Andreï Makine is a beautiful writer, a writer like no other I’ve read. A big thank you to my old chum Linda for the tip. He can evoke so much in so few pages – a century of Russian history (a subject I didn’t think I could interest me any more), the Siberian wastes, Stalin’s excesses, Soviet dictatorship and the escape attempts therefrom – historically, socially, personally; how it feels to love, to fear, to be human. Done compellingly, with hardly a wasted word, and always elegantly. Incredibly moving and liberating. A sense of the despair but also of liberation, of flying (in one instance from seeing a Belmondo movie). Not a lot of jokes, it has to be said, but it’s a long way from immersion in misery. Amazingly he’s a Russian emigre who writes in French. Critics cite Proust and Nabakov but never mind about that. The book I liked least is the one that made his reputation – the award winning ‘Le testament francais’ – which is also the longest. I’d recommend starting with the staggering, astonishing, ‘A life’s music’, ‘Confessions’ or ‘Once upon the River Love’.
Most of his books are wonderfully (to be honest, how would I know? but it feels that way) translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan. Interestingly the publishers felt different titles were sometimes necessary for the UK and the USA, which can lead to confusion for the reader, so those differences are tabulated below in chronological order. In every instance I find the UK version of the titles superior.
La fille d’un heros de l’Union Sovietique
A hero’s daughter (2003)
Confession d’un porte-drapeau
Confessions of a lapsed standard bearer (UK 2000)
Confessions of a fallen standard bearer (US 2000)
Au temps du fleuve Amour
Once upon the River Love (1998)
Le testament francais
Le testament francais (UK 1997)
Dreams of my Russian summers (US 1997)
Le crime d’Olga Arbeyelina
The crime of Olga Arbyelina (1999)
Requiem pour l’Est
Requiem for the east (UK 2001)
Requiem for a lost empire (US 2001)
La musique d’une vie
A life’s music (UK 2002)
The music of a life (US 2002)
La terre et le ciel de Jacques Dorme
The earth and sky of Jacques Dorme (2005)
La femme qui attendait
The woman who waited (2006)
Human love (2008)
Cette France qu’on oublie d’aimer
Le monde selon Gabriel: mystère de Noël
La vie d’un homme inconnu
The life of an unknown man (2010)
Le livre des breves amours eternelles
Brief loves that live forever (2013)
Une femme aimée
A Woman loved (2015)
Le pays du lieutenant Schreiber: le roman d’une vie
The bare bones of a life lifted from Hodder Headline’s – his first English publishers – website:
Andreï Makine was born in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia in 1957, but sought asylum in France in 1987. While initially sleeping rough in Paris he was writing his first novel, A HERO’S DAUGHTER, which was eventually published in 1990 after Makine pretended it had been translated from the Russian, since no publisher believed he could have written it in French. With his third novel, ONCE UPON A RIVER LOVE, he was finally published as a ‘French’ writer, and with his fourth, LE TESTAMENT FRANCAIS, he became the first author to win both of France’s top literary prizes, the Prix Goncourt and Prix Médicis.
He’s not exactly over-exposed on the web – http://www.andreimakine.com/ is naturally enough in French – though reviews of individual books are easy enough to find and are not listed here. His Wikipedia entry is a bit fuller than it used to be, but not as substantial as he surely deserves.
Publication of Brief loves that live forever in 2013 saw a mild outbreak of wider activity with interviews that add a lot here in the Daily Telegraph (he served in the Russian military in Afghanistan and Angola) and here in L’Italo Europeo. It would appear his fiction draws a lot on his own life.
Before that Philip Delves Broughton’s interview in the Daily Telegraph was the best I’d found, and there’s an earlier one from Natasha Fairweather in the Independent. Gerry Feehily talked at length to him for webmag 3a.m. (“Whatever it is we’re against it”) on the occasion of the UK publication of Human love under the headline “Madame Bovary, c’est moi“, a great quote from Makine himself. There is website dedicated to the man’s work – Collectif de chercheurs autour de l’ouevre d’Andrei Makine – but be warned, it’s in French.
When I first made this page even Wikipedia had a minimal entry and it’s not that much expanded even now (Nov, 2011). It does, however – quoted in full below – reveal a previously unsuspected parallel writer’s existence:
In 2001 Makine began secretively publishing as “Gabriel Osmonde“, a total of four novels over ten years, the last appearing in 2011. It was a French literary mystery and many speculated about who Osmonde might be. Finally in 2011 a scholar noticed Osmonde’s book 20,000 femmes dans la vie d’un homme had been inspired by Makine’s Dreams of My Russian Summers and Makine confirmed that he was the author. Explaining why he used a pseudonym he said, “I wanted to create someone who lived far from the hurly-burly of the world“
The titles so far are
- Le Voyage d’une femme qui n’avait plus peur de vieillir, Albin Michel, 2001
- Les 20 000 Femmes de la vie d’un homme, Albin Michel, 2004
- L’Œuvre de l’amour, Pygmalion, 2006
- Alternaissance, Pygmalion, 2011
Unfortunately none have (so far – May 2015) been translated into English.
This page has the following sub pages.