Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review of Once Upon the River Love by Andrei Makine

Name of Book: Once upon the river love

Author: Andrei Makine

ISBN: 0-14-028362-5

Publisher: Penguin

Type of book: Russia, Siberia, love story, Belmondo, 1970s, 1990s, Western World

Year it was published: 1994 (version I have 1998)


Set in the 1970s in the vast, remote forests of eastern Siberia, Andrei Makine's brilliant novel tells the story of Mitya, Utkin, and Samurai, three boys on the verge of manhood. Isolated by history as well as geography, with only the passing lights of the Transsiberian train to assure them of an outside world, these friends yearn for experiences their small village cannot provide. But an afternoon at the cinema-a day's trek by snowshoe-changes their lives forever. The boys are captivated by a film staring French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo and a cast of beautiful women (all of whom Belmondo manages to seduce with consummate ease.) Over the next several months they travel seventeen more times to see their hero, and when that film is replaced by another that is equally outrageous and daring, their obsession only grows.

Written from the perspective of twenty years later, the story follows these three young idealists up to the present day, to the boardwalks of Brighton Beach and into the jungles of Central America, where their dreams of dashing James Bond-like heroism take unexpected turns. Beautifully rendered and sensitively drawn, Once Upon the River Love demonstrates Andrei Makine's remarkable ability to re-recreate the past with such precision that the present becomes all the more poignant.


Honestly I didn't see Mitya and try to become a better person so to speak. He was very obsessed with women, or with one in particular and with love so his personality is very difficult to understand or to see how and why he changed. Even if its written from his point of view, he touches very little on other things of his life and how he changed in 1990s.


Strangely enough, the only connection I have made with this book is the ending and the Belmondo film that Mitya and his friends constantly talked about. I think that the red haired woman is sort of a Belmondo, representing or affecting the lives of the three characters in different ways.


First person narrative from Mitya's point of view. The second half of the summary is only given 10 or so pages and 90 percent is devoted to their friendship and Mitya's obsession with love and women.

Author Information:

September 10, 1957 in Krasnoyarsk, Russian Federation


Literature & Fiction

About this author

Andreï Makine was born in Krasnoyarsk, Soviet Union on 10 September 1957 and grew up in city of Penza, a provincial town about 440 miles south-east of Moscow. As a boy, having acquired familiarity with France and its language from his French-born grandmother (it is not certain whether Makine had a French grandmother; in later interviews he claimed to have learnt French from a friend), he wrote poems in both French and his native Russian.

In 1987, he went to France as member of teacher's exchange program and decided to stay. He was granted political asylum and was determined to make a living as a writer in French. However, Makine had to present his first manuscripts as translations from Russian to overcome publishers' skepticism that a newly arrived exile could write so fluently in a second language. After disappointing reactions to his first two novels, it took eight months to find a publisher for his fourth, Le testament français. Finally published in 1995 in France, the novel became the first in history to win both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis plus the Goncourt des Lycéens.


For some odd reason I cannot help but compare this book to Marguerite Duras. While Marguerite Duras created The North China with sentences affecting the mood, barely peppering the book with descriptions of moods and other things, this author seems to do the opposite. This book feels very French. I will not claim to be an expert on French literature, (I'm not,) but its obvious that its not written for those who grew up with British and American and other types of books. It has a strange beauty of its own, but for one reason or another this book is not understood as a one time read. If possible I might re-read it in a year or so and perhaps glean more information about it. The author uses many words that will not be found in daily vocabulary lists, and it can get on the nerves at times. Forgive me, but I don't understand this book. Interestingly enough, I asked my parents about Belmondo in 70s, and my mom has said yes, that he was popular and took Russia by storm.

3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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