A Woman Loved

Written by Andrei Makine Geoffrey Strachan (trans.)
Review by James Hawking

Should historical fiction include fiction in which a researcher looks back at the past, in this case the career of Catherine the Great? Makine, a native of Siberia, lives in France and writes in French. His hero, Oleg Erdmann, a Soviet citizen of German extraction, writes a film about Catherine during the pre-glasnost era of state sponsorship and state censorship. A historian assigned to the project wants to preserve historical accuracy, but urges Oleg to downplay the sensational elements and stay close to the official Soviet positions. Catherine’s possible involvement in the murders of her husband and her son, and her catalogue of lovers, has to be handled delicately. And there’s always the elephant in the room, in this case a horse. Oleg wants to avoid sensationalism in the interests of accuracy, and the film appears with a limited treatment of the lovers she receives in her cabinet. Oleg loses control of the film, but some years later, in post-Soviet Russia, Oleg’s friend Zhurbin, an oligarch, finances a television series which makes Oleg relatively rich.

Much of the book deals with Oleg’s personal romances and finances, but the story of Catherine peeks through. Early in the book, there is a list of her lovers, which is a good place for a second bookmark. The television series becomes increasingly lurid and includes sex with the horse. What might be of interest to many of our members is the process by which historical fiction reaches a large audience. If there are any discredited salacious rumors about one of your characters, by all means, make them central to your story. Recommended.