From the darkness of Africa, Jan 5 2008
By Kozinski - See all my reviews
Andrei Makine was born in Russian Siberia and immigrated to France.
It is interesting to observe how proficient, no! Excellent, some of such "newcomers" can become. Starting with Joseph Conrad (Korzeniowski) who acquired English at his mature age to become most famous English writer to, presently, Makine, Russian émigré who won Prix Goncourt for his many short and poetic novels. The newest (?) is a topic of this review.
Angola, a Portuguese colony is in upheaval. Local black population craves freedom and independence. Colonialisers brutally seek to preserve control. International corporations eye mineral riches to be cheaply and crookedly exploited. Russians and Cubans send advisers and volunteers to support fight for independence and just socialistic country. Able man run to bush (no pun) to fight as freedom fighters. They are aided by Russians and Cubans in fight against Portuguese and "Unita". Unita - a ruthless and cruel gang of killers supported by economically privileged. In the midst of this bloody pandemonium there are two heroes. One a Russian advisor who, in this novel acts as a narrator, the second is a local Angolan freedom fighter, multilingual, educated and idealistic Elias, a major actor. Story centers on life history of Elias.
Elias, a small boy, survive in oppressive colonial realities of Angola. He loves to huddle with his beautiful and devoted mother. He only later realizes that his mother prostitute herself in order to provide for his food. His Father, the leftist guerilla, is absent fighting occupiers. After brutal murder of his mother by security units and after short interlude as a church orphan he joins his father in fighting group where he, Elias, is singled by Cuban named "Che". Che recognize quality of Elias and facilitate his trip to Cuba for education. From there he enrolls at Lumumba University in Moscow. Once attacked by a group of hooligans Elias is rescued and comforted by a sympathetic girl, a student at Moscow U.-Anna .Their friendship grows and he is invited to visit her parents in remote part of Siberia not far from Kolyma. Trip, by train took several days and is followed by a risky travel in truck over frozen river. In this snow bound cold country he, black man from tropical Africa, discovers love and serenity, peace and warm friendship of Siberians. He would like to marry Anna and settle there for life. This is, though, not a dream of Anna.
Back to Africa in a semi diplomatic assignment. Elias observe phony negotiations in luxurious hotels . Good wishers from rich country congregate to improve and repair this African chaos. Meetings providing excuses for exotic sexual experiences for bored, or frustrated, rich participants. And here time for cynical disillusionment downs on Elias.
Times now flows quickly trough most of ineffectual peace attempts and a mess in Somalia. Of the coast of Somalia while boarding a boat for evacuation ship bound for Russia our hero is shot. His last dreams of return to peace of Siberia vanish.
As he sinks in placid water "... in absolute silence one could clearly hear sigh of a child"