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Music of a Life

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May 24, 1941: Alexeï Berg, a classical pianist, is set to perform his first solo concert in Moscow. But just before his début, his parents -- his father a famous playwright, and his mother a renowned opera singer -- are exposed for their political indiscretions and held under arrest. With World War II on the brink, and fearing that his own entrapment is not far behind, May 24, 1941: Alexeï Berg, a classical pianist, is set to perform his first solo concert in Moscow. But just before his début, his parents -- his father a famous playwright, and his mother a renowned opera singer -- are exposed for their political indiscretions and held under arrest. With World War II on the brink, and fearing that his own entrapment is not far behind, Alexeï flees to the countryside, assumes the identity of a Soviet soldier, and falls dangerously in love with a general officer's daughter. What follows is a two-decades-long journey through war and peace, love and betrayal, art and artifice -- a rare ensemble in the making of the music of a life.


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May 24, 1941: Alexeï Berg, a classical pianist, is set to perform his first solo concert in Moscow. But just before his début, his parents -- his father a famous playwright, and his mother a renowned opera singer -- are exposed for their political indiscretions and held under arrest. With World War II on the brink, and fearing that his own entrapment is not far behind, May 24, 1941: Alexeï Berg, a classical pianist, is set to perform his first solo concert in Moscow. But just before his début, his parents -- his father a famous playwright, and his mother a renowned opera singer -- are exposed for their political indiscretions and held under arrest. With World War II on the brink, and fearing that his own entrapment is not far behind, Alexeï flees to the countryside, assumes the identity of a Soviet soldier, and falls dangerously in love with a general officer's daughter. What follows is a two-decades-long journey through war and peace, love and betrayal, art and artifice -- a rare ensemble in the making of the music of a life.

30 review for Music of a Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    An intriguingly haunting novella about Russian concert pianist Alexei Berg; how he took on the identity of a deceased soldier during World War II to escape deportation and the consequences that came in later years. This book and author are an example of a book that I would have never heard of it it hadn’t been for Goodreads. I will be on the lookout for Makine and hope to read his award winning Dreams of Russian Summers because this prose was exquisite. 4 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    At 106 pages, this is a very short novel, but a very powerful and haunting one - Makine is a master at finding emotion in small details. This book opens with a narrator who is forced to spend a snowy night at a crowded station in the far east of the Soviet Union. He stumbles on an old man at a piano going through the motions of playing but barely touching the keys. This man helps him find a way on to the train and describes his life story over the course of the train journey to Moscow. Like the At 106 pages, this is a very short novel, but a very powerful and haunting one - Makine is a master at finding emotion in small details. This book opens with a narrator who is forced to spend a snowy night at a crowded station in the far east of the Soviet Union. He stumbles on an old man at a piano going through the motions of playing but barely touching the keys. This man helps him find a way on to the train and describes his life story over the course of the train journey to Moscow. Like the first Makine book I read (The Life of an Unknown Man) this is a tale of survival told by an old man. This one's life as a concert pianist was curtailed when his family were caught up in one of Stalin's purges - he escapes from Moscow and steals the identity of a dead soldier, but is found out when his love of music betrays him. Makine's writing is luminous and elegiac throughout - I have yet to find anything by Makine that isn't worth reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laysee

