Makine sensitively handles the topic of incest in The Crime of Olga Arbyelina.]
Andreï Makine is a Russian émigré writer with an extremely glamorous life story; he was born in Siberia, studied in Moscow, taught philology in Novgorod, and then fled to Paris to seek political asylum in 1987. In his early years there, he slept in a cemetery while writing his first book, which he had to pretend was translated by a bona fide Frenchman, since nobody would believe that a Russian could write such good French. He has...
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SOURCE: Merlin, Lara. Review of Once upon the River Love, by Andreï Makine. World Literature Today 74, no. 1 (winter 2000): 116.
[In the following review, Merlin asserts that the main topic of Once upon the River Love is the relationship between the East and West.]
In Andreï Makine's Once upon the River Love, three teenage boys in Siberia fall in love with the West in the person of the French film actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. Traveling the twenty miles by snowshoe to the closest theater a full seventeen times, each boy sees in his hero a model of what he wants to be, what will enable him to escape the dogmatism of Cold War ideology.
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SOURCE: Tahourdin, Adrian. “Sun on the Tundra.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5051 (21 January 2000): 22.
[In the following review, Tahourdin delineates similarities and differences between Once upon the River Love and Le testament français.]
Once upon the River Love was originally published before Le testament français (1995), the prizewinning novel which made Andreï Makine's reputation in his adopted country, France. There are similarities between the two: both books are set in the Brezhnev era, against a backdrop of grim Soviet industrialism; both express a yearning for the West, in particular for France; and both evince a love of French...
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SOURCE: Taras, Ray. “A La Recherche du Pays Perdu: Andreï Makine's Russia.” East European Quarterly 34, no. 1 (March 2000): 51-79.
[In the following essay, Taras presents critical summaries of Makine's five published novels and connects the works to “the political values central to his narrative of Russia.”]
Andrei Makine is “Russian, but he is not a Russian writer.” This is because “Makine the Russian wrote a novel in French since he was not up to writing it in Russian, and we Russians can only make sense of it in its translation from the French.” Yet “he does not seem a foreigner to us and, putting my hand over my heart, it is clear he isn't...
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SOURCE: Merlin, Lara. Review of The Crime of Olga Arbyelina, by Andreï Makine. World Literature Today 74, no. 2 (spring 2000): 395.
[In the following review, Merlin argues that the son's relationship to his mother in The Crime of Olga Arbyelina functions as an allegory for the relationship between Makine and Mother Russia.]
Andreï Makine's highly praised semi-autobiographical novel Dreams of My Russian Summers (1997) recounted the tale of Siberian adolescent being raised by his French grandmother in the repressive years of the Cold War. His second novel, Once upon the River Love (1998), similarly depicts a Siberian orphan passionately in...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
SOURCE: Riemer, Andrew. “The Russian Testaments of Andreï Makine.” Quadrant 44, no. 7-8 (July-August 2000): 74-7.
[In the following essay, Riemer provides an overview Makine's major works and themes.]
Late February is not yet springtime in Paris, but bookshops are usually in bloom by then with brightly coloured bands around sober paper covers to indicate new works by established and well-regarded writers. This year was no exception. Among the most prominent of that early flowering was Requiem pour l'Est (Requiem for the East), Andreï Makine's sixth novel in ten years, and the second since his reputation was established by the extraordinary success...
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SOURCE: Champagne, Roland A. Review of La musique d'une vie, by Andreï Makine. World Literature Today 75, no. 2 (spring 2001): 354.
[In the following review, Champagne asserts that La musique d'une vie functions as part of a modern Russian folklore that extends beyond Russia.]
Andreï Makine received the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis in 1995 for his novel Le testament français. Six works later, Makine's Siberian origins continue to enrich his storytelling skills to awaken the Russian past for readers of French. The enchanting novel La musique d'une vie begins when the narrator embarks on a train voyage from a small Siberian village to...
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SOURCE: Sooke, Alastair. “The Golden Age of Stalin.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5132 (10 August 2001): 20.
[In the following review, Sooke provides a brief plot synopsis of Requiem for the East, praising the novel, and believing that readers will enjoy the work.]
Andreï Makine's new novel, Requiem for the East, views twentieth-century Russia through the eyes of an anonymous secret agent addressing his (also nameless) former lover. He recalls successive wars, involving three generations of his family who have lived through a period of great political turmoil. Savage rapes and executions ensure a background jangle of brutality, as Makine...
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SOURCE: Phipps, Sam. “Recounting the Cost.” Spectator 287, no. 9030 (1 September 2001): 35.
[In the following review, Phipps lauds Makine's treatment of subject matter in Requiem for the East.]
Andreï Makine has been compared to Nabokov, Chekhov, Proust. Far from flattering him, such plaudits barely begin to do him justice. It's true that some of his qualities—economy of language, fascination with memory and the past—do bring other writers to mind, but Makine, who has lived in France since defecting from the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, has rare talents and a unique voice.
Makine writes in French, not Russian. His last novel to be...
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SOURCE: Chamberlain, Lesley. “The End of the Affair.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (2 September 2001): 4.
[In the following review, Chamberlain argues that Makine's Requiem for a Lost Empire is a thoroughly modern novel.]
The Russian novelist Andreï Makine, who writes in French, finds that the joys and deceits of language, and the temptation of silence, dwell at the heart of Russia's extreme 20th century history. History and language seem to be Makine's themes. In his earlier novel, Dreams of My Russian Summers, a Russian boy learned from his French grandmother her lovely musical language and found that escaping to a place where he could live with...
