Andreï Makine is a great writer. I had only one bemusement – it wasn’t even a reservation – about his books: they always seemed to tell the same story. In Human Love he has broken away from that story. I wish I could salute his achievement, but something has gone wrong. I think Makine (like Anita Brookner, or Jean Rhys) may be a great teller of only one tale.
That tale, in Le Testament Français and other novels, is of a Russian boy with a French history, recounted through vivid images of the Siberian landscape and a few intense relationships. Human Love is the story of an African, Elias Almeida, whose experience of his mother’s poverty and death turns him into a professional revolutionary. It is also about Elias’s love for Anna, a Russian girl he meets during his training in Moscow; and above all about the conflict between this personal love and devotion to a political cause.
In other words, it’s not afraid to explore large themes. Both Elias and the nameless narrator (a fellow Soviet agent) brood about the terrible synchronicity of ordinary happiness and appalling suffering; about the loss of their ideals in the long losing battle against evil – and yet they must go