Dreams of My Russian Summers: A Novel, by Andrei Makine is a masterpiece! Makine reveals worlds within worlds, seasons within seasons that captivate and intrigue the reader with his poetic-like prose and brilliant writing, evoking impressionistic word-paintings.
“…and the shadow of a distant and dreamy sweetness veiled your gaze, refined your features, and caused the soft light of bygone days to hover over the snapshot.”
The narrator’s grandmother, Charlotte, has given him a taste of the world that he might not have otherwise known, during summers spent with her in the desolate, harsh and unrelenting steppes of Russia. Within the tapestry of war and history, love and loss, the fabric of Charlotte’s stories affect the young man’s childhood memories and future dreams as he grows into manhood. He views her native country (France) through her eyes and remembrances, through the surreal and magical words she uses to instill the beauty her country holds for her, the disappointments and reality colorized through time.
An unnamed city is depicted with creative flair and strong word-visuals, to the point this reader almost felt she was there. Family dynamics is written with two points of view that separate and conjoin, once again. The teenaged boy versus his grandmother and their hardships in a world fraught with strife is a compelling story. The struggle for identity and home is a strong issue, and Makine conveys it well.
A young man’s life and hopes are woven with the strong fibers of memory and longing. Charlotte brings him hope and joy, within the decades that are sewn with war-torn patches, like quilts, in the threads of time. Her stories, always told in French, that unfold the history of the decades bring them both the world in pastel tones, a world made bearable through Charlotte’s use of language. She brings him a sense of contentment and sense of serenity in a world ravaged by war, terror, rape, murder, politics, and life lived under harsh conditions.
Makine’s extraordinary ability to capture historical events and combine them into a magical and beautiful story is a testament to his brilliance. He transcends images and memories of times past with illumination, intensifying our senses. Within the epic novel, he weaves dreams and realities often on the border of one crossing over into the other, always with insight and sensitivity, always with a sense of what was necessary in order to cope and survive.
I highly recommend Dreams of My Russian Summers: A Novel, by Andrei Makine!