This is my review of A Life’s Music by Andreï Makine,Andrei Makine.
With little in the way of plot – although it manages to build up quite a head of tension at times – , scant character development or dialogue – although it builds up clear impressions of most of the characters in only a few words- , this novella is a clear example of "less is more": it is more moving and insightful than many longer works in its portrayal of how human lives were damaged and destroyed by Stalin's Reign of Terror.
Alexei, on the brink of a career as a concert pianist, is warned by chance that the police have come for his parents. By chance, he assumes the false identity of a dead soldier and this sets a pattern for the random events which set him back at some points, but help him to survive at others.
Since this book is so short, you can concentrate on every word.
An example of the writer's insight on how self aware people in terrible situations may feel the delusion of being set apart from the crowd because they can analyse what is going on:
"I can put a name to our human condition and therefore escape from it. The frail human reed, that knows what it is and therefore….'Hah, that old hypocritical device of the intelligentisia'…"
A comment on what this book is all about:
"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 grievously confused, at living and loving."
Or just a very apt and original description – which must also owe something to the excellent translation:
"In the frozen air the aggressive acidity of the big city stings the nostrils."
My only reservation is the device of having an anonymous narrator – who hardly seems necessary – introducing the idea of "longsuffering Soviet man" and describing the context of his meeting with Andrei, in chapters which "book-end" Andrei's account of his life.
I was interested to see that this was written originally in – and presumably translated directly from – French, although the author is Russian. I shall certainly look out for more of his work.