MUSIC OF A LIFE
A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers, but hasn't received a starred or boxed review.
Makine (Dreams of My Russian Summers) is a Russian émigré who writes in the language of his adopted France, but retains a poetic intensity of vision that seems peculiarly Russian. His latest is an extraordinarily compressed brief novel, but it is a novel—not a novella—in scope nonetheless. It begins as the narrator, waiting for a train to Moscow somewhere in the wilds of Siberia, meets a mysterious musician, Alexeï Berg, and is told his somber life story. Berg, a son of the intelligentsia growing up in the Stalin-shadowed '30s, is about to make his debut as a concert pianist, in 1940, when his parents are arrested, and he barely escapes, taking refuge with relatives in the Ukraine. When the Germans invade, Berg takes on the identity of a dead soldier, fights heroically throughout the war, becomes the protégé of a general and briefly imagines himself in love with the officer's daughter. Then the question of his real identity arises once more, and he realizes he can never live the kind of life he had once hoped for. It's a simple story, but Makine's lovely lyric writing—excellently translated—in which the scenes are imagined with a sharply cinematic focus, gives it considerable depth and emotion; the quiet ending, back in the present time, is wrenching. (Aug.)
Forecast: Summers was a well-deserved bestseller, and Makine has secured fine reviews for several books since; this brief novel is a splendid introduction to the work of a major talent. 25,000 first printing.
Release date: 08/01/2002