Requiem For A Lost Empire, by Andrei Makine is another one of his incredible novels. True to Makine’s magical writing style, writing of war and love, horror and destruction, identity and discovery, pain and loss, he has brought us another momentous novel. This is the second book in a trilogy, and having read them out of order, makes no difference on the impact the story line has (I read this book of the trilogy, third). The book flashes back and forth from decade to decade, from the 1920s to the 1980s.
We follow the narrator (who is a Russian doctor) as he writes to an unnamed woman. The narrator changes identities after becoming disillusioned with the war’s outcome, and becomes a KGB spy. He falls in love with his female partner, and therein begins a journey through history. He loses contact with her through historical events beyond his control, and constantly tries to locate her, and finding her becomes an obsession to him. We are on his journey with him, as he tries to find meaning, and as he searches for her throughout the decades.
The narrator tries to come to terms with his ancestry, and longs to find the truth of his existence, and the truth behind their love.
His grandfather, Nikolai, deserted the army during the 1917 Russian Revolution, and found love and joy in a rural forest village. His son, Pavel, fought in World War II against the Nazis, joined the KGB as a spy, and in the end, disillusioned, returns to the same small village as his father. In that village, the narrator was born, and his first memories of life and love ended, and a new life began with a white-haired woman.
Love of land, serenity and life’s simplicity are evoked with amazing clarity and word visuals that sweep across landscape and time, summer and winter.
The saga reminded me of Doctor Zhivago in some aspects, yet the similarities are subtle. Makine brings his own excellence to the writing field, exploring war, in-depth, and how the succeeding generations often repeat what their ancestors have done, without being aware of the similarities. It might be a different generation, but the cycle continues. Makine demonstrates that with brutal honesty, baring the souls and emotions of his characters, yet brings sensitivity to them and their situations, at the same time. His ability to illuminate time and place, with vivid tones does not diminish historical and critical events within the confines of the familial stories. Requiem for a Lost Empire is a compelling novel, and the story is intense, poignant and filled with amazing word images, images so vivid that one’s senses are consumed by them. The book is panoramic in its imagery, and the prose is poetic and often surreal.
If you like a sweeping saga which spans three generations of a family over an 80-year period, an intense novel, an insightful and powerfully written novel that is illuminated with brilliance and beauty, then Requiem for a Lost Empire is a book for you!
Andrei Makine is, by far, his own person, and his writing has often been compared to the most noteworthy and classic authors, such as Tolstoy, Proust, Gogol, and Pasternak. His writing shouldn’t be compared to theirs, but be perceived solely as his own works of brilliance. In my opinion, his novels will continue to stand the test of time, classic works in their own right, and Requiem for a Lost Empire is no different.