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Andreï Makine is Immortal

Andreï Makine elected in the French Academy

 

He was born in Siberia and fled to France. He became a novel writer and, at 58 years old, one of the Immortals of the French Academy.

 

A definitive victory

The Franco-Russian writer Andreï Makine has been elected to the Académie Française (French Academy) on March 3rd. The vote was a landslide, with 15 votes out of 26 in the first round. His contestant, Arnaud-Aaron Upinsky, received only two votes. At 58 years old, the author of "Dreams of my Russian Summer" (also published in English as "Le testament français") will now sit on chair 5, which was previously occupied by Assia Djebar, who passed away in February 2015.

From Siberia to the country of the Enlightenment

The career of Andreï Makine, a French-speaking writer born in Siberia in 1957, is one of a hyphen between cultures. During his studies in the faculty of philology in Moscow, he wrote a thesis about modern French literature; he then chose to teach French in the Pedagogical Institute of Novgorod. He entered France illegally in 1987 to flee from the political crumbling of the Soviet regime. He started giving classes of Russian stylistics and literature in the École normale supérieure and in Sciences Politiques, as in a mirror reflection of his previous life. He then attended a second Doctorate (PhD) in the Sorbonne dedicated to Ivan Bunin. Like him, the Russian writer and poet had left the country of tsars for the country of the Enlightenment. Andreï Makine was given the French nationality in 1996.

His love for French literature and language comes from his grandmother Charlotte, of French origin, who raised him in Penza, in the Volga region. At four years old, Andreï Makine was already bilingual. "I naturally write in French since I arrived in France", remembered the novelist in early 2000. “I've always basked in French language, and it has fed my love for French literature"

A hard-won appreciation

Yet this love stayed unilateral for a long time. Andreï Makine started writing as soon as he arrived in Paris in 1987, but he did not catch publishers' eye for a long time. "I did everything I could, and I mean everything, to be published", he explained ten years later, when his fourth novel, "Dreams of my Russian Summer", would put him under the spotlights. "I cursed myself, I changed the title several times, I changed the first pages and I tried again and again. I kept sending my texts".

Finally, he caught a publisher's eye through mischief: he pretended that his first novel projects were translations. The manuscript of "A Hero's Daughter" sent to publisher Robert Laffont bears the caption "Translated from Russian by Albert Lemonnier", which is his grandmother's family name. The publisher accepted the manuscript and the book was published in 1990.

Russian memories, French memories

Some thirty years after his arrival in France, Andreï Makine published about twenty novels.  Sixteen were published under his name and four under the alias of Gabriel Osmond. Many of his novels, in the wake of "Dreams of my Russian Summer", deal with exile, bilingualism and memory conflicts: Russian memories and French memories, collective memories and individual memories. Other more recent novels ponder on French identity. His last novel, "Le pays du lieutenant Schreiber" (literally, "The Country of Lieutenant Schreiber") was published in 2014. It tells the story of Jean-Claude Servan-Schreiber, a French officer and fighter of Nazism who fell in near oblivion. A moving tribute to the anonymous heroes of World War II.