Winner, 2007 Young Lions Fiction Award
Shortlist, 2006 Orange Award for New Writers
Finalist, 2006 Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction
Longlist, 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Top 10 Best Books of 2006, Washington Post Book World
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Poets & Writers Magazine Best First Fiction
Borders Original Voices Selection
Semi-finalist, VCU First Novelist Award
Best Book of 2006, Library Journal
Best Debut of the Year, The Moscow Times
Jonathan Yardley's pick of the year, The Washington Post
Pick of the Year, Financial Times
Book of the Year, The Globe and Mail
Boyd Tonkin's Best World Fiction for Christmas, The Independent
Page-Turner of the Year, Washingtonian
"Extraordinary . . . Breathes new life into American literary fiction." Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"Complex . . . powerful . . . lush." The New York Times
"A triumph of singular yet universal genius." Boris Kachka, New York Magazine
About the Novel
At fifty-six, Anatoly Sukhanov has everything a man could want. Nearly twenty-five years ago, he traded his precarious existence as a brilliant underground artist for the perks and comforts of a high-ranking Soviet apparatchik. Once he created art; now he censors it.
But a series of increasingly bizarre events transforms Sukhanov's perfect world into a nightmare. Buried dreams return to haunt him, long-repressed figures from his past surface to torment him, new political alignments threaten to undo him, and his once loving family and loyal comrades grow distant. As he stumbles through the dark corridors of memory, his life begins to unravel, and he finds himself losing everything he sold his soul to gain.
Olga Grushin tells the story of Sukhanov's betrayal of his talent, his friends, and his principles in dream sequences that may be real and in real time that may be nightmare, effortlessly shifting the borders between the two. Her masterly play with voice, time, and reality makes this often surreal exploration of self-dissolution and faithlessness an extraordinary reading experience. And her subtle transformation of Sukhanov from an arrogant and self-absorbed member of the ruling class to a terrified beggar in his own private hell is nothing short of miraculous. The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a virtuoso performance, original, startling, haunting.
Praise for The Dream Life of Sukhanov
In the US and Canada
"Extraordinary first novel . . . wise and mature . . . The Dream Life of Sukhanov is sophisticated, ironic and witty, multilayered, intricately constructed, deeply informed, elegantly written—the work, one would think, of someone who has been writing and publishing fiction for years . . . deeply complex, endlessly interesting and deeply sympathetic . . . The Dream Life of Sukhanov is the work of a true artist, a novel that many writers many years older than Grushin and far more renowned would happily, merrily claim as their own. . . . in its expansiveness, its refusal to dwell in the tiny palace of self, it harks back to the great Russian masters. In so doing, it breathes new life into American literary fiction, which for some time has been in dire need of just such an infusion."
Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
"It was my pleasure to discover an uncommonly accomplished first novel, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin, a young writer who was born in the Soviet Union but now lives here in Washington. In English more fluent and graceful than that written by many well-known American writers, she tells the story of a Soviet cultural bureaucrat who dances along a fine line between capitulation to the inflexible demands of the communist system and his own artistic beliefs and longings. She sees him as clearly as Jason Sokol sees his conflicted white Southerners, and her sympathy for his dilemma is matched by her withering account of his willingness to let a taste for luxury and position override his convictions."
Jonathan Yardley, A Critic's Pick of the Year's Best Books
"Ironic, surreal, sometimes stunning . . . Gogolesque in its sardonic humor . . . An explosive mix of memory and shame . . . complex . . . powerful . . . lush."
Richard Eder, The New York Times
"Will tower over the majority of what publishers put out this year . . . Grushin's beautifully constructed puzzle is a triumph of singular yet universal genius."
Boris Kachka, New York Magazine
"Moving among dreams, art and reality, Olga Grushin draws a dizzying picture in her first novel that leaves the reader with the sensation of having witnessed something just short of miraculous. . . . Deftly weaving memories, dreams and flights of fantasy into a maddening tableau of deception, betrayal and disappointment, Grushin takes the reader through a series of images and scenes that at times resemble a visit to a posh art gallery, and at others, a ride through a carnival freak show. The descriptions of events and places are brilliantly colourful and ornate . . . The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a wonderfully original and subtle work that promises to leave a haunting memory in the minds of readers."
