This is how art truly transforms, Makine's novel seems to be telling us -- it holds out the prospect of fulfilling our dreams, gives those dreams potency and provides the drabbest of lives with some distant sort of meaning. -- New York Times Book Review
Can a whole novel be about adolescent boys watching Jean-Paul Belmondo movies through a Siberian winter? Resoundingly, yes. One of the boys has been lamed by ice floes, and another is nearly raped, rendering him permanently pugilistic. The third is our narrator, seeking beauty in the taiga amind the coarseness of Soviet life, and finding it in friendship and French movies. His tale is suffused with the longing of an exile -- less because the narrator has left Russian than because every adult is an exile from his youth.
How we choose the paths that guide our lives and how a silly movie can change our lives more than "serious" art are the lessons of this beautiful, sensual novel. Once Upon the River Love is one of the great books of this year. -- Washington Post
The second book by Makine to be released here in as many years, this delicate, beautifully rendered little work reads like a precursor to the magisterial Dreams of My Russian Summers. Once again, French culture is the key, opening the door to the larger world for three teenaged boys living in the depths of Siberia near the river Amur, which 'bears the same name as the god of love.' It is not, however, the haute monde of turn-of-the-century France but a Jean Paul Belmondo movie that does the trick. Utkin, Samurai, and narrator Alyosha must trek 20 miles to the town where the movie is playing, but they undergo the journey dozens of times because, like everyone else in the area, they are fired up by the possibilities that Belmondo presents.
The boys are already talking feverishly of love, and Aloysha finally takes the plunge, visiting a prostitute in a passage that is both poignant and hilarious even as he dreams of a mysterious Western woman he imagines traveling on the transcontinental train that roars past the town. The prose is somewhat overheated and the plotting somewhat episodic, but while this novel doesn't measure up to Dreams -- it couldn't -- it is nonetheless delightful on its own terms. -- Barbara Hoffert
--Stephanie Papa, Baltimore County Circuit Court Law Library, Towson, MD
A 1994 novel by the Russian-born author whose Dreams of My Russian Summers was rapturously reviewed when it appeared here in translation last year. The adolescence of three friends who grow up together in the village of Svetlaya in eastern Siberia is recalled by one of them: Dmitri, an ineffably romantic youth who will leave Svetlaya for the Leningrad College of Cinema. His boyhood companions are Samurai, a burly pragmatist who narrowly escaped sexual assault when he was 10 and became thereafter 'obsessed by strength,' and Utkin, a quiet boy crippled by a shifting ice floe on the nearby Amur River, the name of which evokes that of the Roman god of love, and which accordingly looms, symbolically as well as literally, as a powerful sensual presence surrounding the friends.
For this is a novel drenched in sensuality: Dmitri's initiation by a 'red-haired prostitute' in a neighboring town haunts his tentative approach toward manhood and independence, just as the glamour of 'the Western World' beckons the three comrades, who travel many miles on skis to the Red October Theatre for repeated viewings of movies starring their idol Jean-Paul Belmondo ('He embodied this whole complex repertoire of adventures, colors, passionate embraces, roars, leaps, kisses, breaking waves, musky scents, brushes with death'). If some elements of the storysuch as the presence of an old woman named Olga who tells stories of her youth decades before in Paristoo closely recall Dreams of My Russian Summers, it is nevertheless notable for its deeply empathic portrayal of youth as a time of herculean hungers and unlimited possibilities, and for a rich profusion of arrestingimages: the Trans-Siberian Express swiftly passing through Svetlaya; the body of a man found frozen in the crotch of a tree; the imprints of two naked bodies preserved in the snow. Marginally less wonderful than Dreams, but that's quibbling. Let's have Makine's other fiction in English as soon as possible, please.