    Music of a Life is a slim but poignant historical novel by Andrei Makine, a Russian novelist who wrote in French. It is translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan who lent it an elegiac elegance. In the waiting room of a railway station in a Russian town in Urals, the unnamed narrator recounts an encounter twenty five years ago with an old musician, Alexei Berg, when they were both stranded by a snowstorm. Makine’s vivid prose captures the apathy and resignation of the diverse throng of Music of a Life is a slim but poignant historical novel by Andrei Makine, a Russian novelist who wrote in French. It is translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan who lent it an elegiac elegance. In the waiting room of a railway station in a Russian town in Urals, the unnamed narrator recounts an encounter twenty five years ago with an old musician, Alexei Berg, when they were both stranded by a snowstorm. Makine’s vivid prose captures the apathy and resignation of the diverse throng of passengers huddled in the cold, trying to find a place to lay down and sleep. The narrator’s fretful waiting is suddenly broken by a strain of music: ‘The music! On this occasion I have enough time to catch the reverberation of the last notes, like a silken thread from a needle’s eye.’ The episode to follow moved me. In an upper floor waiting room, an old man is mutely playing the piano. The narrator is first drawn to the silent flourish of Alexei’s gnarled fingers and then is surprised to see the tears in the pianist’s eyes as one of his hands comes crashing on the keyboard. This choked, yet voluble, communion with the keyboard encapsulates the heart of this story. In the long conversation on that interminable train ride to Moscow, what unraveled is Alexei’s story and that of the artists and musicians, and members of the intelligentsia who lived during the years of Stalin’s Great Purge (mid 1934 to the 1940s). Alexei’s plight calls to mind a similar fate that befell Count Rostov in Amor Towles’ A Gentleman From Moscow and Dmitri Shostakovich in Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time. In 1941, Alexei was a 21-year-old concert pianist, eagerly looking forward to his debut recital. Of course, it did not happen. Makine keeps the reader invested in Alexei’s fight for his own life and his remaking of a life without music. (view spoiler)[ Alexei steals the identity of a fallen German soldier and is sent to the war front in WW2. A couple of women who nursed him to health when wounded rendered his battled life more bearable. Thus, ‘He reflected that there must be a word for it, some key to understanding this suffering and this moon, and his own life, changed beyond recognition, and above all, the simplicity with which two human beings could give one another not love, no, but this peace, this respite, this release, derived simply from the warmth of a hand.’ He heroically saves a general and is deemed an honorable soldier. (hide spoiler)] . Alexei vigilantly guards himself against a sinking feeling in his heart by not allowing himself to become nostalgic whenever he hears music or sees a piano. But how long can he withhold music from himself? Will his true identity become known? Makine keeps the plot tensed and taut, and I felt torn between wanting Alexei to show the world who he is and fearing for his life. Music of a Life is a melancholic but inspiring story about shattered dreams, stoic determination, and the indelible traces of a musical talent. This is not a sentimental story and the ending is realistic. When I turned the last page, I was left with this thought that even though Alexei is compelled by circumstances to leave his music, his music never left him. Great book. Highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This is the story of a thwarted life told to a stranger on a train. And there's a fair amount of time to tell it. The train runs from Siberia to Moscow, but still, considerable compression is necessary. The book is short and the end is always near. I stared into space a good 15 minutes once it came. I had to get my bearings again. This is a story that could have been mired in all kinds of sentimental cliché. The man was, after all, almost a concert pianist. And at least 2 moments occur in the This is the story of a thwarted life told to a stranger on a train. And there's a fair amount of time to tell it. The train runs from Siberia to Moscow, but still, considerable compression is necessary. The book is short and the end is always near. I stared into space a good 15 minutes once it came. I had to get my bearings again. This is a story that could have been mired in all kinds of sentimental cliché. The man was, after all, almost a concert pianist. And at least 2 moments occur in the tale where I was willing him to shock everybody and play that piano in the room. Show them, Alexei! Show them you aren't that rude scarred soldier they think you are. Show them! Because we all love that moment when it is revealed that someone is of finer stuff than we ever imagined. At one point, Makine even winks at this cliché, "They examined the hole, touched it, laughed at it. Then went across the road to collect the German's rifle. Alexei stopped beside the piano, let his hand come down on the keyboard, listened, closed the lid again. His joy at not feeling within himself the presence of a young man in love with music was very reassuring. He looked at his hand, the fingers covered in scars and scratches, the palm with its yellowish calluses. Another man's hand. In a book, he thought, a man in his situation would have rushed to the piano and played it, forgetting everything, weeping perhaps. He smiled. Such a thought, such a bookish notion, was probably the only link that still bound him to his past." It is a fine tension that is very well played in this book, without a lead foot on the damper or an inappropriate emphasis on rubato. Makine writes with class, the story coming out in exquisite morceaux, like the flowers that fall out of old poetry books. The mystery of the owner's life no longer resides in the unturned pages but lives instead in those lowly pressings picked up from a kitchen floor.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    Masterful. Yet another author I’ve discovered through the serendipity of a charity bookshop. I couldn’t put this down. From the first word to the last, I was totally immersed not just in the story but in the power of the writing. The narrator meets an old man in a railway station and travels with him to Moscow. When he first sees him, the old man is playing a piano silently, moving his fingers above the keys, and he is weeping. During the course of the journey, the pianist relates his life story. Masterful. Yet another author I’ve discovered through the serendipity of a charity bookshop. I couldn’t put this down. From the first word to the last, I was totally immersed not just in the story but in the power of the writing. The narrator meets an old man in a railway station and travels with him to Moscow. When he first sees him, the old man is playing a piano silently, moving his fingers above the keys, and he is weeping. During the course of the journey, the pianist relates his life story. The prose is beautiful, the story full of suspense, raw emotion, and the horrors of life in Stalinist Russia, before, during and after WWII. I’m looking forward to reading more Makine. His works published in English all use the same translator, Geoffrey Strachan, and he is excellent. An easy 5 stars from me and the best 99p I’ve ever spent.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Robinson

