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.
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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 who have written their tributes to their pays d'élection in French. The two novels chart, then, the workings of memory transplanted to foreign soil and fertilized by foreign customs, syntax and vocabulary. Both teem with fascinating recollections finely reproduced: of France, the author's mother, and Greece, in the case of La langue maternelle (which jointly won the 1995 Prix Médicis); of France, the author's grandmother, and Russia, in Le testament français (which shared the Médicis, and took the Prix Goncourt).
Curiously, there is a single memory which I find to be common to the two works. It is of how, in the past, dogs' excrement was collected and then sold to be used in tanneries to soften the...
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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 one-room apartment in the Eighteenth Arrondissement. He had been rejected by a number of publishing houses until he pretended that he wrote not in French but in Russian and that he was translated. He had applied for French citizenship and been turned down. He spoke with a heavy accent.
The journalists scrambled to deal with this one. Not everything said was kind. He was proud, and reticent about biographical details tying him too closely to his narrator. It was an eye-opener for Makine when he was asked what he was going to do with the royalties, summoning to his horrified mind visions of video cassette recorders or a quick trip to Martinique. The journalists who had actually read the book almost all came back to the same theme:...
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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 Russia of the Tsars and the Stalinist and post-Stalinist eras. Beyond the wealth of comparative perspectives lie exceptional artistic effect and rich psychological insights—of self-discovery and of a sensitive awakening to the brutal and the beautiful in living truly hard times.
Echoes of Proust are unmistakable, but they do not subvert the novel's originality. Instead, they make more evident the difference of Makine's vision and technique. The story is simple. Aliocha, a Russian-born immigrant to France, memorializes the linguistic, intellectual, and cultural heritage he owes Charlotte, his French-born grandmother who immigrated to Russia and whom the narrator as child and then young man would visit each summer in the...
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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 lucky; all through his childhood and youth, he is able to live a parallel life of the imagination, thanks to his extraordinary French grandmother, Charlotte, who lives in Siberia.
Andreï Makine is bilingual in Russian and French, and this is his fourth novel in French. In 1995, it deservedly won him not only the Prix Goncourt, but also the Prix Médicis and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. He was born in Siberia in 1957 and grew up in Penza, a town on a tributary of the Volga. On a trip to Paris in 1987, he was granted political asylum. Reduced to living rough at the start, he only managed to get his first novel published—in 1990—when he pretended that he had translated it from a Russian original.
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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 impatience, until late one night, Simone Gallimard phones to say she wants the book for the Gallimard subsidiary Mercure de France for a whopping ＄2000 advance, and a promised 3000-copy printing.
Then Parisian reviewers get a crack at it. While most of them spend their time singing each other's praises—it's called “sending the elevator back down”—they can't ignore this outlander. He's the Russian Proust (or the French Chekhov, since he wrote Dreams in French). Alarmed at rumors that he'd get the Goncourt Prize—the world's most lucrative in terms of sales—a competing French publisher too cleverly tries to maneuver things so that Makine wins the prestigious Medicis Prize a week before the Goncourt voting. Irate...
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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 writes in French about the love of things French, goes the way of Proust. His novel [Le testament français] is fascinated by the mechanism of memory and has something of Proust's lush lyricism but little of his genius. It has been received ecstatically in France, perhaps because Makine's Slavic sentiment and Proustian content recall the great days of the French novel and provide relief from the aridities of post-Robbe-Grillet post-modernism.
It is in essence a history of Russia this century, filtered through the reminiscences of Charlotte, a Siberian woman who has endured the hardship of the Revolution and of Stalinism but who tells her grandson romantic tales of the France where she grew up. As a child of the dour...
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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 your life in Russia, a country where cruelty and reverie form a paradoxical unity (this, of course, is a cliché, but, like all clichés, it's true) in order to hallucinate with such power and passion, in order to create a fabulous country—a nonexistent France—from words and dreams.
On first glance (but only on first) this France is the subject of Makine's book. The author created a stir in 1995: he was the only French writer (and he wasn't even French, for that matter!) to have ever been awarded the country's two highest literary awards for one and the same book: the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Médicis, as well as the “Lycée Goncourt,” which is awarded by students. How the prizes were awarded is a detective...
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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 the ways in which we inhabit cultures and what lives on in their interstices.
Makine's autobiographical novel relates the story of a boy with a French grandmother growing up in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, when anything foreign was automatically suspect. Raised to speak both French and Russian, he seeks to understand what it means to possess a culture and what it means to be possessed by it. Is it possible to belong to more than one cultural tradition? Does the small group of people with French and Russian ancestry or bilingualism comprise its own Franco-Russian or Russo-French culture? Can one be both French and Russian? Does this not make one neither French nor Russian, lingering in a cultural...
