Cover image for The crime of Olga Arbyelina
The crime of Olga Arbyelina
Makine, Andreï, 1957-
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Crime d'Olga Arbélina. English
First English-language edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub., [1999]

Physical Description:
247 pages ; 25 cm
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A Russian princess, a refugee from the Bolsheviks, abandoned by a faithless husband, flees with her child to France, where she is subsequently found half-naked on a riverbank next to a body of a man with a terrible wound on his head.

Author Notes

Andrei Makine was born in Siberia in 1957. Although raised in the Soviet Union, he learned about France and came to love that country through the stories told by his French grandmother. He now lives in Paris himself, having been granted political asylum by France in 1987, and writes in French.

His grandmother figures prominently in the autobiographical novel, "Dreams of My Russian Summers," for which Makine received both the Goncourt Prize and the Medicis Prize, becoming the first author to simultaneously receive both of these prestigious French awards. In the U.S., the English translation of "Dreams of My Russian Summers" has also received recognition, including the Boston Book Review Fiction Prize and the Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year award.

Andrei Makine is also the author of "Once Upon the River Love" and "The Crime of Olga Arbelina."

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The third novel by the author of Dreams of My Russian Summers (1997), an impressionistic exploration of the inner life of a woman on an emotional tightwire, tries to out-Nabokov Nabokov. The story, which is told somewhat as a recollection by a narrator who seems to know more than he should, begins in 1947 in a French village, home to a small group of Russian emigres. One of the emigres has drowned, perhaps been murdered, and the prime suspect is another member of the expatriate circle, Princess Olga Arbyeline. Then the story jumps even further backward to her childhood and early adulthood amid the Russian elite, where, for Olga, illusion and reality often blend together. Indeed, her illusions are a refuge from the dull pain of reality, though in the end they take their toll upon her. All of this is made clear by her sexual history, a Freudian complex of pain and pleasure. Makine's style perfectly fits his subject, but for the most part it all seems a little too cloying, though the novel has garnered praise on the Continent. --Frank Caso

Publisher's Weekly Review

The intricate thoughts and fears of a Russian ‚migr‚ mother take center stage in this elaborately haunting work from the author of Dreams of My Russian Summers. In 1947, in Villiers-la-Forˆt, France, Sergei Golets, an unlicensed doctor and former officer in Russia's anticommunist White Army, drowns in a boating accident. His companion, Princess Olga Arbyelina, survives: she claims to have murdered Golets, though the police are sure his death was an accident. Why would the princess accuse herself of homicide? The answer emerges gradually amid Olga's lyrically tangled (and chronologically disarrayed) memories. Olga's husband, a swashbuckling poet, left her in 1939, when their hemophiliac son was seven. Since then Olga has lived with her frail son among the other Russian exiles in Villiers-la-Forˆt. In 1946, Olga discovers she's pregnant, and travels to Paris for an abortion. Though she has a lover, the pregnancy puzzles her, since its timing doesn't match his visits. One day she spots her teenage son shaking something into the flower infusion she drinks before bedtime, and understanding floods her: he has been drugging her in order to enter her bed. Tormented by her fears for his future (he is sure to die young), and by dread of her own old age, she decides to let him continue his incestuous practice, pretending continued ignorance during the day, and feigning unconsciousness at night during his lovemaking. All is, if hardly well, consistently settledÄuntil Golets, her son's doctor, confesses that he has spied on them. Abetted by Strachan's sinuous translation, Makine gives Olga such a rich interior life that other characters, including the nameless son, seem like shadows her psyche casts. But readers in tune with Makine's goals will not object. Olga's involuted, tormented consciousness becomes a sophisticated pleasure in its own right, and a metaphor for the displaced, disintegrating aristocracy. That same consciousness, and the events that destroy it, invoke larger mythic patternsÄCupid and Psyche, Beauty and the Beast. Makine's novel possesses the feverish beauty of a hothouse culture in its final efflorescence. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As this moody tale opens, Olga, a beautiful Russian emigr‚ now estranged from her husband, Prince Arbyelin, and living in the little village of Villiers-la-Forˆt, is acquitted of murdering a fellow emigr‚ despite her protestations of guilt. The reader eventually discovers, however, that the real "crime" occupying Olga's mind is quite different. Over the past months, she has discovered a residue of sleeping powder in her nightly tea; her hemophiliac son, ever on the verge of death, has been drugging her so that he can engage in sexual explorationÄsomething to which she finally consents, pretending to sleep. Of course, this being a novel by Makine (Dreams of My Russian Summers), this act of incest is nowhere near as baldly stated. Instead, in luminous, hypnotic prose that is a bit like a drug itself, he unfolds the delicate situation between mother and son, seen as if through half-closed eyes. These passages at times seem overlong and overwrought, but the description of Russia on the verge of revolution is gripping and the ending a melancholy shock well worth the wait.ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.