Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 691
Olga Vasilievna (vah-see-LYEHV-nah), a recently widowed research biologist. After the early death of her husband, Sergei Afanasievich, she reconstructs by way of flashbacks their life together in an attempt to understand what went wrong and to assuage her guilt feelings about her husband’s demise. In the end, she realizes that she is not to blame, that their marriage was doomed to failure through forces beyond their control, and that they both unknowingly had yearned for a life other than their own, which eventually led to misunderstandings and the tragic end. Although she has many acquaintances and female friends, gets on well with people, and is not afraid of life’s complexities, she finds that she is psychologically overly dependent on other people and is therefore unable to attain happiness by living independently.
Sergei Afanasievich (sehr-GAY ah-fah-NAH-syeh-vihch), Olga’s husband, a brilliant historian who dies prematurely at the age of forty-two without accomplishing much. Capricious and of unstable character, lacking dedication and willpower, and always in trouble at the institute where he works, he nevertheless knows how to make friends, especially among women, and ostensibly how to keep his marriage from falling apart. His main problem is a strong dependence on his mother’s opinion and moods; he is compelled to explain and justify himself to her. He adores his mother and stands in awe before her for “making history” during the Russian Revolution. Because of his subservience to his mother and his fear of disappointing her high expectations of him, he is ashamed to admit failure and to make necessary changes in his behavior. Instead of accepting Olga’s help, he walks away from difficulties whenever they threaten to overwhelm him. He never finishes his dissertation, spending most of the time pursuing his theory about the unbroken thread running from generation to generation, which manifests itself in a seething, bubbling urge to dissent. Although it is true that the society in which he lives saps his talents and thwarts his desire to be different, he is doomed to destruction by his emotional ineptitude and a compulsion to do only what pleases him, as were his ancestors.
Alexandra Prokofievna (proh-KOH-fyehv-nah), Sergei’s mother, a retired lawyer. Having chosen to live with Sergei and Olga, she wreaks havoc in their lives through her compulsive need to domineer. She is able to dominate her son because of his weak will, whereas Olga escapes her clutches. The result is the deterioration of their marriage and the early death of Sergei. At difficult moments, she always assumes an air of dignified authority, by which she tries to make herself indispensable. She shows gross insensitivity toward her son’s difficulties, as well as toward her daughter-in-law, blaming her for Sergei’s death.
Irinka (ee-REEN-kah), Sergei and Olga’s daughter. As a teenager, she is caught in the battle of wills among her mother, father, and grandmother. She inherited many traits from her father, including pliancy, instability, secretiveness, occasional thoughtlessness, and insensitivity. She is the true victim of the family disintegration, as she is torn between the will of her father and that of her grandmother, while her mother stands by helpless. After her father’s death, she finds some rapport with her mother, yet both realize that valuable time has been lost.
Galina Yevgenievna (gah-LEE-nah yehv-GEH-nyehv-nah), Olga’s mother. Unable to have any influence on her daughter’s life, she spends her love and energy on her second husband, with whom she achieves a remarkable symbiosis. She lives only for his problems and illnesses and has no time for anyone else.
Georgii Maximovich (gee-OHR-gee mak-SEE-moh-vihch), Olga’s stepfather, an artist. A kind and well-educated man, he was once an avant-garde painter, but he has sacrificed his principles for the secure and profitable life of a mediocre landscape artist.
Gennady (Gena) Vitalevich Klimuk
Gennady (Gena) Vitalevich Klimuk (geh-NAH-dee vee-TAH-leh-vihch KLEE-mook), Sergei’s colleague. A typical social climber and bureaucrat, he is largely responsible for Sergei’s demise by making his life miserable in the institute and by refusing to show any understanding for his old friend.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567
Trifonov usually draws his characters from the ranks of the Moscow intelligentsia, and Another Life is no exception to his general practice. He gives his Russian reader easily recognizable social types: the strong, motherly wife, the charming but undependable husband, the judgmental mother-in-law, the compromised artist.
Yet for all their familiarity, Trifonov’s characters are not two-dimensional, predictable players in a Soviet soap opera. Olga, the main character and single voice, may be naggingly protective and jealous both of her husband and of her place in his life, but she is neither mercenary nor careerist. Her own career is a given, something which need not be discussed; it neither excites nor depresses her. Her entire emotional and spiritual life is “their life.” Throughout the narrative she insists on the existence of their mutual life to such a degree that the reader realizes something must be radically wrong with this marriage. Sergei’s intellectual skitterings, on the other hand, arouse more sympathy and interest in the reader, but stop short of making him a real seeker after truth. His torment is real, but so is his frivolity. There is no easy formula of assigning praise or blame to either one; there is only an effort to find an honorable way of living from day to day.
Though he spends less time developing them, Trifonov hints that his secondary characters, too, are not so easily reducible to cliche. Alexandra Prokofievna, Sergei’s mother, is a typical “old Bolshevik,” or at least typical of those who wish to be known as such. Loyal to a tradition of revolutionary asceticism and intolerant justice, she judges her daughter-in-law and granddaughter both, and finds them wanting. Her beloved son’s death only makes their many faults more glaring and her isolation more bitter. Alexandra Prokofievna’s close contemporary, Georgii Maximovich, is quite her opposite; an artist, once part of the avant-garde, purged, exiled, and rehabilitated, he is a kind and perceptive man. He has betrayed no one but himself, as he turns out safe, profitable, and mediocre landscapes for commissions.
There are no clearly heroic or even noble characters in Another Life. They are all achingly ordinary, and that is part of their appeal. Like Anton Chekhov, with whom he has been compared, and like Fyodor Dostoevski as well, Trifonov often endows his most unlikely characters with truths about human behavior and moral action. The fact that his characters inhabit a kind of gray zone should not be taken for neutrality, though, since that very ambiguous zone is full of moral choices and wrong turns, and often the turn becomes obvious only when it is miles or years past. Trifonov’s characters often do not realize that they have made a choice until they are facing the consequences.
Olga, however, has another chance, a possible other life, whether she wants it in her grief or not. What is particularly interesting about Trifonov’s characterizations in Another Life is his use of Olga as the narrative voice. Sometimes quoting her directly, sometimes moving into more neutral diction but still dependent on her view of things, he manages to portray her sympathetically but not at all uncritically. He allows her assumptions, her prejudices to work both for her and against her, so that the other characters emerge independently: They do not exist to prove Olga good or bad, right or wrong, but merely to be.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 51
Hosking, Geoffrey. Beyond Socialist Realism, 1980.
Kirkus Reviews. Review. LI (September 15, 1983), p. 1019.
Pankin, B. “A Circle or a Spiral? On Iurii Trifonov’s Novels,” in Soviet Studies in Literature. XIV (Fall, 1978), pp. 65-100.
Proffer, Ellendea. Introduction to The Long Goodbye, 1978.
Updike, John. Introduction to Another Life and The House on the Embankment, 1986.
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