Myth of Russia in French Culture

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Andreï Makine – the successor of the two great cultures – and his work deserve a special mention. His view on the French cultural world is unique and it corrects to a large extent the views on France prevailing among the specialists in the theory of cross-cultural communication. The evolution of his perception of the French culture has changed drastically over the decades. Therefore, he is at the same time a “consumer” of the myth about Russia made up by the French by birth and the creator of its modern version.

Today Andreï Makine is a recognized master of the French prose and his unmistakable literary genius won him the most prestigious prizes and resulted in tens of thousands of printed copies. He has written dozens of novels, a theater play and a volume of opinion journalism La France qu’on oublie d’aimer. The height of his career came with the admission to the French Academy of Sciences, this being an outstanding result for a foreigner.

It is well known that the French author was born in Krasnoyarsk in 1957. In 1987 he came to France and started working as Russian language assistant in Jacques-Decour lyceum (the collège-lycée Jacques-Decour) in Paris. In 1988 unexpectedly for all he stayed in France and started writing.

At first, A. Makine’s Russian world was narrow and poor in colors. From novel to novel we see the pictures from little Andreï’s Soviet childhood: faraway provincial towns, small remote villages, godforsaken railway stations with their strange lives, a local prostitute and so on. These pictures recur in Requiem for a Lost Empire (Requiem pour l’Est), Music of a Life (La Musique d’une vie) and then in The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme (La Terre et le ciel de Jacques Dorme). The author doesn’t forget the Russian nature though and paints it with nostalgic love and emotion. The Russian world of the years of 2000 is neither familiar nor comprehensible to Makine. It intrudes into the texts of his novels merely as a hint of contemporary events and names. In Requiem for a Lost Empire (Requiem pour l’Est) the author pays more attention to modern Russia than in his other books.

The main characteristics of A. Makine’s “Russian world” can be found in his Dreams of My Russian Summers (Le Testament français). First of all, there is Stalinism with its Gulag and chekists. In Dreams of My Russian Summers (Le Testament français) it is only after his grandmother Charlotte Lemonnier dies that the narrator learns that he actually is a son of a woman who did not return from Stalinist camps. This is how the tragic theme of a “lost generation of winners” sacrificed for the totalitarianism enters the author’s novels. KGB becomes the main character of the novel Requiem for a Lost Empire (Requiem pour l’Est) which seems to be one of the author’s greatest successes. The theme of all-powerful special forces and Stalinism also appears to some extent both in Music of a Life (La Musique d’une vie) and in Human Love (L’Amour humain).

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