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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 French. In 1996, after the recognition of the Goncourt and Médicis prizes for his 1995 Le testament français, Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu was reprinted under Makine's name as the author of the French version. Whether true or not, this story, now told by Belfond as well as by the narrator of Le testament français, captures the fugitive and Protean nature of “truth” in the shifting perspectives and transforming contexts of the postmodern era. Doing so, it announces many of the questions that the novel itself raises.
Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu echoes Makine's preoccupations with disillusionment seen in his first novel. It is an account of two Russian boys' loss of faith as they...
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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 Summers, [Dreams of My Russian Summers] and in many ways it reads like a rough draft of that “great autobiographical novel.”
Russian Summers concerned a sensitive young Russian boy who spends his summers in an obscure village at the edge of the Steppes—along with his sister—in the company of his French grandmother, a woman who changes him from a rough bear cub into an introspective man whose knowledge spans both Russian and European worlds. It's full of lush Proustian echoes and nuances about the enchantments of memory. Once upon the River Love is the story of a sensitive young Russian boy who spends his early life—along with two friends—in an obscure village in the Siberian taiga (the...
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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 was published in 1997.
Le testament français tells the story of a young Russian growing up far from sophisticated centres of excellence (Makine was in fact born in Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia). Persuaded by his grandmother of the superiority of all things French, the protagonist, who was certainly Makine himself, eventually found his penniless way to Paris, where, for lack of any kind of support, he was forced to set up headquarters in the Père Lachaise cemetery. This would be original enough; that the young man then managed to turn himself into a bestselling author is the stuff of fairytale or legend. He further distinguished himself by making little capital out of his story. Only a well-meaning and innocent face,...
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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 mastered not only the language but also the idiom; his books feel French rather than Russian, slightly old-fashioned and very carefully written. His third novel, Le testament français, was largely autobiographical and wholly beautiful, and it won both of France's big literary prizes in one year—the first novel ever to do so.
The Crime of Olga Arbyelina is his first book since then, the difficult follow-up to a huge success. It is still recognizably the same style of writing and there are themes in common with Le testament français, but Makine manages to make it work anew. Indeed, he has to for the book to succeed, since the central mystery, involving incest, is a disturbing one, and we must be in...
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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.
Makine's rapturously received autobiographical first novel, published in English as Dreams of My Russian Summers, questioned the nature of cultural belonging through its one-quarter French hero growing up in Siberia during the Cold War. This second novel returns to those small frozen villages in order to ask about the divide between East and West and its impact on love, strength, and art. Writing twenty years later in France, the narrator, Dmitri (not, as the book jacket proclaims, Alyosha—somebody seems to have confused the most dissimilar of the Karamazov brothers), ponders the draw of the West for its three troubled heroes.
As in the previous novel, a considerable amount of space is devoted to the anguish of...
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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 culture, absorbed from afar. Once upon the River Love, which takes place mostly in a snowbound village in eastern Siberia (“our doomed territories”), feels autobiographical in much the same way as the later novel, an affecting depiction of rites of passage. There is the same lyrical intensity that characterized Le testament français, the same attention to detail. Above all, Makine's remarkable written command of his adopted language (he emigrated to France as recently as 1987), which invites comparisons with Nabokov, is already fully in evidence (the novel was published in France in 1994). But where Nabokov bewitchingly evokes summery childhood and adolescence on country estates, Makine's lyricism is employed to mitigate...
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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 a Frenchman.” Who is Makine, then? Tatyana Tolstoya concludes her Russian-language review of Makine by asserting that he is “a philological half-breed, a cultural hybrid, a linguistic chimera, a literary basilisk.”1
Makine was born in Siberia in 1957 but went to Paris as a translator in 1987, obtained asylum, and has lived in France since. He struggled to establish a literary career there; as Tolstoya observed: “After the fall of the iron curtain, practical Russians left for America, idealists for France.”2 As a child in Siberia, French had been his “grandmother tongue” anyway, he claimed.3 Proficiency in a foreign language distinguished Makine during his Soviet childhood and...
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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 love with a prostitute and the French cinema. For both of these eager boys on the brink of adult sexuality, the idea behind Makine's newest work, The Crime of Olga Arbyelina—about a Russian mother who has sex with her fourteen-year-old son in France—would be a dream come true. Unfortunately, the reader will find this book's eponymous heroine to be no less absent than the mothers in the earlier works. Olga Arbyelina is indeed dreamlike, for despite the fact that the story is largely told through Olga's eyes, she always seems unreal, ungraspable, insubstantial. Sadly, the young boy seems much more real in the two or three pages where we see into his mind than the mother does in the remaining 245. When he looks with longing at his...
