by Andreï Makine
Grasset, 214 p., 18 €
Andreï Makine’s novels are bitter chasms for the body but gentle enough for the memory. Not that the USSR regrets the author and his community of faithful readers – members of this work which has continued to develop since The French Testament (Prix Goncourt 1995) – but they know how to nestle in the cracks of the system to explore interstices of beauty, freedom, friendship, even love. Captured, filtered, restored, such moments stolen from real socialism constitute Makine’s poetic art, capable of making us feel what escapes constraint while being born from it. And this, in spite of a double penalty, since the author, placed in an orphanage, struggles with the dangers and the repression which weigh, in Siberia, in Krasnoyarsk, on the banks of the Yenisei river, the domination stepmother of the Kremlin.
Clearest account of the novelist
Armenian Friend turns out to be the least encrypted, clearest, and purely biographical account of the novelist, one of the shortest as well, in the manner of an accomplished Russian novel, which tenderly melts into a slice of destiny. That of a teenager, Vardam, parked among a handful of Armenians rescuing one of their own, branded “separatist” and awaiting his judgment that should lead him to camp, for years or even a decade or two.
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Vardam emerges from an amazing world, counting “A good number of former prisoners, aged and exhausted adventurers, haggard uprooted people who – as often in Siberia – had, for any biography, the only geography of their wanderings” – it is necessary to underline the remarkable painting of episodic characters, to which the author proceeds, here as in all his books, with a force of evocation always overwhelming.
Vardam is bound to find himself the short-lived one of his classmates and he will be saved from a raging melee by the narrator – rarely will Makine’s ‘I’ seem to tie him so completely to himself, as if the writer of maturity is stripping himself off. tricks and screens usually confusing entire sections of his biography.
However, the magnificent empathic picture painted by the novelist of the Armenian imagination and of the links of human solidarity which unfold in this district on the outskirts of the city, “the Devil’s End”, is coupled with a discreet and sharp reflection on the conscience of the peoples, their identity, the right of blood conquered by altruism, adoption, the course of a life which can be diverted like that of a river; when a woman, for example, stands in the way of secular and often patriarchal hatred …
Vardam, sketched in small touches until he becomes one of those unforgettable figures offered by literature, Vardam with big black eyes, Vardam fragile but constant, surrounded by death and already focused on “Another dimension of existence”, leans towards the wave and declares: “I must be just that one, no one else.” Looked. “ A few lines later, Andreï Makine writes: “Fifty years later, I have the possibility of confirming it because this face, in the middle of the streaming and the golden leaves, still remains of a very lively clarity among all that I have lived. The true identity of this child, its only true origin, was that autumn day, slow and sunny, away from the greedy and hasty lives of men. “