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Makine, Andreï 1957–

Makine, Andreï 1957–

PERSONAL:

Born 1957.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Paris, France.

CAREER:

Author.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Prix Goncourt and Prix Medici, both 1995, both for Le testament français.

WRITINGS:

La fille d'un héros de l'Union soviétique, R. Laffont (Paris, France), 1990, translated as A Hero's Daughter, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 2003.

Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu, Belfond (Paris, France), 1992, translated as Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 2000.

Au temps du fleuve Amour, Editions du Felin (Paris, France), 1994, translated as Once upon the River Love, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 1998.

Le testament français, Mercure de France (Paris, France), 1995, translated as Dreams of My Russian Summers, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 1997.

Le crime d'Olga Arbyelina, Mercure de France (Paris, France), 1998, translated as The Crime of Olga Arbyelina, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 1999.

Requiem pour l'Est, Mercure de France (Paris, France), 2000, translated as Requiem for a Lost Empire, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 2001.

La musique d'une vie, Seuil (Paris, France), 2001, translated as Music of a Life, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 2002.

La terre et le ciel de Jacques Dorme, Mercure de France (Paris, France), 2003, translated as The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 2005.

La femme qui attendait, Seuil (Paris, France), 2004, translated as The Woman Who Waited, Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 2006.

Cette France qu'on oublie d'aimer, Flammarion (Paris, France), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Andreï Makine, a Russian-born writer who lives in France and mainly writes in French, has built a vaunted reputation through numerous novels that explore life in the former Soviet Union. "No writer alive can reconstruct the Soviet past with the poignancy of Makine," commented Barbara Hoffert in a Library Journal review of Makine's second novel, Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer. Critics praise Makine's insightful treatment of human consciousness, but they also marvel at his beautifully wrought prose in a language that is not his native one.

Makine's first book, La fille d'un héros de l'Union soviétique, became an enormous hit when it was published in France, though it was initially spurned by French publishers. Julie K.L. Dam reported in Time magazine that Makine "had to go to great lengths just to get published. The literati initially couldn't accept a Russian writing in French, so he rewrote his first two novels in Russian and presented the French originals as translations. He even posed as his ghost French translator." Nevertheless, the work met with critical acclaim after its publication. It tells the story of Ivan Demidov, a Soviet soldier who survives World War II only to struggle amid the squalor and famine of post-war Russia. His daughter, Olya, eventually becomes a tool of the KGB, much to the chagrin of her father. The English translation of the novel, A Hero's Daughter, was finally published in 2003. Writing in Library Journal, Barbara Hoffert commented that Makine's first novel "nicely foreshadows his future successes in both style and content." Likewise, a Publishers Weekly contributor felt that Makine's inexperience shows in the novel, remarking that "Ivan and Olya are less fully realized characters than walking metaphors for Soviet exploitation." Nevertheless, the critic added, the book displays "the seeds of the powerful social criticism that flowers in Makine's more mature novels."

Makine's second novel, Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu (published in English as Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer), further established his reputation. Here again Makine explores the difficulties of life in the post-World War II Soviet Union, this time following two families as they face poverty and heartache in a small vilalge. Tobin H. Jones, in an article for the French Review, commented that Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu "is a novel to read for the insights it can offer into both the construction and the inscription of cultural and social identity. It also surfaces ways of art by which the writer of contemporary fiction covers the writings of others amidst the disorientation born of conflict among opposing social and ideological structures. But most of all, this novel is one to read quite simply because it is so powerfully and sensitively written." Jones continued: "Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu echoes Makine's preoccupation with disillusionment seen in [La fille d'un héros de l'Union soviétique]…. In this work, Makine has created an unpretentious but poetic narrative whose power lies in its evocation of generations and the discovery of the past as a means to understand the loss of self and to create from the loss endured the foundations of a new consciousness."

Anglophone reviewers were again entranced by Makine's third novel, published in English as Once upon theRiver Love. Barbara Hoffert, in a review for Library Journal, commented: "this delicate, beautifully rendered little work reads like a precursor to the magisterial Dreams of My Russian Summers." Richard Bernstein, in a long review for the New York Times Book Review, explained: "Mr. Makine overdoes it in places … But this is a minor fault. Once upon the River Love marks a further development in what is turning out to be an exciting literary career. Mr. Makine leaves us with that rare sense of having been drenched, entombed like a Siberian village under the heavy snow, in an entirely unfamiliar, exotic world, captured and held there so that it will long linger in the memory." A Publishers Weekly reviewer agreed: "Makine has given American readers another unforgettable novel, which wears its exoticism on its sleeve, commands respect and defies imitation."