    Music of a Life by Andreï Makine This is a wonderful portrait of a Russian musician who flees his life to preserve his life when the "artistic elite" are being imprisoned by Stalin. It is also a portrait of the battered Russians Makine labels "Homo soviéticas"—people who are so numbed by the unfair whims of those in power as well as their broken infrastructure that they simply bear it. It is a cautionary tale for our times. A note: The library Kindle copy I read needs a good proofing. Possessive Music of a Life by Andreï Makine This is a wonderful portrait of a Russian musician who flees his life to preserve his life when the "artistic elite" are being imprisoned by Stalin. It is also a portrait of the battered Russians Makine labels "Homo soviéticas"—people who are so numbed by the unfair whims of those in power as well as their broken infrastructure that they simply bear it. It is a cautionary tale for our times. A note: The library Kindle copy I read needs a good proofing. Possessive apostrophes as well as other punctuation are often missing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    For a short book, this packs a huge punch. The story is told through a narrator of a Russian man who, several days before his debut performance as a concert pianist, must flee Moscow. His is a harrowing tale of fear, uncertainty, determination, and adaptation to a "new" life as a soldier. The emotions are palpable and, in the end, the resolution a relief. This book, which was written in French, was the winner of the 2001 Grand Prix RTL-Lire and is a great introduction to the work of this Russian For a short book, this packs a huge punch. The story is told through a narrator of a Russian man who, several days before his debut performance as a concert pianist, must flee Moscow. His is a harrowing tale of fear, uncertainty, determination, and adaptation to a "new" life as a soldier. The emotions are palpable and, in the end, the resolution a relief. This book, which was written in French, was the winner of the 2001 Grand Prix RTL-Lire and is a great introduction to the work of this Russian author who has been called "a Russian Proust and a French Chekhov".

  8. 5 out of 5

    Wyndy

    Update 8/8/2019: Because Alexeï Berg is still hovering around my psyche days after reading his story, I’m rounding my rating up to five stars and adding it to my favorites shelf for a reread. Sometimes I’m too stingy with my fives. Like some of my favorite blues tunes, this tiny novel fed my soul. Makine packed an incredible amount of imagery, emotion and exceptional prose into these 112 pages, beginning with a snowed-in, overcrowded railroad station in the Urals and its sad samples of “Homo Update 8/8/2019: Because Alexeï Berg is still hovering around my psyche days after reading his story, I’m rounding my rating up to five stars and adding it to my favorites shelf for a reread. Sometimes I’m too stingy with my fives. Like some of my favorite blues tunes, this tiny novel fed my soul. Makine packed an incredible amount of imagery, emotion and exceptional prose into these 112 pages, beginning with a snowed-in, overcrowded railroad station in the Urals and its sad samples of “Homo Sovieticus,” and continuing through the unforgettable life of promising classical pianist Alexeï Berg, also known as Sergei Maltsev - an identity Berg steals from a dead soldier in order to avoid arrest during Stalin’s reign of terror. Alexeï’s harrowing story is told to an unnamed fellow passenger (the narrator of the novel) on the long, snowy train ride from this isolated railroad station to the city of Moscow. It is a story of displacement, risk, survival, love, loss and the encompassing power of music. 4.5 outstanding stars, rounded down only because it takes this novel some time to hit its stride due to the story-within-a-story technique. I felt Alexeï’s story was strong enough to stand on its own. “As his hands fell upon the keyboard . . . the music came surging out, the power of it sweeping away all doubts, voices, sounds, wiping away the fixed grins and exchanged glances, pushing back the walls, dispersing the light of the reception room out into the nocturnal immensity of the sky beyond the windows . . .”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Deea

