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The Dream Life of Sukhanov Hardcover – January 5, 2006
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Top Customer Reviews
This biblical prophecy plays out with a vengeance in Olga Grushin's extraordinary first novel, "The Dream Life of Sukhanov".
"Sukhanov" has received glowing reviews in both the New York Times and on the cover of the Washington Post's Sunday Book Review. Such advance praise often leaves me with heightened expectations that almost invariably lead to disappointment. In this instance my expectations were not only met but exceeded. The book's publishers claim it is "steeped in the tradition of Gogol, Bulgakov, and Nabokov." To be sure, Grushin has not (yet) attained the mastery of a Bulgakov or Nabokov but it is no small achievement to have the comparison made with a straight face, even if one hasn't quite reached that stature. The fact that English is not Grushin's first language also calls Joseph Conrad to mind.
The protagonist of the novel is Anatoly Sukhanov, known as Tolya to his friends and family. It is 1985; Tolya is 56 and an apparatchik (a mid-level party-functionary entitled to many of the benefits of the ruling class) of the first rank. An artist in his youth, Tolya is now the editor in chief of the USSR's leading art magazine, "Art of the World." Tolya's career consists of writing articles praising `socialist realism' (paintings of heroes of labor working in factories and the like) and condemning Western art, be it cubism or surrealism and the like as decadent work of no value to a progressive society. He is seemingly content, has a nice Moscow apartment, a beautiful wife, two children, and a chauffeur to drive him to and from his job and to his dacha outside Moscow. The story opens with Tolya and his wife attending a state-sponsored birthday party for his father-in-law an artist of limited talent but high rank.Read more ›
The setting is Moscow in the mid eighties. Fifty six year old Anatoly Sukhanov is a prominent art critic and the Editorial Director of a respected art journal. In return for being the Party's first line of defense against the decadence of western art, Sukhanov receives the perks of a mid-level party apparatchik: dacha, chauffeur, fashionable Moscow apartment. But change is blowing through the Soviet system, and it's becoming more difficult for Sukhanov to maintain his ideological footing. At home, his wife Nina seems distant and distracted. His two children have begun to unnerve him because their personalities reflect the split in his own. His son has become a cold-eyed careerist while his teenage daughter believes passionately in the transforming power of art, just as Sukhanov did back when he was a young artist of promise.
Sukhanov starts slipping into reveries about his past - the tragedy that befell his father during the Great Patriotic War, his first subversive exposure to Renaissance and modern art, his early days as a painter, when his soul burned with desire to capture what he saw in his mind. Sukhanov's passionate paintings are caught in a Khrushchev-era political crossfire, which gets him fired from his job as an art teacher. With a young family and an uncertain future in front of him, Sukhanov takes the lifeline offered by his father-in-law Malinin, a hack painter with good party connections. Sukhanov puts away his paints and becomes a successful art critic by attacking in the name of Soviet ideology the same surrealist and modernist art he revered as a painter.Read more ›
Sukhanov is certainly an "anti-hero", and his character and position, and the choices he has made, are easy to sneer at in the early pages of the book. But the reader very gradually gains a fuller and fuller understanding of the complexity of a man's life as shaped by history, family, and happenstance, and as Sukhanov's sufferings bring him self-knowledge, we are brought to an equally rich understanding. The reader and Sukhanov are gradually brought to full enlightenment at the same pace, and the final effect is deeply moving, as well as unexpectedly elating, at least to me.
As others have noted, dream, reality and potential madness are interwoven with an astonishing deftness - the reader is never lost or deliberately mystified. We are in a very concrete, sensuous world here, with a painterly precision that reflects some of the ideals of the artists in the novel. The novel is lavish in its appeal to all the senses, and recreates Moscow as well as some of the greatest novels that evoke "place" do. Grushin has said that Nabokov is an "unattainable" model, and this is apparent in the gorgeous language, and ambitious but clear structure. But she is not imitating anyone - this is an original voice.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Lyrical and dreamlike, a fantasia of life for the soviet intelligentsia before perestroika and glasnost shook Russian society to its foundations... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Stacy mcgraw
Modern Nabokovian literature at its finest. Grushin writes in a manner that both entices and intrigues. And who doesn't love a good descent into madness? A+ novel.Published 18 months ago by Will K.
On the surface, THE DREAM LIFE OF SUKHANOV is the story of a man whose past--which he thought he had successfully buried and forgotten--is resurrected by chance occurrence and... Read morePublished on June 28, 2014 by Bryan Byrd
I heard an interview with Olga Grushin on the radio. She was featured on the Russian Book World radio program of Voice of Russia. Read morePublished on April 9, 2014 by Ianaki D. Inkiow
This is one of those rare stories where the writing trumps understanding of the plot or likeability of the characters. Read morePublished on November 9, 2013 by Michael Guss
Sukhanov, when we first meet him, is a sell out, but we see him undergo an extraordinary metamorphosis. Read morePublished on July 19, 2013 by S. Smith-Peter
I can highly recommend this book. Wonderfully written and intense. A man in midlife crisis trying to find his new path in life.Published on November 19, 2012 by Marion Schmidt
The book begins at the catalyst of sorts for Sukhanov's examination of his life. To the point where the book begins (his own middle-age), Sukhanov is a successful art critic with a... Read morePublished on July 27, 2012 by OperationDandelion