Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Line, by Olga Grushin

This is for Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - L is for Line.

The line, a shuffling, sighing, gossiping organism starts hopefully, populated by people who aren't sure what exactly will be sold at the other end, or even when, but they all have their dreams. Anya hopes for a cake, an airy, sweet cake to color her drab existence. She lives with her husband in a loveless marriage, watching over their 17-year-old son and her mute mother, all caught in a tiny apartment but utter strangers to each other. As it becomes clear what the line does sell - tickets to a concert by a composer now banished to the West - the line becomes their family's life, the visceral representation of their government's wrongheadedness and repression, and then it transforms them.

This story is historical in the most magical way, blending the Soviet Union of the 1930s, the 1960s and the 1970s into a strange, timeless place never precisely identified (though the model is clear to the reader). Olga Grushin's language is similarly magical, as she brings both the characters and the stark, dim city where they live to sparkling, brilliant life. I first fell in love with Grushin's The Dream Life of Sukhanov for her skillful blending of language and theme, and she does almost as well here. Sukhanov is a tough work to beat, and I highly recommend it, particularly to artists or those who love art (which sould be everyone, right?). The Line is a little more universal in its tale of human disappointment and hope, and perhaps just a touch less sharp for being so universal, but overall it's an excellent, excellent book.

If you're interested in learning more about Ms. Grushin (a Washington local, by the way), check out this interview with the great independent bookstore, Politics and Prose. Ms. Grushin came to the US in her teens, and (amazingly), English is not her native tongue.

1 comment:

Rowenna said...

Sounds so interesting--I love how your picks always lean toward the literary, and they always appeal to me! Thanks!

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