The Associated Press
"Subtle and vertiginous."
The New York Times Book Review
"An absorbing novel of scope and ambition. In the Russian high-art tradition within which The Dream Life of Sukhanov situates itself, the psychology of the individual under extreme stress is rendered political, the political then woven back into the seams of one life, until the mindscape of Russia, the end-game of Soviet power and the slow demolition of career, family and mind resonate in every sentence. This is no mean feat. To accomplish it while simultaneously updating Bulgakov's seminal Master and Margarita . . . providing a mini-tour of the Soviet arts bureaucracy from Chagall and Kandinsky through the Khrushchev-Brezhnev thaw-refreeze to the early glimmerings of perestroika; evoking a dozen convincing characters; nailing the social and sensual realm of 1980s Moscow; and meditating on grand themes of personal versus political versus artistic betrayal and the fine lines between ambition and ruthlessness, imagination and madness; all the while maintaining narrative drive and a delicate surface tension between dream world and reality via multiple narrative perspectives and time schemes - that is remarkable."
The Globe and Mail
"There are two extraordinary things about this book: It exudes the wisdom of maturity in a first novel, and the young, Russian-born author writes beautifully—in English, her second language! . . . Though an absorbing chronicle of life at the end of the Soviet era, this is really much more—a meditation on society, art, truth, and life . . . Simply stunning."
Library Journal, starred review
"Fruitfully echoes Solzhenitsyn's best books [and] Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" . . . Brilliant work from a newcomer who's already an estimable American writer."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"In well-honed prose with vivid imagery, Grushin provides a portrait of a culture, interplaying art with politics in twentieth-century Russia, and dealing throughout with the universal subjects of love and truth. Sukhanov lingers in memory as a a child stunned into silence by the beauty of Botticelli's paintings and as a middle-aged adult finding his way."
Booklist, starred review
"Brilliant . . . For all that it is not her first language, Grushin writes an English worthy of Nabokov. . . . And her narrative is structured with consummate skill. Grushin moves effortlessly between Sukhanov's past and his present, between first-person and third-person narration. The slippages accelerate in frequency as the novel progresses, resulting, not in any narrative chaos, but in a terrifying psychological disorientation. . . . Beyond such technical accomplishments, what makes Grushin's novel most memorable is its compassion. . . . Seldom has a first novel so perfectly captured a historical moment that seems most real because it resonates with the disaster of an individual life."
The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Olga Grushin's hallucinatory tale of a member of the Soviet privilegentsia discovering the price of his pact with the devil boldly collapses past into present, dream into reality, bitterness into sweetness, rising to heights of artful virtuosity rare in any book, let alone a first novel. Steeped in the tradition of Gogol, Bulgakov, and Nabokov, Grushin is clearly a writer of large and original talent."
James Lasdun, author of The Horned Man
"Excellent . . . A subtle homage to Kafka and the Russian masters . . . [Grushin] has fashioned an unusually fluid prose . . . It's neither flashy nor pedestrian but oddly, irresistibly dreamlike, at once siren song and dirge. . . . Olga Grushin's haunting dreamscape of her native land is a debut to be cheered here, there and everywhere."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Intimate, expansive, generous, unrelenting and beautiful . . . Deep and wondrous . . . Announce[s] the arrival of a brilliant new voice."
The Missouri Review
"Remarkable work of literature, fully worthy of its Russian ancestors . . . Grushin writes with mystical power and breathtaking control, combining dreams and multiple realities to powerful effect . . . She [is] clearly a master of our language."
Robert Kaiser, associate editor of The Washington Post, World Policy Journal
"Remarkably poised . . . The genius presiding over The Dream Life of Sukhanov is Marc Chagall, . . . and the novel sometimes feels like the literary equivalent of one of Chagall's whimsical, dreamlike paintings. Grushin manages the tricky feat of moving between dream and reality without undermining her novel's realistic political and social setting, achieving her effects partly through language and partly through structure. Audacious . . . Her magical, inventive novel has brought its author fully justified acclaim, and makes this reader's mouth water in anticipation of her next."