Makine's fourth novel, Le testament français, was received with great enthusiasm in France, where it won both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medici—a dual recognition no French writer had ever achieved. This novel eventually became the first of Makine's works to be translated into English, in 1997 as Dreams of My Russian Summers. A New York Times reviewer commented: "Makine employs a highly poetic voice to blend memory and imagination, merging the particular realities of Soviet life with a timeless evocation of a sensitive adolescence. Skillfully constructed and elegantly written, the novel records a series of eventful recollections that never descend to the trivial or the anecdotal." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that the novel's portrayal of the grandmother "makes this latest installment in the great European tradition also one of the toughest and, ultimately, one of the most hopeful." Lisa Rohrbaugh, writing for the Library Journal, agreed: "Makine has fashioned a deeply felt, lyrically told tale."

Makine's 1998 novel, Le crime d'Olga Arbyelina, also received praise when it was translated into English in 1999 as The Crime of Olga Arbyelina. Publishers Weekly commented: "Makine's novel possesses the feverish beauty of a hothouse culture in its final efflorescence." Hoffert, reviewing the book for Library Journal, reiterated her delight in Makine's "luminous, hypnotic prose that is a bit like a drug itself." She added that "the description of Russia on the verge of revolution is gripping and the ending a melancholy shock well worth the wait."

The critical acclaim for Makine's work continued to grow with his next two novels, Requiem for a Lost Empire and Music of a Life. Requiem for a Lost Empire returns to familiar Makine elements—former soldiers dealing with memories of war and desparing of the present, female characters who are cynically used and abused by their men and their government, and striking prose. Writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Jason Picone commented that "despite the horrific subject matter, this is yet another profoundly humanistic novel from Makine, who continues to earn the sky-high literary comparisons (Proust, Balzac, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky) thrust upon him." Booklist critic Michael Spinella concurred, calling the novel "a magnificent saga of horrific events rendered in masterful prose." Music of a Life is a dense, compact work that follows an accomplished pianist who is forced to hide his ability in the brutal, politically poisonous atmosphere of post-war Russia. A Kirkus Reviews contributor lauded Makine's "matchless delicacy and economy," while Hoffert, again writing in Library Journal, remarked that "though it resonates with the same themes" as the author's previous works, "this new novel feels entirely fresh and necessary." Francis Henry King, writing in the Spectator, noted that "when I describe Andrei Makine as a great writer, this is no journalistic exaggeration but my wholly sincere estimate of a man of prodigious gifts."

The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme serves as the concluding volume in a trilogy of novels (including Dreams of My Russian Summers and Requiem for a Lost Empire) set in post-war Russia. The title character is a French pilot who has escaped a German POW camp and ventured to Stalingrad. There, he has a brief romance with a woman, Alexandra. She ultimately bears his child, but their romance is doomed by the war, and the child grows up in an orphanage. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "nobody surpasses Makine as a maker of stunning [visuals] … which subtly underscore his narrative's plangent romantic momentum." King, writing again in the Spectator, remarked: "At one point [Makine] refers to the clash between truth and lies in the Soviet Union as not a single, vast war but a multiplicity of little ones. His technique is constantly to move nimbly backwards and forwards to illuminate now one of these little wars and now another with devastating brilliance."

The Woman Who Waited, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer called "a sensuously styled, elegiac tale set in the mid-1970s," features Vera, a Russian woman who has waited thirty years for her fiance to return from the war. The narrator, a younger man, views Vera with derision for her apparent self-delusion in devoting her life to the mistaken belief that her fiance will indeed return. However, as he learns more about Vera's past, the narrator revises his assessment of her. Once again, critics responded to Makine's effort with enthusiasm. Spectator reviewer Simon Baker noted: "In this short, beautiful work, translated with great style by Geoffrey Strachan, Andrei Makine demonstrates the versatility of intellect and prose that can turn a simple story into something textured and substantial." Sebastian Harcombe, writing in the New Statesman, praised the author's ability to render his homeland in stunning detail: "He is possessed of an astonishing ability to recollect events, feelings and scenes long gone; and the further he travels away from the land of his youth, the keener his retrospective recall becomes." Praising Makine's achievement, a Kirkus Reviews contributor called the author "one of Europe's most lavishly gifted writers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 1, 2000, Michael Spinella, review of Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer, p. 323; July, 2001, Michael Spinella, review of Requiem for a Lost Empire, p. 1982; August, 2003, Michael Spinella, review of A Hero's Daughter, p. 1956; February 1, 2006, Frank Caso, review of The Woman Who Waited, p. 30.

