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The Line: A Novel

The Line: A Novel

2.3 3
by Olga Grushin

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An "utterly brilliant" (Library Journal) new novel from the author of the award-winning The Dream Life of Sukhanov.

The line begins to form on the whispered rumor that a famous exiled composer is returning to Russia to conduct his last symphony. Tickets will be limited. The concert date unknown. Nameless strangers join the line, jostling


An "utterly brilliant" (Library Journal) new novel from the author of the award-winning The Dream Life of Sukhanov.

The line begins to form on the whispered rumor that a famous exiled composer is returning to Russia to conduct his last symphony. Tickets will be limited. The concert date unknown. Nameless strangers join the line, jostling for preferred position. But as the seasons change and the kiosk remains shuttered, these anonymous souls evolve into a community. Bound together in their longing for something wonderful and miraculous, they allow themselves to dream. An utterly transformative work that speaks to the endurance of the human spirit, The Line confirms Grushin's place in the pantheon of today's most important new writers.

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Grushin leads all of these people…with a sure hand and an equally sure gift for surprise. Every one of her characters—by the end the cast is large—comes fully to life and reveals depths the reader at first does not sense. Grushin understands, as she says of Sergei, that he realized "just how small his private immensity really was when measured against that other vast, dark, impersonal immensity, call it God, or history, or simply life," yet she grants him, and all the others, individuality and dignity. Her disdain for the system under which they live ultimately matters far less than her sympathy for them, with which this beautiful book is suffused from first page to last.
—The Washington Post
Elif Batuman
One of the pleasures of reading this book is its resonance with earlier literary works. Grushin's riffs on night skies recall Pasternak's lyrics; the social system of the line evokes the group dynamics in Andrei Platonov's novel The Foundation Pit. Grushin, who left Russia as a teen­ager, has a fluent and inspired English style, marked by only very occasional infelicities…with a marvelous talent for appear­ances and atmospheres…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
At one point in Grushin’s disappointing follow-up to The Dream Life of Sukhanov, it is observed that standing on a line is “a very efficient way of disposing of people’s time.” But however efficient, it’s never entirely enjoyable. The story, inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s 1962 return to Russia, begins in winter and follows Anna, a teacher, her musician husband, Sergei, and their son, Alexander, as the three take turns waiting on—and having their lives changed by—a line. While Anna theorizes that she is waiting for “something... to make her and her family happier,” she eventually discovers the line is for tickets to see the grand return concert of conductor Igor Selinsky, who had escaped Russia before the “Change” 37 years earlier. During the wait for the ticket kiosk to open, each family member is greatly affected by what happens on the line—romance, job loss, and arson all pop up—though, despite Grushin’s lovely writing and imagery, the narrative is hard to stick with. The twists are less than surprising, and despite the havoc that ensues, it turns out that people standing around in a queue isn’t the most exciting material. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Grushin's first novel, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, blazed upon the literary firmament four years ago. It is now followed by a work of equal merit. The eponymous line is a conceit that showcases the hopes and dreams of a slice of Soviet society after "the Change," the repressive period following the Revolution of 1917. In Grushin's line, one of many thousands that stretched across the Soviet Union over the decades, citizens stand and wait for some initially unspecified goods to be put up for sale by the state. It finally turns out that the kiosk will be selling tickets for a concert to be conducted by a supposedly returning expatriate composer (in real life, a line like this actually formed for a concert by Igor Stravinsky). With only one ticket allowed per person, three members of a family of four take turns waiting for an entire year. Their motives are mixed and shifting, and in the end astonishing secrets are revealed. The miracle of this book is that its young author, who was born in Moscow but writes in English, has managed to transform the drab and dreary lives of beleaguered Soviet citizens into a tale of consummate beauty. Like a diamond with countless facets—utterly brilliant. VERDICT Recommended ecstatically, especially for readers with an interest in cultures other than their own. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/09.]—Edward Cone, New York
Kirkus Reviews
The line of the title serves as bold metaphor in this earnest successor to The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006). It's a literal waiting line that forms outside a kiosk which, rumor has it, offers whatever the hopeful patrons who enter it each day, enduring numerous confusions and delays, most desire. Some declare that there are tickets on sale there, to a forthcoming concert at which emigre composer Igor Selinsky (a fictional surrogate for 20th-century master Stravinsky) will conduct a performance of his final symphony. This possibility excites the interest of Anna, a compassionate schoolteacher who wants the ticket for her frail, aged mother, a one-time famous ballerina; Anna's husband Sergei, a devoted musician unhappily underemployed as a tuba player in a nondescript marching band; and their teenaged son Alexander, a budding pragmatist who plots ways of escaping from his family's suffocating environment-a city much like Moscow, nearly 40 years after "the Change" (known historically as the Thaw) that promised Russian citizens increased freedom and opportunity. The combination of these elements produces a frustrating mixture: excessive recourse to scenes in which characters keep meeting in line, forming both fruitful and damaging new relationships, chagrined to realize they're animals subjected to herding and confinement. This is balanced and ameliorated by sharp characterizations of the four principal characters, trenchant analysis of the extremes of behavior to which they're driven, and powerful evocations of an imprisoning atmosphere that stifles all forms of creativity and self-expression. Virtually every time Grushin's characters leave the line, connecting with their memories, their ambitions or their relationships with others, the novel quickens to life. Unfortunately, the image of the line usurps the reader's concentration, forcing the author to keep re-establishing these people's claims on our attention. By no means a negligible book, but something of a disappointment coming from the gifted Grushin.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

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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The Line 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
John_1014 More than 1 year ago
Basically the story of a family waiting in line for tickets to a concert. But the twist is they are waiting in line over the course of a year. The story is inspired by a true event which the author notes: "In 1962, the celebrated Russian composer Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky accepted a Soviet invitation to visit his former country, his first trip to his native land after 50 years of absence... The line for tickets began a year before the performance and evolved into a unique and complex social system, with people working together and taking turns standing in the line." The story provides many twists and turns of who will eventually use the tickets. Not since Willa Wonka's golden ticket has a faimily been obsessed about obtaining and using a ticket.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago