Literature’s power is to carry us safely to places we wouldn’t ordinarily go. One of those places is the world of taboos. For centuries, writers have dared venture into forbidden territory, creating some of the world’s great classics. Two examples are D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which explores adulterous love, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita which examines the carnal attraction of the old for the young.
Recently I came home from the Dollar Store with a book by a Russian author, Andrei Makine: The Crime of Olga Arbyelina. I didn’t know much about the author except that he was born in 1958 and now lives in France. He’s won a number of literary awards and this latest novel is about incest.
Makine’s central character is a princess who has escaped the violence of the Russian Revolution. In the aftermath, she lives in a French village with her adolescent son who suffers from the royal disease, hemophilia. As it is unlikely he will live to full adulthood, the mother allows the boy to explore her body to satisfy his growing erotic needs. One might say, it is her ultimate sacrifice for a dying child.
The novel is a translation from French into English, but the Russian voice dominates. Scenes from nature play a large role in Makine’s work, as it does in the works of many Russian authors. Like his predecessors, he tosses human suffering against that larger canvass so that our existence takes on cosmic proportions. The seasons weave themselves intractably into his characters’ lives, acting like a lush clock to count the dwindling hours mother and son have together.
As abhorrent as the topic of incest may be, Makine gives it a face softened by hopelessness and impending death. Of course, the sinners must be punished; but his skill broadens our perspective and if we are not careful, we may feel an impulse to weep for the doomed pair.
Courtesy of kirkusreviews.com)