Books in Canada: The Canadian Review of Books
"Astonishing first novel . . . intriguing . . . Proustian . . . simply thrilling to read . . . Kafkaesque . . . It is truly surprising that an author so young (Grushin is 34) can capture middle-aged male regret so effectively. Grushin exhibits extraordinary empathy."
The Calgary Herald
"Richly crafted . . . bitterly compelling . . . powerful and richly detailed."
"Riveting . . . On the one hand Dream Life is a breakthrough novel whose story pivots neatly on the dreams and interior time-traveling of its central character . . . On the other hand, it's a classic 19th-century novel in which an individual's fate evokes his entire past and various mysteries of identity and history are explained while a whole string of narrative parallels are as meticulously balanced as a suspension bridge. . . . A major part of the thrill of reading this novel comes from the games Grushin plays with the reader. Everyday actions - the sipping of a coffee, a train conductor's request for a passenger's ticket - swivel the narrative, without warning, into scenes taking place 20 years prior in different locales under different circumstances. One can't help but admire the consistent skill with which Grushin navigates these rapids - and in English, her second language, no less."
The Weekly Standard
"Only in the former Soviet Union was art taken as seriously as it is here. Olga Grushin's engaged yet dreamy novel makes one nostalgic for a world where a man can lose his soul for writing an article with the title 'Surrealism and Other Western "Isms" as Manifestations of Capitalist Insolvency' and save it by praising the flying beasts of Chagall."
The Boston Globe
"A sterling first effort that reinvigorates the American novel."
"Captures essence of Russian soul . . . Faustian . . . fully textured . . . epic . . . complex . . . penetrating . . . Sukhanov's journeys circumnavigate late 20th-century Russia and the Russian soul."
The Columbus Dispatch
"A striking debut . . . complex, intriguing . . . Grushin fashions this story with a distinctive flair, her style a tribute to the Russian classics. The Dream Life is an intricate, complex story that reads like the work of a seasoned veteran, not a first-time novelist."
"A beautiful first novel. . . . It's like a mid-life crisis fueled by history . . . Dreamy prose . . . you feel for [Sukhanov] every step of the way. "
"Dense, lyrical . . . mesmerizing."
The Spokesman Review (Washington)
"A luminous novel about art, friendship, fidelity and truth . . . Grushin has a profound gift of language and a distinctly visual prose. . . . It is not often that we witness the arrival of a writer of her talent. Savor it."
"[Grushin's] silky prose has earned her comparisons to . . . Vladimir Nabokov . . . Each exquisitely painted nesting doll is cracked open to reveal another shell."
"A virtuoso performance that is original, startling and haunting."
"Extraordinary first novel . . . Grushin’s unique style has a boldness that thumbs its nose at some of the most basic rules of Creative Writing 101. Only a very talented writer could pull off what she does with points of view, voice, place and time. Flashbacks blend with the present. Dreams intertwine with reality. Grushin does this without confusing or annoying the reader. She seamlessly changes from the third person to the first within the same paragraph and many times within the same sentence . . . Author’s trickery? No, a subtle transition by a skilled artist at work."
The Beachcomber (Florida)
"Olga Grushin’s impressive debut novel combines mid-life crisis with glasnost in 1985 Russia, a period of transition that assumes dream-like hues, as memories graft themselves onto immediate experiences, family members become difficult to recognize and the seemingly immovable authority of a political ideology slips into ambiguity."
Best Books of 2006, Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)
"Extraordinary novel. . . . Grushin captures perfectly the little world of the Soviet elite, with all its compromises and its hypocrisies . . . Past and present mingle effortlessly, giving the reader a look into the soul of a man at various stages of his life."
"Impressive debut . . . a mastery of character and plot . . . artful."
The Washington Times
"The Dream Life of Sukhanov is Olga Grushin's first novel, although you'd never guess it. . . . Evoking a time and place vivid in its particulars, Grushin draws universal lessons, an achievement made all the more impressive by the fact that English isn't her native language."
