cover image The Loss: A Novella and Two Short Stories

The Loss: A Novella and Two Short Stories

Vladimir Makanin. Northwestern University Press, $59 (154pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1639-9

Best known in this country for the last story of this uneven collection, ""The Prisoner of the Caucasus"" (which inspired a movie with a similar title), Makanin grapples with large philosophical themes about what composes a man's identity and how to live a worthwhile life. The title novella uses a popular legend of a man trying to dig a tunnel underneath the Ural River as the starting point for a deeper exploration into a man's past. In switching from the parable to a more personal narrative and then to philosophical musings, Makanin's technique, at least in translation, makes the narrative clumsy and the themes transparent. Told in an allegorical fashion, ""Klycharyov and Alimushkin"" suffers from the same heavy-handedness as Makanin chronicles one man's good luck at the expense of another's misfortune. In contrast, the last story describes with spare elegance the relationship between a Russian soldier and a captive Chechen during the war. Here Makanin does most to show his inheritance from his great realist predecessors Lermontov and Tolstoy. (Aug.)