Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Dream Life of Sukhanov, A Novel by Olga Grushin, 2006

My first problem with this book is the way the author was introduced on the dust-jacket of the book - she turned out to be the first Russian to ever get a degree from an American University, an interpreter for President Carter during his visit in Soviet Russia, a descendent of a dissident social sciences professor who taught in the 60s in Prague, and finally - a Research Analyst at a law firm (after getting a BA from Emory). Well, anybody who is slightly familiar with reality (especially the East European one of the 60s-90s) can't help noticing that there is something wrong with this glorious picture.

That set aside, Grushin is not entirely devoid of literary talent. Her style is good, although comparing her to Nabokov and Chekhov, as some of the (marketing) reviewers do is quite a stretch. Grushin has tried to write a novel about a Russian totalitarian typage, an artist who has sold his beliefs and his talent for material comfort and a secure position in the totalitarian hierarchical scheme of Soviet life. She is tracing his downfall at the time of the perestroika. An ambitious and complex task! The author is very deft describing the culture and mores of the totalitarian intelligentsia - a fact that suggests her first-hand knowledge of that culture. The attempt to seek a redemption for her character in religion - Sukhanov's seeking refuge in a deserted Khram - is unconvincing and too much of a (Russian) cliche to provide closure for the drama of the hero...
There were some nice images here and there (although the general sense was of a dragging narrative) - for example, the well written scene of the hero observing the reflections of the totalitarian city in the Moscow river - and the shimmering reflections suggesting a city trapped down, under the water -- the mystical alternative for a better world...


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