At first, the long, flowery sentences overfilled with adjectives put me off the story a little bit But for just a few pages because, somehow, the story, the writing morphed and these became beautiful, startling descriptions Melancholy Surrealism Art Life Youth Aging Truly, this book is sublime It s like a breathtaking painting put into words Grushin has an incredible talent for merging the real with the unreal, a current life and a dream You smoothly drift from reality to dream and back again.Definitely recommended, especially if you enjoy art Grushin s art background shines here and have at least a passing acquaintance with surrealist artists including Chagall, Dali, Magritte, etc.Read it savor the beauty. The Dream Life of Sukhanov follows Soviet apparatchik Anatoly Sukhanov as his carefully constructed life unravels before the readers eyes Through the numerous flashbacks we see the protagonist as a child, growing in the shadows of Stalin s terror and WWII, then an aspiring artist and wanna be revolutionary, and then a complacent bureaucrat and a sell out You can see a big slice of Russia s turbulent history through the prism of a singular life, but the book s main focus is on Sukhanov the individual Olga Grushin is a talented author and the Dream Life of Sukhanov is a remarkable work that achieved a great balance of story and character, historical scope and individual focus, power writing and lyricism It s one of the better books I ve read in 2017 I hope you enjoy it too. ..Much later after finishing this wonderful book.I did talk a few people into reading this The first, Margaret, who has read many, many books over the decades immediately declared that she could call it the best book she s ever read too Phew I was afraid I was not overselling it, but creating a situation where expectation could not equal experience The review is here, unchanged since I first put it on GR He has a realization Something was happening to him something strange, something, in fact, extremely unsettling something that he was unable to explain, much less stop or control He was being assailed by his past.Anatoly Sukhanov is a man with a past he has edited, a past that now haunts him as those edited parts suddenly make themselves known in both his dreams and his waking hours Just what is it that Sukhanov has suppressed all these years and that at the age of 56 now has him inhabiting a different plane of reality than those around him Why do his dissatisfied wife and children, and his estranged associates look at him differently now And what about his cousin whom he can t remember, a man who comes out of nowhere and is now turning his life upside down when coming to live with him and his family What else does the cousin want besides room and board Read this book and you ll know, bit by bit, what Sukhanov has kept hidden from himself and why You ll also learn a lot about art in Russia during the mid twentieth century in which innovative artists seeking self expression through their work were forced underground or worse for the greater good Sukhanov was one of those underground artists, but he now writes articles for a Russian magazine that criticizes free expression and extolls the virtues of conformity so the common people will strive to be productive citizens, not have flights of fantasy about freedom promoted by surrealism and other subversive movements Though times are changing, as is Sukhanov But are they changing for better or for worse And will he bend with them or break Before he knew it, he was staggering through the uncharted territory of the basement, criss crossed with low ceilinged, cramped, poorly lit corridors The smells of cabbage stew and detergent cling to walls the color of sickness an ill looking striped cat slunk past him, its invisible tail bristling shapeless objects cringed in the corners, briefly suggesting rags, pails, brooms, a rolled up poster, a three legged chair, a doll with a missing arm, then sinking back into the shadowsAfter the sparkling expanse of the lobby, the buildings faintly unclean, unsavory underside jarred his senses, and he felt a dull oppression descending on him, as if all nine stories of human existence above were weighing heavily on his spirit.Sukhanov is a man in trouble, something the writing in this book makes very clear It is an hallucinogenic marvel and one of the best parts of this book, as I never connected much with the characters Many of the scenes were as surreal as the paintings by Dali that Sukhanov scoffed at But it was never too much, just surreal enough to unsettle the reader as the author seamlessly blended reality into fantasy, fantasy into dreams, dreams into reality, then back again, all of them melting together and dripping languidly off the page like the clocks in Dali s most famous painting This caught me off guard and kept me on edge throughout the entire story, as I wasn t sure if what I was reading was truly happening or not, since not even Sukhanov knew But this story is much than a literary, illusionary magic trick It s about selective amnesia and survival It s about sacrifice and irony, the purpose of art, the power of the conscience It s about following one s dreams and living through other people s dreams, and The list goes on and on, the story perfect for any book club, with an ending that begs to be interpreted and compared within a group Thanks again to my book club for giving me the chance to read an author new to me and a book I d never have discovered on my own. Olga Grushin s The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a peculiar novel It was captivating, then it was tedious, captivating again, and then tedious It has been compared to the works of Gogol and Bulgakov, but the drifting characters and the impressionistic flavor had the distinctive feel of Chekhov laced with a touch of insanity The references to Chekhov s plays reinforced my perspective It was very Russian Grushin traces Sukhanov s life and the Russian art world from the period of Stalinist rigidity, through Khrushchev s Thaw in Soviet artistic circles, to the reimposition of ideological orthodoxy that presaged the Brezhnev era Even though the Thaw was prominent in literature than the visual arts, hopes for a new era bloomed These hopes for freedom of expression were dashed, as described by Grushin, with Khrushchev s public outrage over the Manezh show in 1962 By 1985, as the Soviet experiment sped toward its end, the rules that governed existence changed, quickly and irrevocably, ruthlessly exposing the vacuity and moral compromises underpinning many people s lives and careers The changes wrought emptiness, confusion, and anger This is Sukhanov s fate In 1962, he sacrificed his true artistic sensibilities to achieve success within the stultifying world of Soviet artistic conformity He sold his soul The disintegration of his comfortable world in 1985 confronts him with his past, but also propels him on a phantasmagorical journey to rediscover his artistic spirit The Dream Life of Sukhanov is described on the front flap as a novel of rare virtuosity and Grushin as a writer of large and original talent Both may be true, but only in flashes Virtuosity must be sustained to be genuine and cannot lapse into pretentiousness While a respectable start for a young writer, she has a way to go yet It s a Three Star book to me.