"The Dream Life of Sukhanov may be interpreted as a meditation on the narrowing cultural divide between the United States and Russia. But it would be a shame to let that simplification distract from the novel’s greatest rewards. It’s a quiet celebration of an imperfect life, a delicate portrait of an old man who seems at first so easy to dislike. How wonderful, this trick Grushin has pulled, to make me miss her poor Sukhanov."
"Reminiscent of Gogol and Bulgakov."
Washington City Paper
"A sad, gorgeous story of sacrifice and regret told with flights of fancy all the more poignant for the rest of the novel's quiet restraint."
Creative Loafing (Atlanta)
"Perhaps the most significant achievement in this touching, excellent debut novel is the manner in which Sukhanov transforms from an unsympathetic high-level bureaucrat into an artist and a human looking for redemption. English is Russian-born Olga Grushin’s third language, and many authors today would gladly accept her abilities."
Portico Magazine (Birmingham)
"An exceedingly auspicious debut. . . . [Grushin] joins a select group of writers who have received acclaim for works written in a language other than their native tongue, among them Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, and Isak Dinesen."
In the UK and Ireland
"Outstanding first novel . . . densely textured and morally searching work of historical fiction . . . [Grushin] guides a daring plot artfully past the hazards of schematic moralism, melodrama and excessive symbolism . . . laced with festive Gogolian irony . . . Captivatingly, she evokes the grit, weirdness, and secret sweetness of late Soviet Moscow . . . sophisticated . . . Grushin revels in the long-hidden, rampantly coloured dream life of her native land."
The Times Literary Supplement
"The next big thing in American literary fiction. . . . so accomplished are her skills - so hauntingly assured - that more than one US critic has greeted her as the next great American novelist. Her debut novel, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, is . . . superbly realised . . . Present and past collide. Dream and nightmare converge. Yet all the time, Grushin’s virtuosity - especially sensuous descriptiveness, iron control of structure and immaculate pacing - carry her past one challenge after another. . . .To write a novel as good as this you need to be very talented. And Grushin is."
"Eloquent, enchanting debut."
Boyd Tonkin, "The Best World Fiction for Christmas," The Independent
"Here's a contemporary novel so good, I felt like buying 10 copies and sending them to friends . . . Olga Grushin reminds us of what makes the best of Russian culture soar to fantastic heights . . . Grushin takes us on an elegant romp through the magical realms of consciousness . . . reminiscent now of Nabokov, now of Bulgakov . . . [A] stunning fictional debut, and a book which reminds us of what a superb contribution the Russian tradition has made, and can still make, to the literary art, compared with our own fallen and humdrum literary world."
Lesley Chamberlain, The Independent
"Not many first-time novelists are compared to Tolstoy, but Olga Grushin is no ordinary author. . . . She . . . is on course to become the next great American novelist."
"Grushin writes beautifully."
The Sunday Times
"Sinuous prose that shifts seamlessly from third to first person, between present and past, in and out of dreams and hallucinations . . . In Grushin's wonderful novel, the incandescent wealth of Russia's literary heritage blazes."
"It's hard for readers to distinguish between what is mediocre but highly marketable and was is truly great. Olga Grushin, an extraordinary novelist . . ., falls squarely into the second category. Her first book, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, is like something out of another era: although its tone is modern, fresh and accessible, the writing is reminiscent of Chekhov and Nabokov . . . If you are looking for a prodigy, you couldn't make her up. . . . A spellbinding journey."
"Rising star . . . The novel, a pyrotechnic story of an art editor's midlife crisis in Eighties Moscow, is all the more astonishing given that [Grushin] wrote it in English."
"Magnificent novel, which celebrates surrealistic painting by being surrealistic itself . . . Olga Grushin is a Russian writing in English—such astonishingly beautiful English that it is almost impossible to believe that it is not her first language. Is this, one wonders, how the works of Tolstoy and Chekhov and Gogol (whom she invokes) . . . would read if one could read them in Russian? The writing of angels. . . . Here is an author who makes even the works of, say, the wonderful Japanese writer Murakami look ever so slightly contrived. Grushin never overplays her hand. The work blends reality, memory and fantasy seamlessly, so that the book emerges as an inevitable, essential thing, wholly realised, totally 'there.' . . . This is an outstanding novel. Like all excellent works, it does one unusual enough thing: it fills one with joy, because it works on every level."
