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A Life's Music Paperback – 9 Jun 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New Ed edition (9 Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340820098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340820094
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 0.8 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 231,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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. In his combination of clarity, concision, tenderness and elegiac lyricism, he is the heir to Ivan Bunin, the first Russian ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Francis King, Spectator)

Makine here is as good as Stendhal - or Tolstoy ... [he is] storyteller, teacher, and enchanter most of all. I would rather read him than anyone else now writing, and then reread him. I think this is his best book so far. (Allan Massie, Literary Review)

Makine's novellas are short in length but beautifully paced and filled with a lyricism that weaves reality and fantasy into a far bigger picture. Little wonder, then, that he's frequently likened to other Russian greats such as Nabokov and Chekhov ... an engrossing story of love, tragedy, betrayal and loss. Moving the plot forward effortlessly, he creates a mythic portrait of Communist Russia. (Scotsman)

Beautifully paced and filled with a lyricism that weaves reality and fantasy into a far bigger picture ... engrossing (Scotsman)

Geoffrey Strachan's strong and graceful translation of a novel written in French manages to let its Russian soul shine through. "A Life's Music" exchanges the lushness of Makine's earlier work ... for the fiercer pleasures of concise storytelling. This is Makine's art (Ann Harleman, New York Times)

A Life's Music would make a terrific Tom Hanks movie. The tagline could be lifted straight from the book's jacket. A tale of war, heartbreak and survival. Both powerful and graceful, it has...depth and scope. (Scotland On Sunday)

With matchless delicacy and economy ... Makine presents a movingly detailed history of survival, adaption and bitter disillusionment ... perfectly conceived and controlled. Its graceful narrative skilfully blends summarized action with powerfully evocative images charged with strong understated emotion ... masterly (Kirkus Reviews)

[An] elegant, heart-rending little gem of a work ... entirely fresh and necessary. Highly recommended. (Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (New York))

A Life's Music again proves Makine to be a very fine craftman. (Times Play)

Makine makes fresh images that are also profound and poignant, and this gives his portrait of a life derailed by history an irresistible authority. (Sam Thompson, Times Literary Supplement)

A tale of war, heartbreak and survival. Both powerful and graceful, it has...depth and scope. (Scotland On Sunday)

True to Makine's exquisite and haunting work, with its characteristic atmosphere born of pain and philosophy, this magnificent elegy of loss evokes the sheer size, mystery and chaos that is Russia. (Irish Times)

The writing remains both poignant and subtle with the nuances of living a secret life given both colour and gravitas. A Life's Music makes for a fascinating - if all too brief - read. (Big Issue)

This is truly a book to treasure. (Good Book Guide)

No contemporary writer has expressed his simultaneous love of Russia and hatred of Communism as eloquently as Andrei Makine, and this exquisite, poignant novella is one of his most satisfying works (Sunday Telegraph)

An unforgettable testament to the indestructibility of the human spirit. (Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday)

Avoiding a heavy-handed treatment of Russian history, in little more than 100 pages Makine succeeds not only in condensing the life and loves of one man, but in capturing the fear that pervaded everyday life in Stalin's Soviet Union. It is the perfect riposte to anyone who believes that great Russian literature must be unwieldy and crammed with a cast of thousands (Daily Mail)

Book Description

A magnificent story of courage and survival in the face of great adversity

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
Makine's 'ALM' is a touching novella set around a chance encounter between two strangers at a remote Russian train station. The unnamed narrator is surveying the others waiting for the Moscow train, examples of 'Homo sovieticus', the modern Russian species. Among the soldiers, the prostitutes, the destitute, one man catches his attention, a pianist who he finds weeping at a piano in one of the station houses. When the train eventually arrives, the two travel together and the pianist, Alexei, tells his life story.
Alexei's story is touching and melancholy, yet strangely uplifting, and revolves around two events of significance. The first is the burning of a violin that belonged to a friend of the family. The friend had become an undesirable, and Alexei's parents burned the violin so that they couldn't be connected to an undesirable by the authorities. The arpeggioed sound of the strings snapping in the fire represent the end of music for Alexei. When his parents are arrested, he flees abandoning a piano recital in the process. He takes on a new identity and tries to lose himself in the war, succeeding in leaving his past, and his music, far behind. Eventually though, seated at a piano surrounded by polite Russian society, he reveals his music and exposes himself as a fugitive. The rediscovery of his music condemns him to face soviet justice, but gives Alexei the inner freedom that he had lost.
'ALM' is a beautiful little novella. It took me an hour and a half to read, and much longer to think about. Makine's use of music as representing what Alexei had lost to the soviet regime is touching and well realised, and the denouement in which he throws off his shackles at the piano is dramatic and powerful.
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By Lonya TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 July 2004
Format: Paperback
Andrei Makine's Life's Music is a slim book. It a simple story, told in a straightforward, spare fashion. Yet within the framework of this simple story lies a profound piece of work that has an impact on the reader that, like the most beautiful music, lingers long after the last note fades into the night.
Makine, for those not familiar with his work, was born in the Soviet Union in 1958. He emigrated to France as a young man. He writes in French. At the risk of setting out what may sound like a hackneyed cliche, Makine's work for me combines the grace and elegance of the best French writers and the deep soul and conviction of the best Russian writers.
A Life's Music is set up as the re-telling of a conversation had between two strangers on a train moving slowly west from Siberia sometime around 1958, the year many thousands finally won their release from the labor camps that dotted the Soviet Far East. Two men sit together. One older man, wearing clothes that mark him as someone just released from the Gulag strikes up a conversation with his fellow passenger. The story is set out in the voice of the other passenger. As the train moves on the older passenger and the narrator exchange slowly. At some point the older passenger, Alexei Berg, slowly sets out his life story.
In 1940, the young Alexei, son of prominent artists and himself a classically trained pianist of great talent and promise, was preparing for his debut recital. On approaching his family flat after the dress rehearsal he sees a pre-arranged symbol indicating that his parents, supposedly dangerous members of the intelligentsia, had been swept up by the NKVD (pre-cursor to the KGB). Alexei makes his escape and finds himself hiding out in the Ukraine in 1941.
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Format: Paperback
A train station like a dot in the snow-covered expanse of the Siberian plains. People, thrown together by chance, patiently waiting hours for the delayed train to Moscow. Reflecting on the crowd as a collective sample of "homo sovieticus", the narrator singles out some individuals. He describes them in minute detail, bringing them alive for the reader. Suddenly, a piano tune, played elsewhere, breaks the multitude of muted night noises in the waiting room. For the narrator, the music transcends place and time and reveals a glimpse into a different, luminous reality... Following the tune through the station, he comes across an unlikely pianist. Rough, deeply scarred hands hardly touching the keys, then hesitating, confusing a note - and the pianist weeps.
This chance meeting of two strangers in the night frames like a picture the extraordinary and deeply moving story of Alexeï Berg, the pianist. Alexeï grew up during the years of arbitrary detentions and executions of Stalin's reign of terror. His parents, suspects for a while, seem to have averted the worst. The old violin, played sometimes by a family friend, since executed as a traitor, is thrown into the fire by the father in the hope of avoiding a similar fate. For Alexeï's ears, the exploding strings are like staccato played on a harp. This sound is engraved in his memory forever. Yet, on the eve of his debut concert, their time has run out and he must flee to escape his own certain arrest. To survive he follows the road west, hides, and, as last resort, takes on a dead soldier's identity. Creating an imagined personality, always conscious of dangers to his double life, he joins "his" unit on the frontlines in the war against the Germans.
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