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SOURCE: Jones, Tobin H. Review of Requiem pour l'Est, by Andreï Makine. French Review 75 (1 December 2001): 395-96.
[In the following review, Jones discusses Requiem for the East as another of the author's works commenting on his feelings about his Russian experience.]
[Requiem for the East] is Makine's sixth novel offering subjective reflections on Soviet Russia. For its Russian narrator awakening from illusion, it is a self-discovery and a confession, across time and distance, to his unnamed lover and co-agent in the service of Russian intelligence. It begins in response to her desire that some day the truth be told but becomes for him a...
(The entire section is 665 words.)
SOURCE: Champagne, Roland A. Review of Requiem for a Lost Empire, by Andreï Makine. World Literature Today 76, no. 1 (winter 2002): 181.
[In the following review, Champagne contends that Makine's ability to skillfully narrate a story is displayed in Requiem for a Lost Empire.]
There is sadness and joy in [Requiem for a Lost Empire,] this recollection of being a Russian in the twentieth century and experiencing war from the Russian Revolution to the Cold War. Andreï Makine once again uses his fine narrating skills to re-create the heritage of what was once called the USSR or the Soviet Union. His narrator moves back and forth in time to recall the...
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SOURCE: Picone, Jason. Review of Requiem for a Lost Empire, by Andreï Makine. Review of Contemporary Fiction 27, no. 1 (spring 2002): 125.
[In the following review, Picone asserts that Makine “continues to earn the sky-high literary comparisons … thrust upon him.”]
Makine's latest novel [Requiem for a Lost Empire] is a terminal tour of the violent episodes endured by Russia in the twentieth century. A saga that spans three generations of Russian soldiers, Requiem maintains an epic feel through its sweeping variation of setting and character. The novel's narrator haunts Third World hotspots around the end of the cold war, reminiscing about...
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SOURCE: Green, Peter. “The Piano Man.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (18 August 2002): 4.
[In the following review, Green questions why a reader would want to read about the Stalinist era in Russia in Makine's Music of a Life.]
Reading novels, good or bad, about the grimy puritanism and murderous paranoia of the Stalinist era in Soviet Russia is rather like being stuck at a party with a man who insists on giving you a blow-by-blow account of his wife's losing battle with cancer while confined in a mental hospital. You feel natural sympathy, but you wish to God you were anywhere else. As the writer Compton Mackenzie remarked, when asked, toward the end of World War...
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SOURCE: Birkerts, Sven. “Marche Slave.” Washington Post Book World (18 August 2002): 13.
[In the following review, Birkerts assesses what he believes to be some of the faults of Makine's Music of a Life.]
In this era of hybrid literary adventurism, Russian émigré Andrei Makine, author of the highly acclaimed Dreams of My Russian Youth (1997)—itself a work that shaded eerily between novel and memoir—now brings us a novella that grafts upon the tradition of the traveler's tale something of the sensibility of Borgesian modernism, with its beguiling play of doubles and transposed identities.
Music of a Life (translated with...
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SOURCE: King, Francis. “Harmony Triumphantly Achieved.” Spectator 290, no. 9091 (2 November 2002): 61-2.
[In the following review, King describes Makine's artistry as displayed in his novel A Life's Music, also known as Music of a Life.]
Like most human beings, most novelists are neither outstandingly good nor outstandingly bad. This poses a problem for reviewers. A good novelist can write interestingly about mediocre characters; but even a superlative reviewer may find it difficult to write interestingly about mediocre novels. In consequence, reviewers all too often rush to the extremes of proclaiming a novel either a stinker or a masterpiece. In my own...
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SOURCE: Thompson, Sam. “Derailed by History.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5202 (13 December 2002): 22.
[In the following review, Thompson asserts that Makine makes the most of the novella form in A Life's Music.]
Andreï Makine left his native Russia in 1987 after glasnost, and travelled to Paris, where he was initially homeless. He has now published seven highly acclaimed novels in French. Like the author's own story, A Life's Music is a tale of dispossession and survival. At a railway station in a remote part of the Soviet Union, the nameless narrator discovers an old man, Alexeï Berg, playing an abandoned piano; as they travel to Moscow together, Berg...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
SOURCE: Hunt, Laird. Review of Music of a Life, by Andreï Makine. Review of Contemporary Fiction 23, no. 1 (spring 2003): 138.
[In the following review, Hunt praises Music of a Life as a powerful and epic novel.]
Andreï Makine's powerful new novel opens in a provincial train station in the middle of a snowstorm. There, an unnamed narrator finds himself stranded amid a sea of fellow travelers, whose collective patience in the face of a long and unpleasant delay seems a microcosm of the Soviet condition. The principal story that Makine unfolds in the pages that follow is the tale, told to the narrator, of one of these travelers—one of these constituent...
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SOURCE: Safran, Gabriella. “Andreï Makine's Literary Bilingualism and the Critics.” Comparative Literature 55, no. 3 (summer 2003): 246-65.
[In the following essay, Safran examines Makine's unique role as a bilingual Russian and French writer, noting the critical reception of his works by Russian, French, and American literary critics.]
Andrei Makine's Le testament français (1995), an evocation of a Russian childhood and youth spent under the influence of a French grandmother and marked by the dream of a distant France, has more than a few things in common with the story of the writer himself. After Makine emigrated to France in 1987 at the age of 30, he...
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