The Archipelago of Another Life
Andrei Makine, Geoffrey Strachan
Mr B's review
This ‘Siberian Western’ had me gripped from the start. It’s the 1960’s and a 14 year old ‘orphan of the Gulags’ is sent to a small town in the far Eastern fringes of Siberia. He’s ostensibly there to ‘learn a trade’ but in reality it’s so he can be airbrushed from history. When a man arrives on the sporadic helicopter service (the only way in or out) dressed in full hunting gear and immediately heads away from town into the desolate woods, the boy has to find out what he’s up to and follows him in. – Luc at Mr. B’s
On the far eastern borders of the Soviet Union, in the sunset of Stalin’s reign, soldiers are training for a war that could end all wars, for in the atomic age man has sown the seeds of his own destruction.
Among them is Pavel Gartsev, a reservist. Orphaned, scarred by the last great war and unlucky in love, he is an instant victim for the apparatchiks and ambitious careerists who thrive within the Red Army’s ranks.
Assigned to a search party composed of regulars and reservists, charged with the recapture of an escaped prisoner from a nearby gulag, Gartsev finds himself one of an unlikely quintet of cynics, sadists and heroes, embarked on a challenging manhunt through the Siberian taiga.
But the fugitive, capable, cunning and evidently at home in the depths of these vast forests, proves no easy prey. As the pursuit goes on, and the pursuers are struck by a shattering discovery, Gartsev confronts both the worst within himself and the tantalising prospect of another, totally different life.
Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan
Makine’s wonderful economy of image and phrase convey far more than one could think possible about the Russian soul. — Anthony Beevor * Daily Telegraph. * Makine packs great steppes-full of history into compact, bejewelled boxes of prose. — Boyd Tonkin * Independent. * One of the significant novelists of our age. — Stephanie Merritt * Observer. * As good as Stendhal or Tolstoy . . . I would rather read him than anyone else now writing — Allan Massie * Literary Review. * A thrilling manhunt through the taiga. — Claire Devarieux * Liberation * A powerful story of metaphysical adventure. — Marianne Payot * L’Express * Pleasingly clever stuff . . . has an ambition of romantic grandeur that feels genuinely, soulfully Russian. — David Mills * Sunday Times. * Masterful . . . Makine has been justly compared with Tolstoy, but here I think the better reference is Joseph Conrad. — James McNamara * Spectator. *
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