Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Hero's Daughter

Andreï Makine's  novel 'A Hero's Daughter' was first published in 1990. Written in French it was translated into English in 2004 by Geoffrey Strachan. Andreï Makine was born in Siberia in 1957. Granted asylum in France in 1987, he wrote his first novel,  A Hero's Daughter in French but was unable to find a publisher, no-one believing that a Russian could write a publishable novel in French. He has since won  two of France's most prestigious literary prizes, the Prix Goncourt and Prix Medicis.

'A Hero's Daughter' is the story of the young Ivan Demisdov who fights bravely as a soldier during World War II, defending Moscow from the Nazi invasion. He falls in love with a nurse who saves his life on the battle-field, marries her, endures the years of famine and raises their daughter Olya. When years later his wife dies, Ivan begins to drink vodka heavily  and  wanders around Moscow, exploiting his status as an honoured military hero. The main story centres upon the 1980's decade  of Perestroika and Glasnost  initiated by President Gorbachev. Its during this era of  reconstruction and openness that Ivan  discovers his daughter Olya to be working for the KGB as a high-class call-girl. In return for Western-style luxuries and privileges Olya passes onto the KGB trade secrets of visiting business-men extracted during 'pillow-talk' with her clients. The historical events of Glasnost force both  father and daughter, Ivan and Olya, to self-examination and to question their role in society and  their contribution to its moral values.

Although it's is translated from French to English, 'A Hero's Daughter', in essence is a Russian novel in story, theme and insights. As in Olga Grushkin's novel, The Dream Life of Ivan Sukhanov also set in  the era of Glasnost and Perestroika,  Makine selects the 1980's decade, when radical social and political change in Russia occurred, as the setting of his novel.  It's a fertile  era for Russian asylum novelists, offering the opportunity to examine the re-structuring of Russian society from a relatively objective historical distance and to discourse upon the corruption and moral bankruptcy revealed by the new era of  Glasnost. 

Written with poignant moments of self-reflection and realization of individual worth, 'A Hero's Daughter' has been described as nothing less than the moral history of Russia. Its  a thought-provoking novel which displays Russian  themes in its preoccupations and descriptive power; conveying changes in Russian social history through the thoughts and deeds of  fictitious creations.  Another hallmark of Makine's novel and of many Russian writers in general is the seemingly effortless ability to involve the reader in the psychology of its characters, in alliance with an intense understanding of the human condition.

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