Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine

Le testament francais

Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine was first published in 1995 and is apparently an international bestseller, but I had never heard of it before I stumbled across it in the library, and I thought it would ‘do’ for one of my Read Europe Challenge books. It was written in French and translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan.

First I have to say that this is a really well written book, but as ever with a translation I have no idea whether that is down to the author or the work of the translator, as just as a bad translation will kill a good book – so can a good one make all the difference for the better.

I didn’t love Le Testament Francais as other readers seem to have though. It wasn’t a page turner for me and I was never dying to get back to reading it after putting it down.

The narrator is a young Russian boy who grows up in the 1960s and 70s, he learns about the experiences of Charlotte, his French grandmother through her memories of Paris and a suitcase full of old photographs, newspapers and magazines from her past. After a lot of toing and froing between France and Russia in her earlier life Charlotte had settled in France, but with the outbreak of war she ended up going back to Russia as she could speak the language and they needed her as a nurse. When she eventually wanted to get back home to France her papers were confiscated and she was stuck in what was by then Stalinist Russia.

Determined to hang on to her French identity and mainly speaking French Charlotte’s grandson ends up being seen as being French by his schoolmates and really not fitting in, eventually he grows to love Russia but after Glasnost and the opening up of Russia he settled in Paris to write books in French about his Russian life.

I suspect that the structure of this book is what is meant to impress the reader, but that would probably depend on how much experience you have of reading books that jump around between times and settings. For me it was just okay. If you have read this one, what did you think of it?

I read this one for the 2019 European Reading Challenge.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The Ghost Fields cover

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles has been popular with some of the blogs that I visit, but it was when my friend Christine mentioned that she was enjoying it I decided to give it a go too and I loved it. It was published in 2016.

It begins in Moscow in 1922 where Count Alexander Rostov is in the Kremlin being questioned. Surprisingly he survives the experience but is declared to be a non person and soldiers escort him back to the Metropol Hotel where he has been living in a luxurious suite. He has been sentenced to indefinite house arrest, so if he ever sets foot out of the hotel he will be shot.

He has to vacate his beautiful suite and move into an attic room not much bigger than a cupboard. You would think that a man who had been brought up to enjoy the best of everything in life would find this intolerable but Sasha manages to make a rich and full life for himself and ends up having close relationships with the hotel staff who have become like a family to him.

With the Metropol being a favourite hotel of those in positions of power in the Kremlin over the years Sasha has plenty of opportunities to observe them – something which becomes very useful to him subsequently.

Sasha is a great character and I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I’ll be reading the author’s other book Rules of Civility soon, but I can’t imagine I’ll like it as much as this one.