The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin

A quarter way through and I want to give this more stars (added later: than the four I began with) – yes, plural – and I want to say it’s the best Russian novel I’ve ever read…I’m throwing in Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, the lot.

Even better, it’s a Russian novel written in English. What more could one ask for?

I only want to say all this, I will say it for sure when I’ve finished.

By the way, I’m gobsmacked that only one of my friends has read this.


Now for the informed opinion. This book makes me want to reexamine everything I’ve given five stars too. Yet again one finds the very VERY best writing is simple, accessible; that the very best writing has plot and characters. And not for the first time, I wonder if it is so that non-native English writers can extract something from the language that those for whom it is always an old shoe cannot. Grushin’s use of language is exquisite: her need to be lush as she sees the world through the eyes of an artist never lacks precision, nothing, not even the dream sequences – something I might add, for which I normally have zero tolerance – turn into waffle.

Pick up this novel, begin to read it, and one is confronted by a Soviet pig of a man, a Party man who has risen to the top of one of those fields on which the Soviets placed some importance at that time. Truth told, you too may struggle with the first few pages, why would one want to read 350 pages about this pompous mediocre big noter. Stick with it and by the end of the first scene you will realise why. In Sukhanov Grushin has created a character of a tragic type I honestly can’t think has been bettered in the entire history of writing. ((Sorry, Shakespeare, I love you dearly, but I think Sukhanov is better than Lear.) (I almost can’t believe I wrote that, but I think I think it.)) I defy you to read this and not weep for Sukhanov and, if you have a creative bone in your body, for yourself.

Having started off thinking this was the best Russian novel I’ve ever read, it just goes to show…however great the desire by some to tidy away writing into genres – and might not we say The Russian Novel is the first genre, is there one that precedes it? – this is a sublime novel with no qualification attached. I’m astonished that such a young person who deliver such work. Mostly I’m on goodreads because I like to record what I have read, and because I am a compulsive writer; friends and votes are neither here nor there. But right now I would love to have the goodreads influence to make people read this. Why has only one of my friends read this? Like the Russians for time immemorial I want to wring my hands and ask What is to be done? I have no better answer than they ever did.


Much later.

I did talk a few people into reading this. The first, Margaret, who has read many, many books over the decades immediately declared that she could call it the best book she’s ever read too. Phew. I was afraid I was not overselling it, but creating a situation where expectation could not equal experience.

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4 thoughts on “The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin

    • Well, as I say, I think it is not only the best Russian novel I’ve read, it’s the best novel. It’s better by far than the Nabokov I’ve read, but I have yet to read Lolita. I’m old enough to realise that one’s opinions of such things vary over the years, but this will always be about the best I’ve read, without a doubt.

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