A review of

The Woman Who Waited

by Andreï Makine

Central question: Is a woman who waits for her long-lost love a heroine, a fool, or something else?
Format: 192 pp., cloth; Size: 5-1/2" x 8-1/4"; Price: $24.00; Publisher: Arcade; Editor: Jeannette Seaver; Cover design: Lynn Buckley; Interior design: Richard Seaver; Typeface: Bembo; Contemporary writers Makine most enjoys: Le Clezio, the later works of François Nourissier, John Kennedy Toole, Bret Meyers; Representative sentence: “Between those two moments in her life, between her promise made in youth and the future annihilated by this vow, I tried to conjure up the day when the balance had tilted, when a few hasty words, whispered amid the tears of parting, had become her fate.”

Andreï Makine’s The Woman Who Waited is a lovely, melancholy poem of a novel. Raised in Russia, Makine now lives in France, and his melancholy seems partly to do with exile. Dreams of My Russian Summers, his best-known book, chronicles summers spent in a village in the steppe with his French grandmother, Charlotte, who turned the place into a wondrous version of her homeland through her stories. Like Charlotte, Makine is a storyteller whose native territory is the unrecoverable past. What I find most compelling about his writing is the way he works in a nostalgic mode while dissecting the limits of that nostalgia—resulting in books that are lyrical, analytical, and tremendously sad, all at the same time.

Set in the 1970s, The Woman Who Waited is narrated by an unnamed Leningrad intellectual who leaves his coterie of dissidents behind to record the local customs in Mirnoe, a remote village. His attitude toward this place, “from which all history had been eradicated,” is ambiguous. He considers himself superior to the common people while also admiring their stubborn survival.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Alix Ohlin

Alix Ohlin’s new book, Babylon and Other Stories, will be published by Knopf in August 2006.

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