Rights sold: France - Alain Baudry & Cie Editeur, Spain - Acantilado
Prix Révélation de la Société des gens de lettres (2014, France)
Summer 1980: Moscow prepares for the Olympics at great risk, in the midst of the war in Afghanistan. The city is closed to non-residents, who in any case are abandoning it. Liza is one of them. An adolescent in search of her
identity, she has gone with her mother to a village she has never been to, but where her mother is very well known. And for good reason: the village bears her name. The mansion, an imposing but dilapidated Italianate building,
belonged to her ancestors, Russian princes close to the tsar. As for Liza, she bears the name of her father: Klein. A father who lives in America and the mere mention of whom is all but forbidden. Liza understands only that she has
a German name, and that she is the descendant, on her father’s side, of Joseph Klein, the Russian translator of Goethe.
Here, suddenly, are too many identities, whose accumulating questions go unanswered. Jewish, aristocratic, Soviet, intellectual – her family is a tissue of contradictions. To crown it all, she is troubled by David, her mother’s friend,
whose house they are living in, and who as she quickly realizes is of Jewish origin, a pillager of memories in the ancestral mansion, an accomplice of the village folk, a disillusioned artist declared a “social parasite” by the
authorities, who collaborates with a film crew that finances its perfectly official films by trafficking in icons...
Medvedkova's novel ideally combines a number of themes and elements which are quite typical for any novel where action is set in Russia, but their mixture produces an unexpected effect. Its protagonist a 15-year-old anorexic girl, a wonder-kid passing throughout a difficult stage of growing up and maturing, confronting the outside world and - especially - her authoritarian mother who herself has many skeletons in her closet.
The novel features the "ordinary family of Soviet intellectuals". Its narrative gains momentum gradually, and that subtly reflects the state of the soul and consciousness of the main character, its internal development: from slow and sleepy, to feverishly sharp, dizzy fast. Up to the very end of the book, Lisa (and the reader) doesn't see the full picture.
The novel is beautifully written, very dynamic and elegant. It's a concentrate of all Russian and Soviet just in the form that Western readership is interested to get. Aristocratic roots of Liza's family, dissidents, Soviet cultural elite, intelligentsia, etc. - in fact, the book provides a descriptive account of formation, way of thinking and self-perception of the modern Russian intellectuals, all these people who now got to play an important role in world science, culture,
politics, and economy.
The book is originally written in French and has around 220 pages.