(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Another Life chronicles a widow’s progress in the months following her husband’s untimely death at age forty-two. The narrative, presented entirely from Olga Vasilievna’s point of view, switches from present to past and back again as she attempts to make sense of their life together and of her solitary existence now. She reviews their courtship, the course of their marriage, and the ups and downs of her husband’s career.

Yuri Trifonov eschews strict chronological order in favor of the workings of memory, at least in the first part of the novel. As Another Life opens, Olga is wide awake in the night, suffering from some undefined guilt. Others have blamed her for her husband’s death, and she unwillingly seeks to discover the truth or falsehood of that charge. Her frustration with her own sleeplessness leads her to memories of her husband’s restlessness and their late-night quarrels and conflicts. That in turn leads to worries about her current situation. She shares an apartment with her teenage daughter Irina and her dragonlike, vindictive mother-in-law, Alexandra Prokofievna. Scenes from the recent past float by without giving her any clue to a way out of her current dilemma: how to continue to live now that her husband is gone. She returns to one of her constant themes: her husband’s previous lovers and what she supposes to be his real preference in women. At the same time, her practical side rebels against the futility of remembrance and dully looks ahead to the next few hours and her morning routine.

Olga and Sergei met through a mutual friend named Vlad, a kind, dull, pockmarked medical student Olga was seeing at the time. A biologist, shamefully unmarried at the age of twenty-four, Olga finds little joy either in the prospect of teaching at a local secondary school or in marrying faithful Vlad. He makes the fatal mistake of introducing Olga to Sergei, a quirky, brilliant young historian working “in some obscure institution in a job that was not in his field.” Not until the following summer does Vlad begin to suspect his friends’ mutual attraction, when the three of them plus a superfluous acquaintance named Rita scrape up...

(The entire section is 893 words.)