(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 in 1995 of Le testament français, the winner of that year's prestigious Prix Goncourt. That rites-of-passage tale set in a remote corner of the USSR spoke eloquently to a large body of readers, especially those outside Russia, through its subtle lyricism and the glimpses it allowed of ordinary, everyday existence under a brutally repressive regime in distant Moscow and Leningrad.
In that, as much as in the way it registered the central characters' longing for the world outside—in this instance an almost mythological and certainly mythologised France—Le testament français drew together the principal preoccupations of Makine's earlier novels. Clearly, that exceptional work, as much as its somewhat less...
(The entire section is 3420 words.)
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 Moscow in the early 1970s. He meets the elderly Andreï Berg, a piano player who never realized his promise to be a professional pianist. Instead, Berg explains what happened to his career, taking us back to 1941, when the Nazis invaded the Ukraine. He pretended to be a Soviet soldier in order to escape persecution and found himself in the face of the invading Nazi juggernaut. His autobiography explains how the pretense saved his life but introduced him to the rigors of war and then, once his identity was exposed, to ten years in a gulag.
An orchestra of human sounds replaces the piano in Berg's life. He survives in the military by imitating others and by strokes of luck. Perhaps he most memorable moments in his story...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
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 memorializes the countless victims of this violent history with a dissonant music of “uncoordinated” gunshots, and the dying gasps of wounded men who sound as though they would “burst into song”. The melancholy tone, rendered by Geoffrey Strachan's sensitive translation, is full of the nostalgia that accompanies change, even if the past is a tragic one.
The narrative interweaves stories about the narrator's father and grandfather. The “East” of the title is a fading Russia, but also a lost golden age, a place where the sun rises. The narrator begins by recalling his childhood, transformed in memory into a mythical Eden. Hiding from the authorities, his parents found an isolated enclave in the Caucasus. Yet Stalin, like a...
(The entire section is 617 words.)
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 translated into English, Confessions of a Lapsed Standard-Bearer, was a brief, exquisite evocation of childhood in the postwar USSR. Not only did it its narrator Alyosha totally convince as a young boy who rebels after gradually awakening to the falseness of the system around him, but the compelling inner lives of the main characters were matched by a gripping story. Requiem for the East is longer and perhaps more ambitious, but just as impressive.
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...
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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 beauty became the point of his life.
Requiem for a Lost Empire attributes a similar history to Makine's nameless narrator. When, late in Stalin's era, the secret police came for his parents, this boy was snatched to safety by Sasha, a French woman long settled in Russia and an old friend of the family. He was saved. But there his fascination and his suffering also began: over what person to be, which language to speak and which history to make his own. The Soviet Russian past and present were full of disappearances, evasions and hidden dangers. His first impulse as he grew older was to beware a world “booby-trapped by words.” His second, much later, was to bear witness to the history of his country....
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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 recovery of self. Confronting the truth of his experiences, the narrator struggles with multiple identities imposed by the dissolute political ideology of the eroding Soviet Union. More than another indictment of Cold War politics, however, this narrative is also a compelling story of those caught up in and destroyed by the idea of empire.
Requiem pour l'Est is composed of twenty-six chapters divided unevenly among six parts. These, in turn, form three movements distinguishable by their thematic and historical emphases. Part I recalls the narrator's being orphaned, fragments of his early experiences, and his recruitment by an agent named Chakh. Part II begins with his meeting his partner. The remaining chapters of the...
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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 military suffering and cruelty he himself experiences as a political agent in the cold war combined with his father's harrowing work as a corpsman against the Nazis and his grandfather's memories as a foot soldier against the Whites during the Bolshevik Revolution.
While the cold war was the occasion for the narrator's training to forget his past and to prepare for the future as a political spy, his narrative reinstills memories of the “phantom country” that once was. The narrator identifies his role “to continue that story,” yet refuses the identity of historian, moralist, and objective witness. He speaks about the similar experience of losing a limb and retaining the illusion of sensation from the lost limb. This...
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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 his past as he plays at espionage for the homeland. Unable to make sense of the Soviet collapse, he examines his family history for an explanation, beginning with his grandfather, Nikolai. A deserter from the Red Army during the October Revolution, Nikolai sickens of killing and simply returns home, vainly seeking to escape the state-sponsored propaganda that will dog him and his descendents. The most memorable passages of the novel are those dedicated to Nikolai's son, Pavel, who fights as a soldier on the Eastern front in World War II. The cruelty of the Russian officers, who repeatedly send Pavel and his countrymen unarmed to meet the enemy, is equal to that of the German soldiers who wait to kill them. Makine's image of a paralyzed...