French Review, October, 1996, Tobin H. Jones, review of Le testament français, pp. 147-148; March, 1998, Tobin H. Jones, review of Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu, pp. 677-678.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1998, review of Once upon the River Love, p. 763; June 15, 2002, review of Music of a Life, p. 831; June 15, 2003, review of A Hero's Daughter, p. 827; December 15, 2004, review of The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, p. 1159; January 15, 2006, review of The Woman Who Waited, p. 56.

Library Journal, June 23, 1997, p. 67; July, 1997, Lisa Rohrbaugh, review of Dreams of My Russian Summers, p. 126; July 1998, Barbara Hoffert, review of Once upon the River Love, pp. 137-138; August, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Crime of Olga Arbyelina, p. 140; October 1, 2000, Barbara Hoffert, review of Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer, p. 148; July, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of Requiem for a Lost Empire, p. 125; July, 2002, Barbara Hoffert, review of Music of a Life, p. 120; July, 2003, Barbara Hoffert, review of A Hero's Daughter, p. 124; February 1, 2005, Janet Evans, review of The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, p. 69; February 1, 2006, Jenn B. Stidham, review of The Woman Who Waited, p. 72.

New Statesman, May 1, 2006, Sebastian Harcombe, "Buried Memories," review of The Woman Who Waited, p. 54.

New Yorker, September 7, 1998, review of Once upon the River Love, p. 89.

New York Review of Books, November 20, 1997, Tatyana Tolstaya, "Love Story," p. 4.

New York Times, July 15, 1998, Richard Bernstein, "In a Land Where Love Had No Place," p. E10.

New York Times Book Review, August 17, 1997, review of Dreams of My Russian Summers, p. 8; September 6, 1998, William Boyd, "Rowing from Siberia to Brighton Beach," p. 8; December 10, 2000, Richard Lourie, "This Boy's Life," review of Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer, p. 23.

Publishers Weekly, July 7, 1997, Herbert R. Lottman, "From Russia—and France—with Love," p. 18; July 23, 1997, review of Dreams of My Russian Summers, p. 67; June 1, 1998, review of Once upon the River Love, p. 46; July 26, 1999, review of The Crime of Olga Arbyelina, p. 59; July 16, 2001, review of Requiem for a Lost Empire, p. 157; June 10, 2002, review of Music of a Life, p. 39; July 28, 2003, review of A Hero's Daughter, p. 80; December 20, 2004, review of The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, p. 34; January 16, 2006, review of The Woman Who Waited, p. 36.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2002, Jason Picone, review of Requiem for a Lost Empire, p. 125; spring, 2003, Laird Hunt, review of Music of a Life, p. 138.

Spectator, December 30, 1995, Anita Brookner, "Prize-winning Novels from France," p. 32; November 2, 2002, Francis Henry King, "Harmony Triumphantly Achieved," review of Music of a Life, p. 61; May 1, 2004, Digby Durrant, "Decline and Fall of a Russian Hero," review of A Hero's Daughter, p. 36; April 16, 2005, Francis Henry King, "The End of a Noble Masterpiece," review of The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, p. 43; June 17, 2006, Simon Baker, "Coming out of the Cold," review of The Woman Who Waited.

Time, November 27, 1995, Julie K.L. Dam; September 28, 1998, John Skow, review of Once upon the River Love, p. 90.

Times Literary Supplement, January 19, 1996, Dan Gunn, "The Chosen Country," p. 11.

Washington Post Book World, March 12, 2006, Michael Dirda, "A Callow Young Intellectual Pines for a Woman Whose Depths He Can't Even Imagine," review of The Woman Who Waited, p. 15.

ONLINE

Daily Telegraph Online,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (accessed March 28, 2004), "A Writer's Life: Andreï Makine," interview with author.

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