The Life of an Unknown Man, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


One night in St Petersburg, two men meet, both adrift in the brash new Russia: Shutov, a writer visiting after years of exile in Paris, and Volsky, an elderly survivor of the Siege of Leningrad and Stalin's purges.

His life story - one of extreme suffering, courage and an extraordinary love - he considers unremarkable.

To Shutov it is a revelation, the tale of an unsung hero that puts everything into perspective and suggests where true happiness lies.


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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Here is another unobtrusive masterpiece by Andrei Makine, but a masterpiece nevertheless. He never ceases to amaze me by his lyrical, touching prose, as well by his acute perceptiveness of the world in front of him. No matter what protagonist he chooses, I find myself always being able to relate to him - an uncanny reality. Here a Soviet emigre, writer, slightly embittered by lack of recognition and disappointing private life (the latter a tad superfluous prelude, if you ask me - as if belonging to another book...), on a spur of the moment goes back to Russia (not Soviet Union any more) "... as a nostalgic pilgrim" after a 20 year absence and finds himself in "a geyser of energy, held in check for a long time. The frenzied search for a new logic to life after the highly logical madness of dictatorship.... there is also a confusion of styles, the disappearance of a way of life and barely the first babbling of a new manner of being... modernity gone mad, a mixture of American razzle-dazzle and Russian clowning". But in the midst of it all, he comes across a unique old man who tells him the story of his life, thus becoming the second protagonist... This life of the unknown man - during Leningrad blockade, war, labor camps and post-Stalin times - is so gripping in its poignant reality that it makes an irreversible impression on our writer.

Review by

I picked this up on a whim, but was hugely impressed, as the book is both moving and entertaining. The story starts as an examination of the emptiness of the life of the hero, a middle aged Russian writer in Paris. The story gets going once the action moves to Russia, and the core of the book is the account of an old man he meets there, a survivor of the siege of Leningrad, which is described in some detail and contrasted with the vacuity of the lifestyles of the younger Russians he meets.

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