The Irish Times
"Laudable debut . . . In this kaleidoscopic novel, Grushin fearlessly explores the lyrical potential of her second language to render Sukhanov's terrifying, . . . satirical and frequently touching transition from fatuous, self-deluded bureaucrat to ragged but unfettered hero."
Time Out London
"Grushin's gilded writing describes cruelty and folly as well as Chagall and Botticelli, and delivers the subtlest, more heartbreaking type of literary suspense."
"Grushin has written a remarkably accomplished first novel . . . The hallucinatory quality of Sukhanov's memories, together with the surrealistic encounters of his daily life, call to mind the great Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov."
"Powerfully poetic consideration of creativity . . . Remarkably assured debut . . . Langurous, shimmery prose that, in its capacity to contain several realities at once, invokes the spirit of Mikhail Bulgakov. This is a startling, complex novel of rare, poetic power; and a powerfully realised examination of the inner creative life and the external pressures brought to bear on it."
"Accomplished novel . . . Told with irony and sympathy . . . reminiscent of Bulgakov's masterly use of fantasy in the face of artistic censorship. [Grushin's] real achievement . . . lies in the power of her descriptions, both of Moscow and of the flights of fancy that unleash Sukhanov's repressed imagination . . . The Dream Life of Sukhanov . . . deserves the recognition it has enjoyed. Grushin's Russian willingness to take on epic and abstract questions and show zealous faith in the transformative power of art offers a refreshing contrast to the smaller, more intimate themes of much contemporary British fiction."
"A surreal spiritual journey . . . Sukhanov's dreams . . . become as brilliant and strange as a Kandinsky canvas. . . . [Sukhanov] is a rounded, authentic character, whose painful choices are all too believable. Moscow, the city of his birth, is also a fully realised character . . . as vivid as any of the human beings."
Helen Dunmore, The Times
"Marvellous novel . . . It is astonishing that a novel so deftly constructed, crafted and controlled as this should be the author's first. Astonishing, too, that it is written in English . . . In addition to an ability to write prose that is full of grace and energy, Grushin possesses a powerful and original imagination . . . The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a dazzling work of art."
Scotland on Sunday
"Olga Grushin's The Dream Life of Sukhanov has the makings of a modern Russian classic: a highly sophisticated study of an artist whose compromises in the Soviet era are called into question as Perestroika redraws the landscape and the old certainties crumble around his ears."
"Dissolving from the third person into first without warning, weaving in and out of Sukhanov's mind, Olga Grushin paints a gloriously hallucinatory tale. It's like being chained to a velveteen armchair, sloshed in the face with generous measures of frigid vodka and then attempting to lick the dregs off your own face. But in a good way. Smart, funny and rich in surreal detail, it's . . . stimulating . . . and probably safer than acid."
The First Post
"The book is dauntingly impressive; it has deservedly been nominated for the Orange Prize for New Writers."
The Skinny (Scotland)
In Australia and New Zealand
The Sydney Morning Herald
"Outstanding . . . [This] remarkable novel hails from the great tradition of Russian satirists like Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov . . . It’s hard to believe Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a first novel. Assured in its treatment of character, compelling thanks to two superbly handled narrative voices, sophisticated in its dissection of how fear destroys lives, this is a perfectly realised world, a worthy successor to her literary influences . . . Grushin . . . creates a masterly portrait of the perversion of ideals."
The Bulletin Magazine
"Absolutely extraordinary . . . So involving . . . Like a piece of music . . . [Grushin] is a wonderful writer . . . I loved it from page one."
Radio New Zealand, "Book review with Quentin Johnson"
"An astounding first novel . . . The Dream Life of Sukhanov would be a remarkable achievement if it had been translated from Russian to English; the fact that Grushin is writing with such sustained finesse and confidence in a second language is astonishing. The book announces a major new talent, evinced by Grushin's deep knowledge of her subject matter, masterful plotting and sensitivity to the nuances of character, and especially by the exquisiteness of her prose. She has the eye of a painter, and her sentences brim with striking metaphors and lush detail. . . . The world of the novel is at once grounded, dreamlike, philosophical and heartbreaking—as tragic and full as real life, and as gorgeous as the paintings Grushin so vividly describes."
