Human Love

Written by Andrei Makine (trans. Geoffrey Strachan)
Review by Eva Ulett

In a crude dwelling on the border of Angola and Zaire, two imprisoned men meet during a shocking night of terror and violence. They are a young Russian soldier and a dreadfully wounded Africa man, Elias Almeida, a “professional revolutionary,” whose story unfolds in memory and through the shared experiences of the two soldiers. The forming of the young revolutionary takes place in 1960s colonial Angola, when Elias witnesses the death of his mother after his father’s role in the resistance movement becomes known. As an adolescent Elias joins his father fighting in the Congo, and eventually becomes a Soviet agent sent to train in Cuba and Russia. In Russia Elias meets a woman whom he accompanies on a visit to her native Siberia, an experience during which Almeida finds love, a meaning in existence that sustains him through the remainder of his violent career.

Andrei Makine’s Human Love does not shy from descriptions of rape, murder, and torture in this story of the “chaos that prevailed in the bestiary of African revolutions” (p. 94). He describes these acts with an economical prose that neither amplifies nor reduces their horror, laying bare the human toll of the conflicts in Angola, Zaire, and Mogadishu. The scenes in Russia are equally moving, but much of the story is related as memory and there are far too many passages ending in this manner: “…,” which only serves to remind us we are reading a novel. Yet the Russian soldier narrating Human Love convinces us that in these wars “we’re not unique, but all alike and interchangeable, pieces of meat, seeking pleasure, suffering and battling against each other,” and that “one day losers and winners will be joined together in the perfect equality of putrefaction” (p. 5).