    This is a novel that appeals to the sensitivity of the reader through its simplicity and musicality. Framed by the waiting in a train station, the ride by train through the immensity of Russian lands covered by snow and the arrival to Moscow, this is a story of a life whose musicality although extirpated with brutality by the regime of those times, was mended by its hero with whatever meager means he had in hand. The story of a person who longs for music in his life and who, thanks to the power This is a novel that appeals to the sensitivity of the reader through its simplicity and musicality. Framed by the waiting in a train station, the ride by train through the immensity of Russian lands covered by snow and the arrival to Moscow, this is a story of a life whose musicality although extirpated with brutality by the regime of those times, was mended by its hero with whatever meager means he had in hand. The story of a person who longs for music in his life and who, thanks to the power of music on his spirit keeps fighting up to the end to gather together the obliterated fragments of his soul and the bits and pieces of his fragmented life. As his hands fell upon the keyboard, it was still possible to believe a beautiful harmony had been formed at random, in spite of him. But a second later the music came surging out, the power of it sweeping away all doubts, voices, sounds, wiping away the fixed grins and exchanged glances, pushing back the walls, dispersing the light of the reception room out into the nocturnal immensity of the sky beyond the windows.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Walter Schutjens

    Although this book was finished in a day, and read in less than an hour, when finished it feels as if you have read an epic, not a novella. The novel, a sweeping portrayal of a pianist caught in the drama of war, demonstrates the value of primacy of essence above form. Falling in line with the weighty prose of Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn and Tolstoy. "No anguish or remorse. The night through which he was advancing expressed this pain, this fear, and the irremediable shattering of the past, but this Although this book was finished in a day, and read in less than an hour, when finished it feels as if you have read an epic, not a novella. The novel, a sweeping portrayal of a pianist caught in the drama of war, demonstrates the value of primacy of essence above form. Falling in line with the weighty prose of Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn and Tolstoy. "No anguish or remorse. The night through which he was advancing expressed this pain, this fear, and the irremediable shattering of the past, but this had all become music and now only existed through its beauty.” When first picking up the book my English teacher (creds to G Rob), told me to pay special attention to the opening pages. The lyrical portrayal of the Russian 'diaspora', as they embody what Makine refers to as being a 'homo sovieticus'. And true to his word, the first chapter was very enjoyable, you could hear the snow storm sweep against the paneled glass of the station. The end too was very moving, but the middle of the book lost the verbosity to content, making the final rating of the book a solid 4/5.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    A gem of a book, set in Russia pre and post Second World War. It sets into context an individual life with upheaval, death and chaos all around.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ram

    This book is about identities The identity we present to the world, our real identity, the identity of a nation, the identity of a country….. Alexeï Berg, is forced to take the identity of a fallen soldier in 1941. He does this in order to escape from the security police that arrested both his parents. With his new identity, he has to shed his old identity…..his childhood in Moscow, his promising piano talent, his intellectual background. He is now a new person, with a new past and a new future, This book is about identities The identity we present to the world, our real identity, the identity of a nation, the identity of a country….. Alexeï Berg, is forced to take the identity of a fallen soldier in 1941. He does this in order to escape from the security police that arrested both his parents. With his new identity, he has to shed his old identity…..his childhood in Moscow, his promising piano talent, his intellectual background. He is now a new person, with a new past and a new future, a new name. However, under his new simple uneducated identity, the old one is lurking. As Alexei longs for his old identity, the identity longs to reveal itself. In this short book, the author paints us a picture of soviet Russia, through the description of Alexei's life and his changing identities. The book includes criticism of soviet Russia in many layers, and I assume that a person with better understanding of the culture and land could understand it and describe it better. This starts with the opening scene, an isolated railway station in the heart of the Urals: "It embraced the lives of the most diverse individuals: two soldiers, hidden behind a pillar, taking turns drinking from a bottle; an old man who, since there were no more seats, was sleeping on a newspaper spread out along one wall; a young mother whose face seemed as if it were glowing slightly, lit by an invisible candle; a prostitute watching at a snow-covered window; and a great many others." The travelers have just received the news that the train will be at least 6 hours late. A nice read that I recommend for all

