Andreï Makine, born and brought up in Russia and one of his country’s greatest novelists, writes in French. Brief Lives that Live Forever reaches us in its crisp, elegant English version thanks to Geoffrey Strachan, who has translated all of Makine’s novels published in English to date. The Russian language is not quite absent: important terms such as ‘gulag’ and ‘samizdat’ dot the text, bringing a vanished form of speech and a vanished social system into clear view. By retaining these significant Russian words in his translation, Strachan emphasises how Makine’s novel circles around themes of exile and loss. The presence of ‘official’ words to do with rules and regulations contrasts with the repression of others: love, desire, home, soul.
Makine’s first-person narrator recalls his experiences as an orphan growing up in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s. Out of the flow of time he picks certain unforgettable moments, certain encounters with girls and young women. Meditating on these as an adult, trying to understand them afresh, he finally arrives