You hear it all the time: someone should write a book about it, someone should make a movie about it.
Well, Emmanuel Carrere author of the THE ADVERSARY, CLASS TRIP, THE MUSTACHE, GOTHIC ROMANCE has just done both of those things with MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL. A title every writer would kill to have thought up.
Having read a brief news item about the repatriation of aged mentally broken Hungarian who had lived in a small Russian city since being swept up in the aftermath of World War Two ...got Carrere to thinking of what it must have been like for this guy to have lived in a provincial Russian city all those years as a stranger, never learning Russian. The thinking called up his own long dormant Russian (his mother is the leading authority on Russia and a member of the French Academy)… and the family unspoken about secret: her father having been a Georgian refugee in France after World War One became a translator for the Germans during the occupation and was disappeared by the Resistance at the end of the Second World War...
Carrere writes easily about all of this and with his own obsessive problems of the heart--- he reprints an incredibly erotic story he published in a summer supplement of Le Monde the best newspaper in France in an attempt to keep a woman he was desperately in love with--- a story so explicit it is unpublishable in the LATIMES (and I would hesitate to quote some passages on this blog)--- and then there are the multiple journeys to Russia.. the meetings with the ordinary people of Kotelnitch, a precise and not so much caring as a simple honest description of ordinary life and the girl who speaks and sings in French, the wife of the KGB boss of the town.. a vicious unexplained murder, the abyss that this opens at the center of the book is frigidly disturbing and one which will never leave your imagination or memory.
The scrupulosity of Carrere is remarkable in its self-questioning, his fear of exploiting the people he meets... and far more than just a book about the making of a movie the book is wonderfully independent of the movie as is the movie independent of the book. Both exist true to their own forms.
Sadly, the movie is only available in French but the trailer captures the deep and profound sadness that is at the center of Carrere's book...a sadness of a great Russian novel --- Turgenev in particular comes to mind... or the DEAD SOULS of Gogol and you can even write to Carrere--- I hope after you have read MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL as he supplies in his text a email address: email@example.com (I checked and it works)
SAVE MONEY. SAVE YOUR TIME. Don’t rush out like a lemming and buy Franzen’s FREEDOM. If you are tempted, RESIST and if you must you can read any old book by Vance Packard, THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS, THE STATUS SEEKERS… Packard was writing popular sociology studies of the so-called American people. Don’t be a sucker for the old packaged up as interesting and controversial sociology. You have read this book in any “deep think” piece in PARADE, the Sunday newspaper supplement. And it has as much lasting ”value.” It is the perfect grist for the addled reading groups. Big ideas. Big ideas. Who needs them.