  13. 4 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    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 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 as 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. To Alexeï's ears, the exploding strings make the sound of 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. Not surprisingly, Alexei's attempts to drown his previous self, that of the high-spirited young pianist on the verge of success in Moscow, only succeeds so far. After the war ends, memories of the past start re-emerging. He can no longer pretend without difficulty... Visions of a life not lived lead him to confront his two realities. In the end, can the "inner voice of music" heal, as well as expose him? Makine does not need many words to convey the intricacies of his hero's experiences. Using the precise, yet detached, language of an observer, he succeeds in conveying the reality of the Stalin purges, the horrors of war... the challenges of a generation, represented by Alexeï, that is caught in a life beyond its control. His intention is not to give his readers a grand epic of the man and his time. Rather, like a sculptor crafting a relief, Makine chisels out small pieces, highlighting minute details in some parts and using broad strokes in others to create his masterpiece. It succeeds also by drawing on the reader's understanding of the context, his empathy and power of imagination to visualize what is hinted at but not spelled out. "You can never describe the life of another person" Makine said in an interview. The "perfect novel" is beyond description, he asserts, the reader should loose himself in it, observe and contemplate its meaning and, at the end, emerge transformed. Music can have that same quality as it carries the listener beyond the present reality. With "Music of a Life" Makine is living up to his own definition. The relative brevity of the story should not be seen as a disadvantage. On the contrary, this is a highly charged and emotional story. A thin layer of "objective" reporting by the narrator only obscures for a short time the underlying intensity and the author's deep concerns for his country and its people. This is a treasure of a book, to be read more than once. This review refers to the original French version. Others have commented on the excellent translation into English.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Robson

    I started reading A Life’s Music quite a while ago and after only a few pages, put the book aside. I’m not sure why but luckily I picked it up only a few days ago and this time was blown away by the story of the pianist Alexei Berg. “It is the story of a young man who, in 1941, lost everything in one of Stalin’s purges - his parents, his budding carer as a concert pianist, even his identity.” Makine’s writing is the best that I have encountered in a long time. Not since Nemirovsky’s Suite I started reading A Life’s Music quite a while ago and after only a few pages, put the book aside. I’m not sure why but luckily I picked it up only a few days ago and this time was blown away by the story of the pianist Alexei Berg. “It is the story of a young man who, in 1941, lost everything in one of Stalin’s purges - his parents, his budding carer as a concert pianist, even his identity.” Makine’s writing is the best that I have encountered in a long time. Not since Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise have I been so moved by such elegant power. In Makine’s case the seemingly simple writing disguises an incredible talent. Although only 106 pages long we somehow, as readers, endure the full force that the war has on Berg and the leitmotifs along the way are masterly. One of the first is the way he is looked at when the Stalin’s purges begins in Moscow, what Berg calls the long-nosed masks. “At the school gates they move away from him, bobbing and weaving as they take off, like skiers on a descent strewn with obstacles. At the Conservatoire it seems as if the people he passes have all become short-sighted, they squint to avoid catching his eye. Their faces remind of him of those masks he once saw in a history book, terrifying masks with long noses, with which the inhabitants of cities invaded by the plague used to rig themselves out.” After several close escapes Berg endures his baptism of fire when he must find a dead soldier that looks like him so that he can assume his identity. “He was drained of himself, contaminated by death, driven out of his own body by all the dead men he had been dressing in his clothes, as he slipped into theirs. He spoke in rhythm with his footsteps, eager to replenish himself with what he had been before...But suddenly stopped. Far away from the others, his head washed by the current of the stream, lay a soldier. The one he had been looking for.” OMG! How many authors can write like that? I am in awe and readers will be too by the climax of the book. I leave you with one last quote, one of my favourite passages. “He walked, sometimes rode on lorries, getting off in a village, telling the driver he lived there and continuing on foot. From time to time, pausing amid empty white fields, amid all this land bruised by the war, he would sniff the air, believing he could detect something like a fleeting breath of warmth. He sensed that all the life that was left to him was concentrated in this faintly springlike breeze, in this airy, misty sunlight, in the scent of the waters awakening beneath the ice. And not in his emaciated body that no longer even felt the wind’s scorching.”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nikos79

