The internationally acclaimed author of now returns to gift us with , which outshines even that prizewinning novel.
Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women’s identity, of women’s choices, that no modern novel has explored so deeply.
“Forty rooms” is a conceit: it proposes that a modern woman will inhabit forty rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family’s Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life, and he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They drift into an affair and marriage. What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts—until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her.
Compelling and complex, is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.
Anna is on her way home from work on a cold winter’s day when she sees a crowd queuing at a kiosk. Though a queue is not an unusual sight in a Russian city, this appears different. There’s a rumour that famous exiled composer Selinksy is returning to conduct his last symphony for one night only—and this kiosk is selling tickets.
The acquisition of tickets to this concert becomes an obsession in Anna’s small family. Her husband, a tuba player in a state band, sees the ticket as a way of embarking on an illicit affair. Their son thinks going to the concert will help him flee to the West on Selinksy’s coattails. And Anna? She secretly hopes the ticket will make her husband love her again.
At fifty-six, Anatoly Sukhanov has everything a man could want. Nearly twenty-five years ago, he traded his precarious existence as a brilliant underground artist for the perks and comforts of a high-ranking Soviet . Once he created art; now he censors it.
But a series of increasingly bizarre events transforms Sukhanov's perfect world into a nightmare. Buried dreams return to haunt him, long-repressed figures from his past surface to torment him, new political alignments threaten to undo him, and his once loving family and loyal comrades grow distant. As he stumbles through the dark corridors of memory, his life begins to unravel, and he finds himself losing everything he sold his soul to gain.
Olga Grushin tells the story of Sukhanov's betrayal of his talent, his friends, and his principles in dream sequences that may be real and in real time that may be nightmare, effortlessly shifting the borders between the two. Her masterly play with voice, time, and reality makes this often surreal exploration of self-dissolution and faithlessness an extraordinary reading experience. And her subtle transformation of Sukhanov from an arrogant and self-absorbed member of the ruling class to a terrified beggar in his own private hell is nothing short of miraculous. is a virtuoso performance, original, startling, haunting.