The Dream Life of Sukhanov

( 3 )


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 ...

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Eder
When glasnost collapsed the rigid structures of Soviet art and culture in the 1980's, most attention went to those who had been freed from repression. In The Dream Life of Sukhanov, her ironic, surreal, sometimes stunning and always chaotic novel, Olga Grushin writes about those who had been doing the repressing.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Even for a man on "the very best terms with the very best people," the Soviet Union on the eve of glasnost is a precarious place. So it goes for bitterly compelling antihero Anatoly Pavlovich Sukhanov, richly crafted in this debut novel by Russian migr Grushin. After starting out as an avant-garde artist, Sukhanov marries the daughter of an iconic Soviet painter, becomes a critic and quickly rises to editor-in-chief of Art of the World, an influential journal devoted to disparaging the Western art that once inspired him. An enviable Moscow apartment, a dacha and a personal driver follow, but 12 years later, Sukhanov can no longer write, his wife and son know him for the sellout he is, and Gorbachev's ascension may mean the end of his sinecure. When a man claiming to be his long-lost cousin comes to visit, Sukhanov finds himself sleeping on his couch, where, as dreams of his former life haunt him, his past may catch up with him for real. Grushin, who has served as former President Carter's personal interpreter and as an editor at Harvard's Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, offers a powerful and richly detailed examination of late Soviet society's harsh confinements-even for those who have all the right connections. (Jan. 5) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
There are two extraordinary things about this book: it exudes the wisdom of maturity in a first novel, and the young, Russian-born author writes beautifully-in English, her second language! On one level, Grushin recounts the comfortable life of fiftysomething art critic and former artist Anatoly Sukhanov, who enjoys all the perks of a pre-Gorbachev existence, until the arrival of a mysterious cousin at his family's capacious Moscow apartment. As his secure life begins to fray and then unravel, Sukhanov, who had the potential of brilliance as a young artist but eventually joined the Soviet establishment, is forced to confront the loss of his beloved wife, his two children, his editorship at the country's leading art magazine, in a word, his identity. Though an absorbing chronicle of life at the end of the Soviet era, this is really much more-a meditation on society, art, truth, and life. This time the publisher has it right: "that rare debut that requires no hype." Simply stunning. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Russian artist's compromise with Soviet bureaucracy provokes a surreal midlife crisis in this first novel by Russian-born Grushin. Anatoly Sukhanov, editor-in-chief of an official Soviet art magazine, becomes increasingly disoriented following a birthday celebration honoring his father-in-law Malinin, an "approved" artist who-in the fiery words of Sukhanov's radicalized younger self-had "sold his soul to the devil" for wealth, fame and freedom from political oppression. Now, Sukhanov's beautiful wife Nina sorrowfully accuses him of having done the same-as they grow ever further estranged. Other disapproving perspectives on his failures as both art's representative and paterfamilias are offered by teenaged daughter Ksenya, whose liberal beliefs mock his, and adult son Vasily, a suave careerist who's a far more skilled "operator" than Sukhanov himself. Initially nondescript or neutral, increasingly threatening encounters and incidents begin to unhinge Sukhanov, stimulating fragmentary guilty memories of his childhood and youth. A meeting with a former friend and fellow artist who didn't "compromise" (and hasn't prospered); the unexpected visit of an apologetic cousin whom Sukhanov can't remember having met; a contretemps at his office when Sukhanov's article on Salvador Dal' is "bumped" by a freelance essay on maverick Russian painter Marc Chagall-all trigger both reminiscences and hallucinations that "bring . . . him closer and closer to the forbidden edge of a personal darkness he had not leaned over in decades." Grushin has imagined both Sukhanov's carefully managed life and his richly troubling personal history with a detailed intensity that fruitfully echoes Solzhenitsyn's bestbooks, Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" and John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra. Brilliant work from a newcomer who's already an estimable American writer. Agent: Warren J. Frazier/John Hawkins & Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143038405
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/30/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 722,818
  • Product dimensions: 5.02 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Olga Grushin

Olga Grushin was born in Moscow in 1971. She studied at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow State University, and Emory University. Her short fiction has appeared in Partisan Review, Confrontation, The Massachusetts Review, and Art Times. This is her first novel. Grushin, who became an American citizen in 2002, lives in Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 7, 2012

    Interesting but confusing at times

    This novel is told from the 1st and 3rd person perspective. There are dreams and flashbacks that help paint the life story of Sukanov. The story was good, but I found myself in a dreamlike state wondering if Sukanov was dreaming, living in the past, or certifiably insane. Toward the end of the book (I guess during a flashback) Sukanov's mother explains that his father suffered from mental illness and that she was concerned he might inherit the gene. It seemed to me that he was having a mental breakdown throughout the book. I thought perhaps he would be sitting in a white gown in a Soviet mental hospital at the end. That would have made more sense to me. Instead we are left to guess. I wish there was more character development for Nina and the children. Overall, an interesting read though but I personally prefer more clarity and character development.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Good read

    Russian avant-garde artist Anatoly Pavlovich Sukhanov once admired the freedom and boldness of western art his early work reflected that ¿decadent¿ influence. His inspiration changed when he married Nina, daughter of Soviet sponsored painter Malinin. That marital connection gets Sukhanov a bureaucratic job as a state critic of western decadence and cheerleader of Communist endeavors. Quickly Sukhanov rises up the bureaucracy to become Editor-in-Chief of Art of the World, a publication that ridicules Western art. With his rise, he receives the elitist Moscow apartment and other perks.--------- By the late 1980s and in his fifties, Sukhanov knows his wife and daughter have no respect for his sell-out while his ambitious son disregards him because he has no polish to rise any further. Sukhanov also suffers from writer¿s block and is unsure whether to cheer or fear that Gorbachev will change his upper class lifestyle. His past and present collide when he meets a former artist friend who didn't sell out so never gained material advantages, but the edge is reached when someone else¿s positive freelance review of Russian painter Marc Chagall replaces his diatribe on the decadence of Dali.------- This is an insightful biographical fictionalized account of an individual who by selling his beliefs in the Soviet bureaucracy receives all the perks, but has lost his self-esteem and knows his family belittles him. Interestingly Sukhanov senses his lifestyle is about to end, but his feelings are mixed as he welcomes this, but also fears he can never go home. Olga Grushin writes a fantastic insightful look at a man broken by a system.----- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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