Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Life's Music - Andrei Makine

Scene one: You ( the narrator) are waiting in a railway station at a distant Siberian town, waiting for the train to Moscow. It is snowing heavily , in the vast expanse of Siberia including the station. There is an announcement that the train is delayed by 6 hrs. There is nothing to do, but watch the fellow citizens in the station , a cross section of Russian society, whom we call homo sovieticus , citing an exiled Sociologist Aleksandr Zinovyev.
Slowly, in the coldness and the wetness, while every thing else is at a standstill you hear a soft music through the air. There is something in this music, some melancholy , reminiscence something lost, which attracts you. You don't realise that your legs are already taking you towards the origin. You cross the platform stepping over those travellers sleeping crisscross on the platform, climb the wooden staircase, open the door silently as not to disturb the person and peep in. The place is dimly lit, all you can see is the silhouette of an old person against an old wooden piano. The light reflected off the snow is flashing on the old face. You move closure to the person producing this beautiful music. His fingers are thick and does not resemble to that of a musician. His movements are clumsy. He is so immersed in music and two streams of tears are rolling down his cheek. You don't want to disturb him ,and retract back to the door. But in the dark, you stumble upon something and the noise interrupts the flow. You are so embarrassed and apologetic, so is the old man. He too is waiting for the train.

Scene two : Young Alexei Berg is walking down the road of the mill, proudly looking at the poster of a young man in his twenties. The poster is announcing his piano concert in the same premises in a week. The poster is transparent, as it is wet by last nights rain, and he can see through, the previous poster. He remember the days when his parents at the same place with their theatre troupe.
Alexei and his parents have just come out of one of those terrible period of their life, which lasted 3 year. They had to endure the wrath of the authorities, for no apparent reasons, and was living an isolated life, fallen out of favour with all. The life is just coming back to normal and the untouchability is removed slowly and they have been accepted as regular citizens. However, it did not last long. On the eve of his maiden performance, as he returned from his rehearsal, one of his neighbour crossed his path and murmured to him, that 'they are already there' and don't go home.

Alexei flees to Ukraine to his uncle and lived hiding for some time before Russia was invaded and attacked by Germans. Leaving the hiding post, Alexei walk around the battlefield, and join the army using a false identity of a fallen soldier. Post the war, working as the driver of a wartime General, he was the attraction of the general's daughter, who wanted to teach him to play piano. On the engagement party, having introduced as a student learning from the would be bridegroom, he was asked to present what he had learnt from her. His better sense fail and the result was being caught and sent to Siberia.

His multiple attempts to sneak back to Moscow was a failure and was forced to live the majority of his life in a place "where 12 months are winter and the rest spring".

As the train reaches the city of Moscow, the story of an unusual endurance and un-fulfilled life's journey has been revealed to the narrator and to the reader. The novel ends with a music concert, with the readers 'camera' focused on Alexei, sitting in the last corner seat lost in music and in himself.

This is one of the best novels I have read this year. Spanning a mere 100 odd pages, it has magic of writing in every pages. Very poetic, very intense style of writing. Very rich in imagery and emotion. The writing and description is very picturesque as if we are watching a movie.
Gem of a novel. Highly recommended.
A Life's Music
Andrei Makine ( Translated by Geoffrey Strachan)
Spectre Paperback
106 Pages
(bought in a sale)
Further Read : The Guardian , The telegraph , Sydney Morning Herald , Andrei Makine

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