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The Life of an Unknown Man Hardcover – 14 Oct 2010


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (14 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0340998784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340998786
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.5 x 22 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 777,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Makine's laconic, sardonic portrait of the new Russia is laced with fury...a bold and eloquent novel (Helen Dunmore, Guardian)

Like all his work, this novel has a wonderful flavour of a contemporary Checkhov with a splash of Proust...What starts out an intimate account bursts out into something more ambitious and universal. Ultimately it's a haunting story, beautifully told. (Viv Groskop, Observer)

Makine is a consummate literary artist, but he is teacher as well as storyteller and, best of all, enchanter (Allan Massie, Scotsman)

Seamlessly translated by Geoffrey Strachan, Makine's novel explores the attempt of two 'ordinary' people to transcend suffering and find life's essential meaning. It is difficult to write without sentimentality about such a subject, but Makine's intelligence and truthfulness dismiss banality. (Pamela Norris, Literary Review)

A powerful, thoughtful book about the reliability of memory and how time mutates the meaning of both literature and history. (Tina Jackson, Metro)

His novels possess an eerie beauty invariably capable of surpassing the polemic...If he has an artistic kindred spirit it is most probably the South African Nobel laureate JM Coetzee (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)

Thrilling...Makine's most beautiful novel since Le Testament Français (Le Figaro)

Book Description

An extraordinary story of love and endurance during the Siege of Leningrad lies at the heart of a magnificent novel about Russia past and present, and the human condition.

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Mankin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I almost bought 'Human Love' by Andreï Makine a couple of years ago and having read this new novel I have now ordered a copy of that earlier one. Andreï Makine is an accomlished author who writes about loss and survival with sensitivity and insight. The story echoes the mid-life reflections that many people probably have about their youthful days: what if? The story is both sad and poignant which isn't really surprising given that the turbulence of Soviet history is at the heart of the novel. It captures brilliantly the wishful thinking of a middle-aged writer who returns to the city of his youth, St Petersburg, in order to recapture something that only now exists as a lingering memory. Yet the focus of the story is told through the life of another person he meets, a sitting tenant. Ultimately the novel is about the search for meaning in our lives. Highly recommended - a novel that lives up to the hype in contrast to so many lesser books written by better known authors. Andreï Makine deserves a wider readership in this country.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you."

There comes a moment in Andrei Makine's wonderfully rendered "The Life of an Unknown Man" when Billie Holliday's rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You" popped into my head. Two days after finishing the book the story and the song lingers, entangled in my mind like the memory of a lost love.

I've been an admirer of Makine's since reading his A Life's Music and The Woman Who Waited(among others). So, when I saw that Makine's new book was available I snapped one up.

Makine, for those not familiar with his work, was born in the Soviet Union in 1958. He emigrated to France as a young man immediately assumed the role of a struggling writer. Written in French (Makine learned French as a student in the USSR) his manuscripts were rejected by every publisher in Paris. He spent many nights sleeping in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Finally, out of desperation, he told one publisher that the manuscript of his first book was a translation from the Russian. It was immediately accepted for publication. Makine's work for me combines the grace and elegance of the best French writers and the sad dark soul of the best Russian writers.

The story unfolds slowly. Shutov is a middle-aged Russian/Soviet émigré writer living in Paris. His fame and his writing have diminished since his exile and, as the story opens his fling with a decades-younger French woman has just ended. Depressed, his thoughts turn to his early life in Leningrad and the girl he left behind.
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Format: Paperback
A story within a story, Makine's short novel opens in the Parisian garret of the struggling writer Shutov, a Russian exile wallowing in his descent into self pity and caricature (his young beautiful French girlfriend is leaving him for another man, his writing has stultified, his career is only afloat on the reputation of his early works and he has become crippled by homesickness). We follow Shutov as he travels back to Russia, in search of Yana, the girl he once loved, and his rose-tinted memories of a country that he realises no longer truly exists. Even Yana herself has changed: from an idealistic student into a brash confident business woman, a partisan of the modern St Petersburg and the new capitalist Russian ethos.

While staying in the communal flat that she is renovating into a spacious modern apartment for herself and her family, Shutov discovers that the last of the original tenants is still in his old room, waiting to be moved out to a housing project. As a favour to Yana's son Shutov agrees to babysit the bedridden old man for an evening and it is then that Volsky, this supposedly deaf-mute Red Army survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, tells his story and the story of the love of his life, Mila.

Volsky and Mila are survivors and their love story is both brutal and tender. Every detail of their relationship is unflinchingly described, from their days as carefree young people nibbling pastries before the War, through the bleak horrors of starvation in the siege of Leningrad, the March on Berlin and their attempts to build themselves a life after the War ends. There are moments of extraordinary happiness and beauty mixed with the most terrible descriptions of human suffering. Death "ceases to surprise".
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Format: Paperback
Have joyfully become addicted to AM and his books. This book is wonderful and words fail to sing its praises. I read Makine's works in a weird sequence. But a serene, stoical man or woman figures in many of his novels, who stand above or stay aloof from all the horrible, senseless violence of his native Russia. No writer can possibly summarize the collective suffering under the Czars, the Great War, the 1917 Revolution, the civil war in the 1920s and the murderous collectivization of agriculture. And of the purging campaigns of the 1930s, interrupted by WW II in which 20m Russians died, half of them soldiers.
Makine's mission appears to cover this era of terror, misrule and massive loss of life, in a series of books brimming with stunning personal anecdotes and stories. Thus far he has covered these years wonderfully. He may later dive deeper into the past, but is more likely to stick to the present state of his nation of birth, New Russia, the subject of this recent novel. I dare say it is another highlight in his writing career, linking the memory of the old SU Russia of Sjukov, a refugee from the 1980s, a not very successful Paris-based writer, with New Russia. His name is derived from `sjuk', "sad clown". When his young lover walks out on him, he flies, depressed and inspired by a Chekhov story about never-declared love, to St. Petersburg to look up his old flame Jana to declare to her his long-supressed, eternal love...
He is warmly received by the constantly mobile-phoning businesswoman Jana and given a guest room in her almost finished luxury apartment, once the partitioned home of 26 people, and "as full as a commuter train". An old man in a cubicle room, who cannot walk and does not speak, has delayed its completion. But he will be collected tomorrow and taken away...
What follows is fantastic and dreamlike, magical. The run-up was already empathic and endearing, but its finish is worth gold. Do not miss this book!
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