Each summer, Andrei Makine's narrator and his sister leave the Soviet Union for the mythical land of France-Atlantis. That this country is a beautiful confabulation, a consolation existing only in his maternal grandmother's mind, makes it no less real. Though Charlotte Lemonnier lives in a town on the edge of the steppe, each night she journeys to a long-ago Paris, telling tales that the children then translate with their more Russian minds: "The president of the Republic was bound to have something Stalinesque about him in the portrait sketched by our imagination. Neuilly was peopled with kolkhozniks. And the slow emergence of Paris from the waters evoked a very Russian emotion--that of fleeting relief after one more historic cataclysm ..."
Makine's first novel is a singing tribute to the alchemy of inspiration, but it is no less familiar with the sorrows of reality. And it is only as he gets older that the narrator begins to piece together his grandmother's far more tragic past--her experiences in the Great War, the October Revolution, and after. Dreams of My Russian Summers is a love letter to an extraordinary woman (it's hard not to see the book as autobiographical) as well as to language and literature, which the boy turns to in avoidance of history's manipulations. It has all the marks of an instant classic.
From Library Journal
The first of Makine's four novels to appear in English, this autobiographical novel won the 1995 Prix Medicis for Best Foreign Fiction as well as France's prestigious Prix Goncourt, never before awarded to a non-Frenchman. Its coming-of-age story describes young Andrei's summers with his French grandmother Charlotte in the remote Russian village of Saranza. She came to Russia as a Red Cross nurse during World War I and fell in love with a Russian lawyer who went off to the front and later died a premature death from his war wounds. Charlotte and Andrei spend many summer evenings sharing her memories of turn-of-the-century Paris. As the adolescent Andrei struggles with his identity?is he Russian or French?he discovers that it was possible for Charlotte to live in such a foreign land and retain her "Frenchness" because of her love for her husband. Andrei finally reconciles these contrasting facets of his identity and eventually emigrates to France. Makine has fashioned a deeply felt, lyrically told tale. For all general library collections.?Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., Ohio
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