Monday, January 02, 2006


RUSSIAN-born début novelist Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov (Putnam; Viking, 2006) portrays the compromises of a middle-aged man and his eventual realisation. We are shaped by the choices (“choices that sometimes ambush a man so unfairly, without a moment’s warning, and wresting from him an almost instinctive reaction, in the space of a mere minute change the rest of his life.”) we make in our lives and made to conform to society’s standards. Grushin’s prose is graceful and descriptive and her characters are well fleshed out. An exceptional first novel.

In an interview with Library Journal, Olga Grushin talks about the challenges and pleasures of writing in a second language:

“I began writing when I was four, and by the time I came to the United States at 18, I was very comfortable with my Russian style. Parting with it was not easy, though I had before me the (unattainable) example of Nabokov, my favorite writer. In college, I wrote stories in Russian, then translated them into English. Later I began to do this mentally. Eventually, my Russian thinking and writing started to differ from my English thinking and writing. The languages, while both beautiful, necessitate completely different approaches. To me, Russian is the more emotional: nearly every word possesses many forms, diminutive or exaggerated, comical or lofty, and it therefore lends itself to more lyrical, flexible writing. English has a richer vocabulary and, as such, is capable of wonderful precision and fine-tuning; it is perhaps stiffer in its grammar and drier in its expressions, but it has the capacity for profound nuance. Finding the exact way of saying what I wanted to say was both my main challenge and my main pleasure while writing my first novel: a challenge because I had to fight a tendency to fall into whole blocks of words that I had memorized as a foreign student and a pleasure because the language of Shakespeare is full of inexhaustible, delightful surprises.”

GRUSHIN Olga [1971-] Novelist. Born in Moscow, Russia. NOVEL The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006)


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