Dreams of my Russian summers

by Andrei Makine

Paper Book, 1997





New York : Arcade Publishing : Distributed by Little, Brown and Co., c1997.


A boy growing up in the Soviet Union of the 1960s and 1970s visits his French grandmother each summer, accumulating new tales of a Russia he never knew.

User reviews

LibraryThing member John
Winner of the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis. The story is partly a bildungsroman of a boy growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s and of his entry into adolescence with all its attendant sexual discoveries, but at the same time a loving recounting, not without its ups and downs, of the life of his grandmother, a woman of French origin who has lived a hard life under the glories of communism, but who is much more complex given her life in, and knowledge of the other reality that was France. The latter she brings to life through old newspaper clippings about post-WWI France that the boy and his sister discover one day in the attic. And over the years, as the boy matures and begins to understand what adults have been talking about for years around him, he begins to see his grandmother in a whole different light. He suffers a certain ambiguity and tension as his Russianness begins to assert itself and to rebel against the French training (and language) of his grandmother. This training and language also gave him a window on another reality that was, in fact, dangerous to know or acknowledge in the Soviet world. The boy leaves to live in Paris and follow a precarious existence as a penniless, aspiring author where he develops the idea of bringing Charlotte, the grandmother, back to France. But she dies before he can realize his plan, raise the money, and overcome the bureaucratic hurdles placed in his way not so much by the Soviets as by the French.

The principal characters, the boy and the grandmother, are well drawn and Charlotte epitomizes those who have such depths of character that they survive incredible hardships and cruelty, to find a balance and perspective on life. In Charlotte's case, aided by a deep love for her Russian husband, his compassion and faithfulness, and what becomes her love for Russia and its people despite the stupidities and cruelties and inanities of the government. The story captures the picture of a people burdened with a harsh geography, history, and climate, overtaken by a brutal political system that did nothing to foster tolerance and understanding on either a group or individual basis. But underneath that banal and cruel system, pulsed a society of people driven by what drives all people: births, deaths, loves, sex, jealousies, revenge, envy, etc etc. The system can try to impose a certain conformity and rigidness on society, and can succeed in a formal way, but no system can ever harness the wealth and unpredictable nature of human emotions and relations.
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LibraryThing member mtbearded1
71 of 75 for 2015. The reading guide for this novel compares it to work by Nabokov and other great Russian authors, although I can't really see that. The book, written originally in French and presented here as an English translation, tells the story of a young man growing up in Soviet era Russia, spending his summers with his grandmother, a native of Paris. As someone who grew up in all the tension of the Cold War, I am fascinated by stories that tell of the life of my counterparts on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Essentially a Bildungsroman, the story of Andrei and his grandmother's history, the novel takes us through many years of growth, including the period when his "difference," that French background he has from his grandmother, stands in the way of his acceptance as a good soviet youth. The book has four separate, but interrelated time lines: the narrator's summers with Charlotte, his grandmother; the narrator's school years when he lives with his parents, then his aunt after his parents' deaths; Charlotte's youth in early 20th Century Paris; and the narrator's life after he leaves Russia for the West, primarily set in Paris. The first three weave their strands through most of the book. The fourth is presented almost as an addendum: and then I grew up. This is not one of my "light and frivolous" reads. Lots of detail here, and for me at least, a slow read, but worthwhile.… (more)
LibraryThing member Gary10
Slow starting but ultimately very satisfying story of a man born in Siberia who escapes to Paris in 1987--story based on his French grandmother who is trapped in Siberia. Very well written.
LibraryThing member akeela
This is a coming-of-age, biographical novel. Makine was born in Siberia and now resides in France.

As a child, the protagonist spent his summer holidays in the steppes with his French grandmother, Charlotte, who regaled him with stories that held him spellbound during the long Siberian nights on the balcony. She is an engaging storyteller and her stories take on a life of their own – so much so that they become an ineluctable part of his life.

When Charlotte left France as a young woman decades before, the only thing she had with her was a suitcase filled with old photographs and newspaper clippings. These, along with her almost tangible memories, form the keystone of her endless stories and anecdotes. He becomes completely enthralled with Parisian life – at the expense of real life. He was, “imprisoned in the fantasy of the past, from whence (he) cast absent-minded glances at real life.”

This book, while celebrating his grandmother and the depth and wonder she brought to his life, also brought to light the struggle he experienced in finding and coming to terms with real life as opposed to the wonderful dreams and anecdotes that were so much a part of his daily existence.

This book made me want to reminisce about the good old days with my grandmother. I wanted to go and dig out old photographs of yesteryear, of my grandparents in another era, posing in studios in elegant attire for a deft photographer stooped over a tripod under a black cloth :)
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LibraryThing member jane27
this book got rave reviews - mixed feelings - a patch in the middle was a bit circular and aimless - will read some more of his though. some beautiful passages
LibraryThing member EpicTale
Charlotte Lemmonier, the book's main character, is an exquisitely special and complex person, and to know her would have been a highlight in anyone's life. So it was a treat for me to read this apparently semi-autobiographical book about her, and the author's relationship to her as a beloved grandson and the ways in which she affected his life.

The book sketched a set of dreamlike images of a time and place that I knew nothing about. In particular, for example, I was blown away by the author's vivid account of the proud, honor-bound urban street battle of the "samovars" of post-WWI and the subsequent mysterious disappearance of these supposed heroes. How logical that such events would have happened, even if I never could have imagined them in a thousand years on my own; and (fortunately) how completely alien they are to the contemporary zeitgeist.

However incompletely I comprehended it, I appreciated the author's lucid glimpse into the not-so-long-ago (and, possibly, still extant?) culture of the Russians and his depiction of its many (but by no means all) differences with the westernized First World.
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LibraryThing member niquetteb
A long novel about a kid and his relationship with his grandmother and their lives. Often hard to follow, perhaps just a cultural difference through translating the Russian man's French into English...
LibraryThing member stef7sa
Beautiful novel, very evocative and poetic, with a moving and surprising end. Should be read in your mother tongue if the translation is good.
LibraryThing member Clara53
An absolute beauty of a book. A small jewel. It touched my heart profoundly, both by the amazing talent of the writer and by the fact that I found a lot I could relate to in his story. Also, my kudos to the translator - which I am sure I will confirm when I eventually realize my ambition and read the book in French, its original language.… (more)


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