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The Life of an Unknown Man: A Novel (Lannan Translation Selection (Graywolf Paperback)) Paperback – June 5, 2012
Four girls on a trip to Paris suddenly find themselves in a high-stakes game of Truth or Dare that spirals out of control. Learn More
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“It is impossible to exaggerate the power of this short, unbearably poignant novel. It is both brutal and lyrical. Makine consciously invokes Chekhov but his grasp of history is positively Tolstoy-like in scale. I can't think of a writer who would be a more deserving recipient of the Nobel literature prize.” ―Mail on Sunday
“Makine's laconic, sardonic portrait of the new Russia is laced with fury . . . a bold and eloquent novel.” ―The Guardian
“Like all his work, this novel has a wonderful flavor of a contemporary Chekhov with a splash of Proust. . . . What starts out an intimate account bursts out into something more ambitious and universal. Ultimately it's a haunting story, beautifully told.” ―The Observer
“Seamlessly translated by Geoffrey Strachan, Makine's novel explores the attempt of two 'ordinary' people to transcend suffering and find life's essential meaning. It is difficult to write without sentimentality about such a subject, but Makine's intelligence and truthfulness dismiss banality.” ―Pamela Norris, Literary Review
“Told with an intimacy made potent by Makine's lyrical, spare prose and Strachan's lucid translation. . . reconnects both the reader and the protagonist with Russia's blood soaked history, to startling effect.” ―The Financial Times
“Thrilling . . . Makine's most beautiful novel since [Dreams of My Russian Summers].” ―Le Figaro
About the Author
Andreï Makine's fourth novel, Dreams of My Russian Summers, has sold over a million copies and has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Geoffrey Strachan is an award-winning translator.
Top Customer Reviews
Revisiting St. Petersburg after twenty years is a shock to Choutov. There is little that reminds him of the place he knew, the Russia he had been dreaming of: "a life cradled by beloved poems; a park under the golden canopy of leaves, a woman, walking in silence, like the heroine of a poem." His own youth's heroine, the girl of his melancholy dreams, has grown into a modern business woman with no time for the "old" romantic visitor. The depiction of the modern St. Petersburg, vibrant, youthful, fast-paced and a bit crazy - seemingly more "westernized" than the cities of Western Europe - is convincingly realistic. Wandering the streets of the festive city, Choutov, however, feels increasingly alienated and discouraged. Where to go from here, where to find some inner peace and, above all, his emotional home?Read more ›
The book is brief, but the narrative has a “Zhivago”esque sweep. The veteran’s tale of lost love and a life in limbo is counterpointed by the lovesickness of the equally displaced narrator, who has returned to his native Russia to recover from a failed affair in Paris. Structurally, the contrast is entirely in the old veteran’s favor, an epic overshadowing a sketch. The book is built as a series of short episodes, shellbursts illuminating a few moments of ecstasy and many of suffering. Russia’s tragedy and present-day triviality have rarely been depicted so forcefully.
Focusing on the attitudes and beliefs of four time periods, author Andrei Makine analyzes what it means to be human; whether an individual is important in his own right or only as part of a community; what makes life worth living; why humans sacrifice their lives for people and causes they love; and how and why individuals express themselves in art, literature, or music. Shutov's favorite authors, Chekhov and Tolstoy, whom he often quotes, are from the early twentieth century, yet they symbolize for Shutov the values he longs for, even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, something Makine illustrates in Parts I and II. Georgy Lvovich, known as Volsky, a character with whom Shutov has a life-changing experience in Parts III and IV, has survived the Siege of Leningrad in the 1940s, then has had to deal with the terrible aftermath of the war - the communist crackdowns and mass arrests in the `fifties and `sixties.Read more ›
Ivan Shutov was a Russian dissident writer of the early 1980s; he is now living in Paris, aged around 50. He constantly translates every experience into a literary phrase, often from Russian literature. He is old enough to be the father of his lover Léa who has just left him for someone of her own age after one of their many quarrels about literature, in which he had become increasingly aggressive in dismissing the modern literature she loves. Even when she is moved by the tragedy of a Chekhov story which he loves, he feels compelled to savage her emotion, claiming that these tragedies are trivial compared with what he has witnessed in Soviet Russia and as a soldier in Afghanistan. He could not help making such savage comments even though he knew they were destroying their relationship. When, inevitably, she left him, but he missed her desperately.
Life in Paris was now so empty for him that, twenty years after he had left, he returned to Russia, now that the Soviet Union had collapsed. He has tracked down Yana, who had been a fellow-student with whom he had had "a brief undeclared love affair".
The Paris part of the novel was not all that easy to read - the emotions were all rather complex; ideally the allusions to Russian literature require some prior knowledge of it. But now there is more clarity in the story-telling.
Of course Shutov is returning to a Russia utterly transformed, with materialism rampant. Yana is not the thick-set matron he had expected her to turn into, but a svelte, glamorous, vulgar nouveau-riche, who has just acquired a number of workers' flats she has turned into a vast apartment.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Interesting insight on Soviet versus post Soviet Russia. Well written, begins slowly but worth the effortePublished 9 months ago by Thuringer
Beautifully written and evocative. Gives you a wonderful contrast between Russia today and Russia during WWII.Published 10 months ago by JANICE CIPRIANI
I enjoyed the first section, about a failed writer in modern times reckoning with the loss of his young lover. It had a bit of a wry Philip Roth edge to it. Read morePublished on August 19, 2014 by Amazon Customer
Such a sad story. Beautifully written but so vivid. I could feel and see the images as if I was there in Rissia.Published on July 4, 2014 by Daniel Rubens, Janine Rubens
Well, to be honest I only made it through about half this book. Otherwise I might have rated it even lower. Read morePublished on May 8, 2014 by Guy Randell