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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 I, if he'd seen D. H. Lawrence's “Look! We Have Come Through!,” a cycle of love poems addressing the wartime tribulations of Lawrence and his wife Frieda: “I'm very glad they've come through, but I don't see why I should have to look.”
Worse, because of the need for subtle indirection on the part of anti-Stalinist Soviet authors under Soviet censorship (what George Orwell labeled doublethink, and Czeslaw Milosz Ketmanism), a tradition of symbolism and allegory developed in Russian fiction that persisted long after the firing squads and gulags that had necessitated it were (in theory at least) done away with. On top of this, the Western habit, generated by the Cold War, of wildly overpraising any Russian literature...
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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 graceful precision from the French by Geoffrey Strachan) opens in a snowbound railway station somewhere in the Urals, where an unnamed, somberly reflective narrator awaits the train that will take him to Moscow. Panning his detached gaze over the huddled bodies of his fellow travelers, tracking negotiations between a local prostitute and some soldiers, he indulges in a cynical meditation on the idea of Homo sovieticus (the term being a kind of encompassing hieroglyph for the pervasive erosion of spirit and individuality in the post-Stalin era), concluding that “this is what life consists of: waiting, resignation, hot stickiness in the depths of your shoes. And this station besieged by the snowstorm is nothing other than a microcosm of the whole...
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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 time, reviewers have called Anthony Powell the English Proust and C. P. Snow the English Balzac, and compared Olivia Manning's two wartime trilogies to War and Peace. When, some 50 years ago. I published a novel entitled The Widow, my publisher rang up in a state of rare excitement to tell me that a now forgotten reviewer had referred to me as ‘Gibbon's successor’. Even if I had been a historian. I should have been appalled by such a preposterous but no doubt well-intentioned accolade. Hyperbole and the derision that follows it can ultimately do the writer no good at all.
All this is a preamble to saying that, when I describe Andreï Makine as a great writer, this is no journalistic exaggeration but my...
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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 tells the story of his life. In 1941, he is a young man on the brink of a career as a concert pianist, but his family falls victim to one of Stalin's purges, and he becomes a fugitive. Assuming the identity of a dead soldier, he plunges into the Second World War and survives, only to find himself stranded in a life not his own.
Makine manages to compress great swaths of time and space into a 106-page novella and still have it sparkle with detail; perhaps it is unsurprising that A Life's Music is a cinematic piece of writing, with the pace and structural economy of a well-edited film. The short, well-turned sections seem to take their cues from the master scene, the single shot and the montage, while the climactic...
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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 elements of homo sovieticus, in Alexander Zinoviev's phrase—but it might stand for many a life derailed by Stalin's purges. Alexis Berg, promising young pianist, his parents arrested and soon to be exiled, finds himself forced to flee his home two days before his first public recital. World War II and the borrowed identity of a dead soldier provide a temporary but transformative cover for the young exile: he feels his way through the fog of love and betrayal that awaits him at war's end with well-calloused hands. Berg's story is tragic, but it is not unremittingly grim. As in all Makine's writing (which once again has been beautifully translated by Geoffrey Strachan), even the darkest textures are shot through, at least fleetingly,...
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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 began writing in French, but Parisian publishers were unwilling even to look at manuscripts submitted by a man with a Russian name and accented speech. His first two novels—La fille d'un héros de l'Union soviétique (A Soviet Hero's Daughter) and Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu (Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer)—were accepted only after he told the publishers that they were translations from the Russian. (He named the fictitious translator Albert Lemonnier, after his great-grandmother, Albertine Lemonnier, and he even had to translate the second novel into Russian for a publisher who demanded to see the “original”!) Le testament français, by contrast, was published without the...
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Kellman, Steven G. “Andrei Makine's New Novel of 20th Century Russia.” Chicago Tribune Books (26 August 2001): 1, 2.
Provides plot synopsis and commentary on the style and themes of Requiem for a Lost Empire.
Makine, Andreï and Sophie Masson. “An Interview with Andreï Makine.” Quadrant 42, no. 11 (November 1998): 62-3.
Makine discusses his critical reception in France and the responses to his novel The Crime of Olga Arbyelina.
Musgrove, Mike. “The First Picture Show.” Washington Post Book World (13 September 1998): 7.
A positive review including a brief plot synopsis of Once upon the River Love.
Additional coverage of Makine's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 176; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 103; and Literature Resource Center.
(The entire section is 119 words.)