The Dream Life of Sukhanov 2005, 2007 by Olga GrushinI don t know about you, but as I grow older, I rarely read a book with the total abandonment I used to experience as a child or a teenager Olga Grushin, a young ish American writer who emigrated from Russia at eighteen, must have some special powers in order to cast this spell with both her novels, The Line and The Dream Life of Sukhanov The first thing that separates Grushin s novels from those written by her American contemporaries is that, unlike them, she is still interested in something called the human condition I am always puzzled by the fact that, while apparently political, most relatively young American writers, don t integrate this interest into something one might call our universal condition But then, how could they, when those of them who are in academia, are taught to run away from notions of the universal as if they were plague On the other hand, many writers who integrate a contemporary political experience into their writings usually poets do this in such a righteous, sloganeering way that one is instantly tempted to become apolitical I am thinking here of the numerous bad poems simmering with righteous indignation at W Bush that I had to listen to during endless poetry readings All this to say that it may take a writer who has actually lived in a country where one couldn t run away from politics, where every gesture ended up being political whether one was aware of it or not, to write in a mature way about the individual versus the collective, the singular versus the universal, fate versus will, and the relationship between the individual destiny and history One cannot deal with such subjects when one has that nihilist ironic tone many contemporary American writers feel obligated to exhibit.The historical background of The Dream Life of Sukhanov is that of Russia between the 1930s and the 1980s The protagonist is the director of the main arts magazine in Moscow, and son in law of the most famous painter of day Both titles implied a privileged position under communism, since one couldn t get them without bowing to the Communist Party, and they came with numerous perks access to special stores of the nomenklatura, a private chauffeur, etc Little by little, the reader is drawn into the hero s dream life, and finds out that he had grown up in poverty and fear, having witnessed the killings of the Stalinist era and his father s suicide As a young man he fell in love with surrealism, and despised the official rhetoric and the socialist realist paintings depicting optimist laborers singing the beauty of their tractors And then, one day he had to choose between continuing to be a poor, unrecognized painter, faithful to his ideals, and selling out to those in power in order to provide for his family At the heart of the novel is the choice, or rather, the question what would you do if you had to choose Sukhanov has to choose between killing the artist in himself and collaborating with the regime, on one hand, and keeping his artistic integrity, but having to survive by doing hard, low paid jobs, on the other hand But choosing the latter also means committing suicide as an artist, since he wouldn t be able to exhibit his paintings, and what good is a painting without a viewer In appearance, the novel gives us the story of a man who has betrayed his youth, but the closer we get to the end, the we realize that the novel doesn t have any easy answers, and that whatever the man would have chosen, he would have failed At the end of the novel, a character introduced in the very first pages reappears Sukhanov s friend, Belkin, who had taken the opposite path, that of artistic honesty and everyday misery Belkin, who is poor and whose wife has left him, finally gets his first show when he is in his mid fifties, but then he realizes that he is a mediocre painter Until his world suddenly unravels, Sukhanov is rich, happily married to a gorgeous woman, respected or rather, feared by those in his profession In the end, his entire world falls apart, and although as readers we know that he is justly punished, the author doesn t give us a straight answer regarding the better choice As Sukhanov s wife says during their younger and poorer days, There is than one way to lose one s soul This is an extremely mature novel, and it is amazing that a writer who left Russia at such a young age can recreate so well not only the people s daily lives and the country s atmosphere, but the existential choices communism imposed on people As rooted as the novel is in a particular time and place, this very anchoring makes it universal insofar as in many ways we are all products of our choices Last but not least, Olga Grushin is a great stylist, and her paragraphs on art are among the best in the novel. I don t know about you, but normally I run to a novel to hide from the world and get transported as quickly as possible to a far away place At first, until chapter 6 I found it hard to sink into this story, not because of a dislike of it, but because of the richness of the language The beauty of the descriptions made me stop to luxuriate in them, for example, the sun shot out through the glass in a fiery orange zigzag, and out into the street spilled the zesty smell of roast chicken and the honey notes of some classic romance You can t not savour that.Then, after chapter six, I settled down to read and, to quote Sukhanov, The rest happened with the magical facility of a dream.I m not well read enough to compare it to Bulgakov or Gogol s work, but I can say with total sincerity that this novel is a modern masterpiece that is worth experiencing before you die. Haunting , Stunning Heartbreaking claims the cover The blurb is something I always take with a pinch of salt but on this occasion, for me, the book was all those things.I think it would strike a chord with many, as most people have to compromise and sell out to some degree in order to have comfort and security for themselves or their family often losing who they are in this life process Thankfully, these days not many are in the extreme situation that Sukhanov and others faced, in which case nor can we truly imagine it but due to the accomplished writing here, we experience the culminating poignant aftermath of his past life choices along with him.Poor, dear Sukhanov, my heart was hurting.As the book progresses, he increasingly wanders in and out of the past When he visits a place which triggers a memory, he steps right into that memory and relives the events of long ago The past manifests so strongly that it seems to overlay the present completely, temporarily obliterating it As his mind crumbled things progressively became confused and blurred, and I felt quite dreamlike myself That was probably because the writing is astounding and this was Olga Grushin s first novel.My copy was a library book I had requested, but I have now ordered my own along with her other two currently available novels Yes ladies and gentlemen, I liked it very much indeed.