The Woman Who Waited

Written by Andrei Makine (trans. Geoffrey Strachan)
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

When Vera’s fiancé left in one of the last call-ups of men for the Soviet Army in 1945, she vowed she would wait for him forever. It is now 1975, and she is still waiting when he arrives in the small settlement, Mirnoe, in the far northern forests to collect folk traditions. The narrator, whose life in Leningrad we glimpse only briefly, is part of an intellectual and artistic group, one that is tentatively exploring the seemingly loosening boundaries of the time. As the narrator puts it, May ’68 has only now made its way to Russia. This group has its own perceptions of the kolkhozniks, or members of the farm collectives, and the narrator is ready, upon his arrival in Mirnoe, to write a satire of the drunkenness and backwardness in the kolkhozes. However, throughout his time in the village, he constantly runs into evidence that his preconceptions are unsound and do an injustice to the people amongst whom he is living.

Vera is an enigmatic figure to the narrator, but one who attracts him strongly. She is a resilient survivor, one who has made a place for herself in the area, despite her long wait for her fiancé. Through Vera and other much older women who remain in Mirnoe, the reader strongly feels the effect that the war had on these people, the conditions that ensued because so few men returned from the war. The book has a quiet serenity that envelops readers in the life of these resolute women in a forgotten place.