Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine

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Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A set of linked stories – wrapped in a short novel's plot, perhaps – that warmly focuses on love in the hearts and minds of those brought up under Communism.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: April 2014
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 9781780870496

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Our unnamed narrator is inspired to think back through his life on the girls and women he has been in love with, partly because of a time spent with an associate – a time marked by a seemingly most unremarkable encounter with a further woman – whom he deemed had never been loved. The associate, you see, had spent half his adult life in Soviet camps for political instruction – our narrator himself was an orphan in the 1960s' Soviet Union. This snappy volume takes us through episodes in several lives at different points during and since the second half of communist rule – and finally explains the import of that unremarkable encounter…

The writing throughout, even when trying to discuss such diaphanous things as love, is completely vivid, none more perhaps than in the first episode. The narrator, having been forced to take part in a showpiece parade, finds the temporary grandstands he was insulted from, semi-abandoned in a snowy park the orphans are doing community service in (there is an awful lot of snow in these few pages). In the most blatant metaphor in the whole book he gets trapped in this mechanism of Soviet propaganda, until he finds the first female he falls in love with. He's only a little older when he meets someone inspiring in their personal questioning of the party line, in his teens at least when he berates Brezhnev for the awkwardness in his sex life, and so on. All the while the work is quietly, persistently guiding us both through the narrator's first person narratives, and through a rigid, palindromic structure one can only take pleasure from.

This structure is of note for the reviewer perhaps more than the reader, for one really doesn’t know how to define the book. Are these pieces linked stories, as I think they are? They all have titles, and if they're not, they have very large chapter breaks to pad the writing out. However they do feature several recurring elements, returning characters, and that wrapping up final episode. It's a trivial matter, perhaps, but does show the cleverness imbued in these pages.

They don't all focus on the narrator's love life per se – one sees him more or less replace the current partner with a disabled man from his youth for the morning. But even there, with the craft such as is present, the thoughts turn to love – and in the clever way all these stories work, also deem that love as defined, as specified, as altered – or perhaps only made possible – by Communism.

In the end this spread of tales, while seemingly about a dry, stale or unwelcoming subject matter – he's an orphan wittering about love, remember – is much better than one might suspect. It has a warmth evident on almost every page, despite the snow, a cleverness that only makes you quietly admire the book after putting it down, and it certainly left me with the feeling – nay, intent – that this, my first Makine book, is not going to be my last.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Some of the details herein reminded me of a true life version I read and enjoyed recently, Born in Siberia by Tamara Astafieva, Michael Darlow and Debbie Slater. Russian Stories by Francesc Seres are much-lauded short stories from the same corner of the world.

Buy Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Brief Loves That Live Forever by Andrei Makine at Amazon.com.

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