Set in Moscow on the eve of glasnost, six years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, this remarkable first novel by Russian-born Olga Grushin follows a middle-aged man - and a nation - along the meandering road from decay and disillusionment to unexpected resurrection. At 33, Anatoly Sukhanov abandoned his risky, avant garde painting career for the comfortable life of a Soviet art critic who dutifully praises socialist realism and denounces the bourgeois, religious overtones of western art. Abruptly, his life of 'safety, constancy, and tranquillity' starts to crumble: his wife and children drift away, his once-secure job is threatened by shifting ideologies, and shameful secrets from childhood return to haunt him. Grushin's narrative moves seamlessly between dream and reality, past and present, third and first person as Sukhanov confronts his past and the price for which he betrayed his ideals. Midway through his unsettling journey, the protagonist walks into the Tretyakovka Gallery and studies Rublev's Trinity as if seeing it for the first time. The reawakening echoes of Russia's spiritual past and the iconographer Rublev (whose historical identity and creative genius, like Shakespeare's, forever elude conclusive definition) become touchstones for the novel's subtle meditations on the necessity for beauty, the demands and terrors of creativity, and the holy mission of art.
An Eighth Day View:
Olga Grushin's astonishing literary debut has won her comparisons with everyone from Gogol to Nabokov. A virtuoso study in betrayal and its consequences, it explores--really, colonizes--the consciousness of Anatoly Sukhanov, who many years before abandoned the precarious existence of an underground artist for the perks of a Soviet "apparatchik." But, at the age of 56, his perfect life is suddenly disintegrating. Buried dreams return to haunt him. New political alignments threaten to undo him. Vaulting effortlessly from the real to the surreal and from privilege to paranoia, "The Dream Life of Sukhanov" is a darkly funny, demonically entertaining novel.