Katherine Shonk, The Moscow Times
"Virtuosic first novel."
Rebecca Reich, Best Debut of 2006, The Moscow Times
"Stunning debut novel . . . While Sukhanov himself can be seen as a metaphor for Russia, The Dream Life of Sukhanov . . . is a testament to anyone who has ever made the wrong choices for all the right reasons."
"The novel . . . has received rave reviews in the English-language press. Western critics have been won over by Olga's skill in operating various realities in a postmodern manner - the "objective" reality, with its detailed descriptions of facts of the protagonist's life, as well as his dreams and imaginings. Yet I was won over not only by this interplay but also by the theme of the importance of an artist's faith in himself, in his calling. Those who have written about the fate of the intelligentsia in Russia have rarely devoted their attention to this subject."
"The Dream Life of Sukhanov has won highest praise in America and England. . . . Lyrical and ironic . . . [Grushin's] book occupies a worthy place in English literature."
Pulse UK (Russian-language magazine, UK)
"La Vie rêvée de Sukhanov est une réussite, ne serait-ce que pour deux passages hallucinés où Sukhanov est en proie à des visions singulièrement picturales . . . Seul le délire permet à Sukhanov de retrouver un regard authentique, profondément subjectif, sur le monde. Son inéluctable déchéance lui offre ainsi la salvation : rejetant le discours formaté sur la prévalence du réalisme soviétique, Sukhanov peut renouer avec son art. A l'instar des trois incroyables dernières minutes du film de Tarkovski, Andrei Roublev, le roman de Grushin s'achève sur le "déluge de couleurs" des tableaux que le héros rêve de peindre. La Vie rêvée de Sukhanov est une belle histoire de renaissance artistique."
"Sublime . . . The Dream Life of Sukhanov is, in a sense, a suspense novel, a quest for someone who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances, except that the person the protagonist is looking for is himself. . . . Grushin’s prose soars . . . attaining, towards the end, a sort of visionary flamboyance, a flaring and hallucinatory tone that Chagall himself would have been proud of. Part of what makes this book so brilliant is Grushin’s ability to keep you consistently off balance . . . A fascinating read – like reading Dostoyevsky’s The Double on speed, with generous handfuls of art and politics thrown in for good measure. It is a book that is both an exciting human story and an engaging novel of ideas. . . . A stunning debut, one that leaves me committed to reading whatever Grushin comes out with next."
In South Africa
"The nature of art, ideology, fantasy and realism is imaginatively examined in Olga Grushin’s brilliant first novel . . . Both substantial and a stylistic tour de force."
Mail and Guardian
"The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a grand novel, in the tradition of European literature with a capital L. . . . Grushin cleverly weaves realism and fantasy . . . Grushin uses the magical painting of Chagall as a visual reference in her novel, and something of the strange fantasy of his works is reflected in her writing, especially towards the latter half when she moves from realism in to the menacing, unreal world of classical fairytales – and this isn’t the sanitized Disnified version. At the same time, the novel is a panorama of Russia at the period, a detailed examination of the life of the privileged in the city. This is a daring novel. Grushin examines the value of art, but in a novel that, compared to current best-sellers and the juvenilia you get going as adult these days, really pushes the envelope. Her novel is imaginative, dense, allusive literature in the best sense of the word. . . . This is one of the very few novels I’ve read recently that I wanted to start again – one feels there would be even more to discover in this richly symbolic yet realistic novel. She’s someone whose career I’ll definitely be following."
William Pretorius, Bookmark programme, Radio 1485
France (Editions du Panama; Points)
Italy (Ponte alle Grazie)
The Netherlands (Pimento Publishers)
Hungary (Geopen Publishers)
Romania (Editura Leda)
Turkey (Turkuvaz Kitap)
Czech Republic (Kalich)
Israel (Matar Publishing)
For purchasing information, please go to Purchase