The Hero’s Daughter

Written by Andrei Makine Geoffrey Strachan (trans.)
Review by Claire Morris

This understated novel remained in my mind days after I had read its last page. I know many people (myself included) will hesitate to call it historical, since most of the story takes place in the 1980s. Through the eyes of Ivan, Hero of the Soviet Union, and his daughter, Olya, we see corruption and exploitation, chronic distrust and alcoholism and the lack of freedom of choice. Achieving military distinction in WWII, Ivan was for a time fêted by his people. But as the years progress, the people of the Soviet Union forget heroes, forget the glory of the battle of Stalingrad, focusing instead on survival. Favours handed out by the state to the Heroes become sneered at, and Ivan finds his past bravery respected only by aging comrades-in-arms. As he stumbles about, attempting to retain his sanity, Olya serves the KGB as an “interpreter” for foreign industrialists, a job that invariably requires “night duty.” Caught up in espionage, she too wonders how it will all end.

This novel offers a powerful picture of a society that has lost its way. It ends abruptly but suitably, with a measure of hope for better days (albeit a tiny one). Ultimately the story tells of two individuals who yearn to express themselves, both verbally and otherwise, but are prevented from doing so by the world they inhabit. My one criticism of A Hero’s Daughter is that at times Ivan and Olya seem distant from the reader; I wanted to know them better, and wanted to learn more of their relationship with one another. For the sake of this I would have been happy to see a story half as long again.