… Andrei Makine's The Woman Who Waited quite deliberately avoids breaking your heart. It just comes very, very close. Vera is perceived only through the eyes of the narrator, but she is clearly more than just the woman who waits: Only a fool would fail to understand that she's also the kind of woman worth waiting for, and far kinder and wiser than any romantic fiction.
The Washington Post
A sensuously styled, elegiac tale set in the mid-1970s, Makine's latest opens a window onto a generation of post-WWII Russian widows through one mysterious woman's vigil. In the village of Mirnoe on the northern White Sea coast, a young male journalist researching local customs meets an intriguing woman who has waited 30 years for her fiance, reported killed, to return from the war. Just 16 when her lover was conscripted, Vera devotes herself selflessly to the care of the town's many war widows: she rows out to tend to the widows' graves on a nearby island and lives alone, ever watchful. The narrator, writing in retrospect but 26 at the time of the story, was educated in St. Petersburg; ironic and arrogant, he believes he has Vera's selflessness figured out as a prosaic, idealized vision of womanhood. And yet, he learns, Vera has studied advanced linguistics in St. Petersburg, and returned to Mirnoe by choice. The closer he gets to her, the more he is shamed in the face of her towering presence. Makine, now almost 50 and the author of eight other novels (including Dreams of My Russian Summers), lives in Paris; he transforms a very simple premise into a richly textured story of love and loss. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This ninth novel from the Russian-born Makine (Dreams of My Russian Summers), now a resident of Paris, takes place in the mid-1970s in a rural town called Mirnoe near the White Sea. Our narrator, a 26-year-old folklorist from Leningrad who is documenting local songs and ceremonies, meets an intriguing older woman named Vera who has been waiting for 30 years for her lover, Boris, to return home from the battlefields of World War II. Boris was reported dead in the final days of the war, but Vera forsook her linguistics doctorate and a more cosmopolitan life to await his return in this isolated village, teaching and caring for the elderly in the meantime. Soon she begins a relationship with the folklorist, who has made several erroneous assumptions about Vera and her life that play out in this brief but stirring and intricate novel. The bleakness of the postwar countryside, the rise of the post-1968 Russian intelligentsia, and examples of love both false and true make this a haunting and satisfying tale. Recommended for larger fiction collections and for any contemporary European literature collection.-Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.-Northeast, Houston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A young writer is humbled by a story of enduring love in the Russian-born (now French resident) author's ninth novel (The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, 2005, etc.). In the mid-1970s, Makine's unnamed narrator retreats from a culture of youthful protest and posturing (and a failed love affair) to write about local customs and folkways in Russia's remote northern "Archangel region," populated mostly by exiles, World War II victims and bereaved women. What he finds in the village of Mirnoe (on the White Sea) is middle-aged Vera, who has spent 30 years in the hope that her lover, sent to war during its final days in 1945 and presumably killed in action, will eventually return to her. The narrator initially views Vera as a stoic, naive peasant (like the elderly neighbors to whom she's a tireless ministering angel). But he learns that she's a village schoolteacher, a former doctoral candidate in linguistics who studied in Leningrad, and a still vibrant, passionate woman-to whom he is increasingly, helplessly attracted. The story is suffused with lambent pictures of Mirnoe's harsh beauty, thematically rich imagery (e.g., "a butterfly disturbed under a dead leaf, deprived of a winter shelter") and crisp, emotion-laden scenes (Vera rowing a boat toward the burial place of her dead friend, clasped in the narrator's arms; the rescue of an elderly woman from her ruined home deep in a forest; the narrator's weary endurance of his de facto chauffeur Otar's cheerfully crude tales of sexual conquest). The story grows steadily more complex and moving than its somewhat banal central contrast (between intellectuals' smugness and "the people's" resilience) had promised-especially as the fullness of Vera'scharacter, and the truth about her sacrifices and the narrator's compulsive evasiveness, all poignantly emerge. Another fine work from one of Europe's most lavishly gifted writers.