    For someone who comes in touch with Makine's work for first time, Music of a Life I guess would be a very good start to get familiar with topics which he loves to use in his books and of course with his prose. Plus it is a very short novel which can be easily read in one sitting, like I did. It is a book for identities, war and love, and more than all, about how destinies of people can be decided sometimes by historical and political events of times.. Wanting to be a bit more helpful, I could For someone who comes in touch with Makine's work for first time, Music of a Life I guess would be a very good start to get familiar with topics which he loves to use in his books and of course with his prose. Plus it is a very short novel which can be easily read in one sitting, like I did. It is a book for identities, war and love, and more than all, about how destinies of people can be decided sometimes by historical and political events of times.. Wanting to be a bit more helpful, I could say that this book has many common characteristics with the much more popular for wide reading audience "Noice of Time" by Julian Barns, so in case you have tried the previous one, it will be probably very likable to you. A young man with a bright future, decides to live the horror of war feeling weak in front of the horror of his own state.. Melancholic and romantic at times, with a bittersweet taste, it is one more powerful tale, highlighting the strength of human soul under difficult situations, set in his native country and more specifically Soviet Russia before, during and after world war II, and his language is for one more time excellent and poetic. However, if I want to be fully honest and perhaps a bit unfair to this reading, I feel it is not of his best, but not his worst either. Having read some other of his books, I think he can do much better without saying that this one is bad. In fact it is a very good book and a 3.5 star rating would seem ideal. In general, I adore Makine and I find myself lucky to have in my collection almost all of his books translated in my language, most of them unfortunately seem to be out of stock at the moment.. I would prompt anyone to read him.

  16. 4 out of 5

    thehalcyondaysofsummer

    Opening lines: ‘I could quite easily put a date to that encounter.’

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    A short novel this, almost a novella. If I enjoy a novel I normally get through it quickly but I actually surprised myself in just how quickly I finished this one. Having said that the story was high quality enough to keep me reading. This is the third Andreï Makine novel I've read and all 3 have shared a theme, which is how the titanic events of Russia's 20th century history have impacted on the lives of ordinary people. In particular this novel has a similar structure to "The Life of an Unknown A short novel this, almost a novella. If I enjoy a novel I normally get through it quickly but I actually surprised myself in just how quickly I finished this one. Having said that the story was high quality enough to keep me reading. This is the third Andreï Makine novel I've read and all 3 have shared a theme, which is how the titanic events of Russia's 20th century history have impacted on the lives of ordinary people. In particular this novel has a similar structure to "The Life of an Unknown Man", (although this book actually predates "...Unknown Man" so it would be more accurate to say that novel resembles this one). We are introduced at the outset to a character who effectively performs the role of a narrator. He has a chance encounter with an elderly man who has lived through WWII and the Stalinist period, who relates his life story in flashback. I can't really describe the plot without including spoilers, so I'll confine my comments to saying that the author keeps a decent level of tension going, keeping the reader interested in the outcome. I'm up for reading more of Andreï Makine's work, but I'm hoping the next novel won't be as similar.

  18. 4 out of 5

    வயலட்

    Many people hear a song all their life, like a life source, without even knowing the source. And there are those who play very rarely yet all their life is about it. A story told by the second to the first kind. Truth, love, tragedy, melancholy and that shining hope that drives life forward all for an epic are in this novella. It sure has the essence of europe and soviet blended together.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Reindert Van Zwaal

