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A Life's Music by Andreï Makine

A Life's Music (2001)

by Andreï Makine

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Alexei Berg comes from a family of artists. His mother is an opera singer, his father a dramatist and Alexei is a budding young pianist. Unfortunately, it is Russia in the 1930s, and on the eve of his first public concert, his family is detained for political reasons. Alexei escapes imprisonment and survives by impersonating a Russian soldier. This short novel is only a little over 100 pages, but each word is carefully chosen, describing a life of someone who has to choose between his love of music and survival. I loved the lyricism of this book - it almost felt like poetry with a plot. Beautifully crafted and very descriptive. Enchanting. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
This is the story of a thwarted life told to a stranger on a train. And there's a fair amount of time to tell it. The train runs from Siberia to Moscow, but still, considerable compression is necessary. The book is short and the end is always near. I stared into space a good 15 minutes once it came. I had to get my bearings again.
This is a story that could have been mired in all kinds of sentimental cliché. The man was, after all, almost a concert pianist. And at least 2 moments occur in the tale where I was willing him to shock everybody and play that piano in the room. Show them, Alexei! Show them you aren't that rude scarred soldier they think you are. Show them! Because we all love that moment when it is revealed that someone is of finer stuff than we ever imagined.
At one point, Makine even winks at this cliché, "They examined the hole, touched it, laughed at it. Then went across the road to collect the German's rifle. Alexei stopped beside the piano, let his hand come down on the keyboard, listened, closed the lid again. His joy at not feeling within himself the presence of a young man in love with music was very reassuring. He looked at his hand, the fingers covered in scars and scratches, the palm with its yellowish calluses. Another man's hand. In a book, he thought, a man in his situation would have rushed to the piano and played it, forgetting everything, weeping perhaps. He smiled. Such a thought, such a bookish notion, was probably the only link that still bound him to his past."
It is a fine tension that is very well played in this book, without a lead foot on the damper or an inappropriate emphasis on rubato. Makine writes with class, the story coming out in exquisite morceaux, like the flowers that fall out of old poetry books. The mystery of the owner's life no longer resides in the unturned pages but lives instead in those lowly pressings picked up from a kitchen floor. ( )
  dmarsh451 | Apr 1, 2013 |
The more I read Makine the more I get convinced that he is an undisputed master of content and form. This book is about how a burgeoning life can be ruthlessly broken by a tyrannical regime (Stalin's, in this case), a life that - but for that regime - could have flourished and, through its talent, could have brought joy to thousands of people, but instead had to be dwarfed into some semblance of an existence. Makine's thoughts on "Homo sovieticus" run alongside this sad story.

-- ( )
  Clara53 | Feb 20, 2012 |
A short lyrical novel - snapshots of a man's life in Soviet Russia during World War Two and afterwards, as he gives up music and goes into hiding. In this translation, Makine's prose is beautiful and elegant. It is a novel that finds beautiful music in the horrors, disappointments and hopes of a difficult life.
  nathanhobby | Oct 30, 2010 |
While waiting for a train back to Moscow, the narrator meets an older man playing the piano in a back room and they strike up a friendship and the older man then tells his life's story.

A promising young pianist, it was the night of his first concert, when he was given the message 'Don't go home'. He never gets to perform, finding his parents arrested, and has to run away to a relative in the country where he has to remain hidden. Then when war reaches the farm, he assumes the identity of a dead Russian soldier. He ends up as the driver for a Russian General whose life he saves and whose piano-playing daughter he worships. But he has to find out about his parents, and this raises questions about who he really is ...

This novella is beautifully melancholic and elegaic. The young pianist seems to take the loss of his musical career with a shrug, for he still has it in his head. With his assumed identity, an unmusical peasant, he sometimes has to struggle not to let his real personality burst out. His life's music has to play to a different drum. ( )
1 vote gaskella | Jan 28, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0340820098, Paperback)

In a snowbound railway station deep in the Soviet Union, a stranded passenger comes across an old man playing the piano in the dark, silent tears rolling down his cheeks. Once on the train to Moscow he begins to tell his story: a tale of loss, love and survival that movingly illustrates the strength of human resilience. 'A novella to be read in a lunch hour and remembered for ever' Jilly Cooper, Books of the Year, Sunday Telegraph

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

His father is a dramatist, his mother an opera singer. But during Stalin's reign of terror in the 1930s, both parents are arrested. Alexei Berg flees, and begins his endless journey until he lands, two decades later, in a snowbound train station in the Urals, where he relates his harrowing saga to the novel's narrator.… (more)

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Arcade Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Arcade Publishing.

Editions: 161145266X, 1611457203

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