Andreï Makine, who won the biggest French literary prize the Goncourt in 1995, was rescued from an orphanage in Siberia in 1960 by his grandmother and raised speaking French, his own parents were “probably” deported. Makine, whose classical style writing stands out from other modern French literature, took political asylum in France just two years before the Berlin Wall came down.
A Woman Loved is exceptional, it had me thinking how interesting a couple of chapters of Wolf Hall written in the style of Makine would be! Now there’s a challenge.
This book centres around an initially young film director Oleg Erdmann, Russian but of German origin. Erdmann is a tortured individual “back then he had been someone caught between his two origins, suffering from his past and wishing feverishly to succeed his future, he didn’t know how to define himself in relationship to the world, he invented complicated identities, alibis and reasons for himself.”***he lives to bring the essence of Catherine the Great, a German princess who becomes the ruler of Russia, to the screen. Makine brings us through the difficulties of the late Soviet era (how to get a film past the Soviet film board), with Brezhnev dying before the film is finished.
Catherine’s supposed numerous love affairs and wild sexual life, the payoff for her favourites, the intrigues, murders and revenge are so well reported that throughout the changes, from soviet to oligarch to new Russia, Oleg is unable to get beyond the rumours to the truth of Catherine’s life as he imagines it. A Woman who cannot escape from her own caricature but who in her early 50’s falls in love and is ready to leave everything for her lover Lanskoy.
Oleg is able to recycle himself and his work in the post Soviet world, producing a successful television series on Catherine, selling out on all of his values delivering an ever escalating soft porn version of Catherine’s life.
He eventually comes full circle to the actress who played Catherine from the first Soviet version of his work, who he had never been able to forget and finishes through her in finding out who he actually is through the power of love “a simple identity….a man reflected in the eye of a woman who is loved”***
What a beautiful description!
First published in French as Une Femme Bien Aimée by Seuil in 2013
Translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan and published in 2015 by MacLehose Press
***Read in French, my translation