A French voice for a hidden Russia: identity and mourning in the works of Andrei Makine

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University of Delaware
Andreï Makine is a contemporary Russian-born author who writes in French. He borrows from both the French and Russian literary traditions to reshape his personal memories of Russia as well as his vision of Russian history. His novels are always constructed around a sense of loss and consistently trace a fictional character's process of mourning for something he can't quite express in the form of words, to which Makine often refers as the indicible, or the 'unsayable.' Critics have interpreted Makine's quest for the 'indicible' as a search for a language that transcends the cultural divide between France and Russia, but few have investigated how such attempts to express the 'indicible' concern Makine's approach to revisiting his Russian past. In this thesis, I will discuss five of Makine's novels and two of his essays chronologically and thematically, exploring how Makine uses French to revisit Russia from a foreign and 'spectral' point of view. This distanced perspective permits Makine to transform and preserve personal memories of the Soviet era as he descends into the 'gaps' or silences in the collective memory of his generation in Russia. In considering Makine's fictional narratives as a means of mourning for his native country, I will also demonstrate that over the course of his literary career, Makine's writing has in fact grown closer to the Russian literary tradition, even though Makine continues to live and write in France.