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The Dream Life of Sukhanov Hardcover – January 5, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Even for a man on "the very best terms with the very best people," the Soviet Union on the eve of glasnost is a precarious place. So it goes for bitterly compelling antihero Anatoly Pavlovich Sukhanov, richly crafted in this debut novel by Russian émigré Grushin. After starting out as an avant-garde artist, Sukhanov marries the daughter of an iconic Soviet painter, becomes a critic and quickly rises to editor-in-chief of Art of the World, an influential journal devoted to disparaging the Western art that once inspired him. An enviable Moscow apartment, a dacha and a personal driver follow, but 12 years later, Sukhanov can no longer write, his wife and son know him for the sellout he is, and Gorbachev's ascension may mean the end of his sinecure. When a man claiming to be his long-lost cousin comes to visit, Sukhanov finds himself sleeping on his couch, where, as dreams of his former life haunt him, his past may catch up with him for real. Grushin, who has served as former President Carter's personal interpreter and as an editor at Harvard's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, offers a powerful and richly detailed examination of late Soviet society's harsh confinements—even for those who have all the right connections. (Jan. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Anatoly Sukhanov showed talent early, and his daring, brilliant art captured the hand of beautiful Nina Malinin, daughter of a famed Russian artist. But then he opted for prestige and comfort, hiding his controversial paintings and becoming critic rather than creator as editor ofArt of the World, Russia's leading art magazine, which condemns whole schools of Western art. Suddenly in 1985, at the age of 56, Sukhanov's life unravels and he loses everything he holds dear--job, son, daughter, possibly wife--but through the pain, in a series of dream sequences in which he confronts his past, he gains truth about his father's life and death and about young Nina's wrenching decision between art and love. In well-honed prose with vivid imagery, Grushin provides a portrait of a culture, interplaying art with politics in twentieth-century Russia, and dealing throughout with the universal subjects of love and truth. Sukhanov lingers in memory as a child stunned into silence by the beauty of Botticelli's paintings and as a middle-aged adult finding his way. Michele Leber
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 354 pages
  • Publisher: A Marian Wood Book/Putnam; First Edition edition (January 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399152989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399152986
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,644,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on January 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
And your old men shall dream dreams.

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.
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Russian emigre Olga Grushin has crafted a fine first novel about the wounds we inflict on ourselves whether we cling to our youthful dreams or turn away from them.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
Despite having received some reviews from tough critics that are unreserved in their admiration, this thoroughly beautiful, original and deeply compassionate novel seems not to have caught the attention of many readers, and this is discouraging. I can only hope it catches on, and (possibly?) another positive review here may help get a few more copies into reader's hands. I find it hard to imagine a sympathetic reader being disappointed.

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.
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