    Takes you along on a journey, making it feel as if you are right at the moment in which the story takes place. Read it almost in one go, being transported to another world. Dealing with many difficult aspects of life, love and war, without actively discussing them, through a story of only 100 pages, something only the best writers are capable of. The writer has chosen to omit a lot of facts about history or background of the main character, which makes the novel much stronger.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Years ago, the celebrated Russian logician Alexander Zinoviev coined the sarcastic phrase Homo Sovieticus to explore how a new species with a specific mindset evolved as a result of the Communist system. In Andrei Makine’s exquisite and dreamlike 109-page novella, the reader learns about this new species through the person of Alexei Berg, a one-time brilliant young pianist. Not unlike Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner, he happens across the narrator who is enduring a transportation delay with “ Years ago, the celebrated Russian logician Alexander Zinoviev coined the sarcastic phrase Homo Sovieticus to explore how a new species with a specific mindset evolved as a result of the Communist system. In Andrei Makine’s exquisite and dreamlike 109-page novella, the reader learns about this new species through the person of Alexei Berg, a one-time brilliant young pianist. Not unlike Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner, he happens across the narrator who is enduring a transportation delay with “human matter, breathing like a single organism, its resignation, its innate disregard of comfort, its endurance in the face of the absurd.” Together, they manage to get aboard an archaic third-class coach, where Alexei weaves his story to his new friend. Alexei’s parents are arrested by the pre-KGB for being part of the “rotten intelligentsia” during Stalin’s reign of terror in the 1930s, just as Alexei is posed to make an eagerly-awaited solo debut. Knowing his own arrest is imminent, he flees to his fiancee’s father’s home, waking up in the middle of the night convinced that he is about to be betrayed. After hiding briefly in his uncle’s barn, Alexei scours the bodies of dead Russian soldiers to find one who is close to him in appearance. He assumes that soldier’s identity and enters the war “indistinguishable in the column”, cloaked in his disguise. In taut, lyrical, beautifully-paced notes, Makine traces Alexi’s survival trek, and with an extraordinary economy of words, captures the terror of striving to make it through the Stalin years. The sparse portrait of a man caught up in a forgotten life is described thus: “He told himself that in this life there should be a key, a code for expressing, in concise and unambiguous terms, all the complexity of our attempts, so natural and so greviously confused, at living and loving.” There is, of course, a denouement scene: creativity, in Makine’s world, is indestructible and survives in whatever spare soil it is planted. This exquisite elegy of loss – a multi-note symphony to the indestructibility of the human spirit—reaches a crescendo that is beautifully realized and will not soon be forgotten.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mojgan

    No spoilers in this comment: This is a tiny (112 pages) but very good book... It was hard for me to get engaged with the story for the first 20 pages or so. It felt that the author was aimlessly describing different characters without any intention of following up on any of them! But after about page 20, the story finds purpose... For me the author's style of writing was as much interesting as the actual story! His metaphors are fresh and catching! His style, typical of most Russian and French No spoilers in this comment: This is a tiny (112 pages) but very good book... It was hard for me to get engaged with the story for the first 20 pages or so. It felt that the author was aimlessly describing different characters without any intention of following up on any of them! But after about page 20, the story finds purpose... For me the author's style of writing was as much interesting as the actual story! His metaphors are fresh and catching! His style, typical of most Russian and French authors, appealed to me...He tells the story, without bothering (or getting too hung up)with "proper" sentence structure and just goes with it. I wont tell you what the story is about, read (and re-read) it if you can...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    The narrator of this novel meets Alexei Berg in a train station in the Urals. He is told the story of the last twenty years of Alexei's life as the two men travel by train to Moscow. Alexei Berg's parents, a dramatist and an opera singer, were arrested during Stalin's reign of terror in 1941. Alexei, a classical pianist student, avoided arrest and made his way to the Ukraine, close to the Polish border, where he had relatives hide him. When the Germans invaded the Ukraine, Alexei took on the The narrator of this novel meets Alexei Berg in a train station in the Urals. He is told the story of the last twenty years of Alexei's life as the two men travel by train to Moscow. Alexei Berg's parents, a dramatist and an opera singer, were arrested during Stalin's reign of terror in 1941. Alexei, a classical pianist student, avoided arrest and made his way to the Ukraine, close to the Polish border, where he had relatives hide him. When the Germans invaded the Ukraine, Alexei took on the identity of one of the dead soldiers in the Soviet army. This is the story of how Alexei survived in a hard world, very far from classical music. The book is a beautifully written little gem. The author, who grew up in Russia, emigrated to France and writes his novels in French.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

