Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine

book 3 of 6 for the Novella Challenge
book 3 of 9 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge

It's unfortunate that this book was such a poor fit for me (isn't that cover absolutely gorgeous?). The premise seemed so interesting - a woman in a tiny village in Russia has been waiting for her soldier to return from WWII for 30 years. A much younger man (our narrator who never tells us his name) goes to live in the village, to meet her, learn about her story and to write an article about the culture and customs left among the old widows there. You get a taste of modernish Russian history (60s and 70s) and for what a tumultuous time that was, especially for the younger generation.

I think what bothered me so much about the book is that it was incredibly repetitive - our narrator talks over and over and how strange it is that this woman he's interacting with has waited for thirty years for a man. It may be that the repetition has some sort of thematic purpose that I was just too bored to figure out - or maybe in Russian it felt different. I know that having the faith and fortitude to wait that long is a rare thing to see - but he was never able to move beyond it. It seduced him in one way - but pushed him away at the same time.

It often felt choppy and disconnected, with bizarre short (and yes, repetitive) scenes happening that seemed to take the plot nowhere - and yet, I will give him this, Makine (and his translator) have a lovely way with words. His descriptions of deserted villages were breathtaking as well as this one particular image of a tree that in one night lost all of its leaves. I read that part twice it was so lovely.

While I cannot recommend this book for plot (and it's quite crass as well), I will say that I feel like I made a connection with a time and place in Russian history. The landscape is beautiful and yet oppressive. Vera (the woman who waited) is resilient and hard working, spending her days caring for women who had no one left; women who were relics of a time when all the men and boys left to be killed in a war, living in a town with nothing left but memories

2 comments:

bethany said...

I know, right? Don't you hate it when you so want to love a book...I mean it even has a beautiful cover, and then there is no way you can convince yourself to? I know what this is like. Sorry, it is no fun.

You did a great job with your review though...very honest and great. I liked it.

YAY for you!!!

Stewart said...

It's a shame that you didn't like this novel as I thought it was a beautiful piece.

Regarding how repetitive you thought it was, I think I saw this as the narrator, given his mocking attitude to the villagers, always trying to find an out and, each time his preconceived ideas and all round sneering were challenged, he would look for other areas to prolong his opinion.

But just to clarify one thing you said about how the book must have read in Russian: Makine writes in French.

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