cover image The Woman Who Waited

The Woman Who Waited

Andrei Makine, , trans. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan. . Arcade, $24 (182pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-774-9

A sensuously styled, elegiac tale set in the mid-1970s, Makine's latest opens a window onto a generation of post-WWII Russian widows through one mysterious woman's vigil. In the village of Mirnoe on the northern White Sea coast, a young male journalist researching local customs meets an intriguing woman who has waited 30 years for her fiancé, reported killed, to return from the war. Just 16 when her lover was conscripted, Vera devotes herself selflessly to the care of the town's many war widows: she rows out to tend to the widows' graves on a nearby island and lives alone, ever watchful. The narrator, writing in retrospect but 26 at the time of the story, was educated in St. Petersburg; ironic and arrogant, he believes he has Vera's selflessness figured out as a prosaic, idealized vision of womanhood. And yet, he learns, Vera has studied advanced linguistics in St. Petersburg, and returned to Mirnoe by choice. The closer he gets to her, the more he is shamed in the face of her towering presence. Makine, now almost 50 and the author of eight other novels (including Dreams of My Russian Summers ), lives in Paris; he transforms a very simple premise into a richly textured story of love and loss. (Mar.)