    This book was just ok. The story could have been interesting, but it was much too short to really get very involved in the story. I kept finding myself wanting further descriptions and explanations where there were none which left the reader to simply guess at what exactly was happening in the story. The text was originally written in French and translated into English so perhaps some of the portions that didn't make complete sense were actually "lost in translation." Probably wouldn't highly This book was just ok. The story could have been interesting, but it was much too short to really get very involved in the story. I kept finding myself wanting further descriptions and explanations where there were none which left the reader to simply guess at what exactly was happening in the story. The text was originally written in French and translated into English so perhaps some of the portions that didn't make complete sense were actually "lost in translation." Probably wouldn't highly recommend as an entertaining read unless you're looking for a "foreign"-type read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marina Sofia

    A whole life (very typical of its time and country) condensed into such a short piece of work. Some unforgettable images (reminiscent of classic Russian literature): the door blasting open and letting the chill air and snow in at the railway station where the characters are waiting for their delayed train. The trawling among corpses for an identity - horrifying and very moving. The love story did not seem terribly convincing, or perhaps this is a man who is emotionally stunted and unable to A whole life (very typical of its time and country) condensed into such a short piece of work. Some unforgettable images (reminiscent of classic Russian literature): the door blasting open and letting the chill air and snow in at the railway station where the characters are waiting for their delayed train. The trawling among corpses for an identity - horrifying and very moving. The love story did not seem terribly convincing, or perhaps this is a man who is emotionally stunted and unable to admit his emotions even to himself.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Molly Lynch

    Russian wartime literature historicized - its amazing what the filter of time can do to a genre. But this book isn't just unique and stunning because of the fact the writer is not of the same generation as Pasternak and Babel yet muses on the material with as much authority of experience. He also brings recollection and a magical element of imagination to this very tragic story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Descending Angel

    Short and sweet book that reads like Kurt Vonnegut. It's pretty good, just needed too be abit longer to reach that 4 stars.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Davey

    A great find; beautifully written, neat, spare and engrossing. A totally accomplished and thrilling little book that told a strange, stark and touching story without being sloppy or sentimental. It read “real”, perhaps because of Makine's willingness to avoid fulfilling and climactic scenes or events.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Schrader (Wenke)

    I found it difficult to get into this book. The protagonist seems to be emotionally detached for most of the story, which made it hard to connect with him. I think, however, this was intentional albeit ineffective. I believe the author is making a statement on artists that are starved for our art form. Indeed. the only times I truly felt I knew the character was when he was playing the piano. And I believe any true artist understands the dwindling life force when you are kept from your art, and I found it difficult to get into this book. The protagonist seems to be emotionally detached for most of the story, which made it hard to connect with him. I think, however, this was intentional albeit ineffective. I believe the author is making a statement on artists that are starved for our art form. Indeed. the only times I truly felt I knew the character was when he was playing the piano. And I believe any true artist understands the dwindling life force when you are kept from your art, and then the relief of returning home to it. While I appreciate quick reads, I believe this could easily be expanded to an epic novel.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    About page 54 things started to get interesting, and the pages seemed to fly by from there. And then it ended abruptly. I wanted to know about the ending more, I know about leaving it to the reader to know but I still want the writer to go into more detail. Overall there wasn't a clear plot, and I found it hard to track the storyline because of the style of writing but it had a really good essence and I liked the character it focuses on. Because it was so short there are bound to be hundreds of About page 54 things started to get interesting, and the pages seemed to fly by from there. And then it ended abruptly. I wanted to know about the ending more, I know about leaving it to the reader to know but I still want the writer to go into more detail. Overall there wasn't a clear plot, and I found it hard to track the storyline because of the style of writing but it had a really good essence and I liked the character it focuses on. Because it was so short there are bound to be hundreds of unanswered questions, but couldn't there be a few left answered to give me peace of mind. How did and when did his parents die? That is probably the biggest one.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ignacio Fernandez

    This book is about identities that play a role within the human history. Two world confronted, one that claims and please social compliance with current institutions and rhe counter one that claim ' follow your own voice' no matter how much the John' s weight. Rich vocabulary, edging with poetry, a drama that portrait human misery and Greatness. Beautiful narrative, a short rich story.

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