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The Dream Life of Sukhanov

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,402 ratings  ·  202 reviews
Olga Grushin's astonishing literary debut has won her comparisons with everyone from Gogol to Nabokov. A virtuoso study in betrayal and its consequences, it explores - really, colonizes - the consciousness of Anatoly Sukhanov, who many years before abandoned the precarious existence of an underground artist for the perks of a Soviet apparatchik. But, at the age of 56, his ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 30th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, russia, fiction
This paranoid, dark, twisted, funny and moving novel enthralled me. Once I got used to it, I loved Grushin’s writing. She has a style that’s hard to describe; descriptive, blunt, and lush. I was hooked pretty quickly by this strange tale and found myself impatient to get back to it whenever I had to put it down. The world of Sukhanov was highly addictive. You never really knew what was going to happen next as this Soviet official wandered around 1980s Moscow in a fog, dipping in and out of reali ...more
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who lie to themselves
Recommended to Manny by: notgettingenough
Emanuel Lavrentievich closed the book and returned to his review. There was an odd sensation in his eyes and the back of his throat, and a number of thoughts, all of which he knew he would be well advised not to dwell on, were doing their best to gain his attention. He moved his gaze over the words he had already written, but they refused to cohere into sentences. And some of them surely had nothing to do with it? He deleted "Chekhov", "ineluctably" and "icon", pondered a while, and then put bac ...more

.....Much later after finishing this wonderful book.

I did talk a few people into reading this. The first, Margaret, who has read many, many books over the decades immediately declared that she could call it the best book she's ever read too. Phew. I was afraid I was not overselling it, but creating a situation where expectation could not equal experience.

The review is here, unchanged since I first put it on GR:

Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
He has a realization—
Something was happening to him—something strange, something, in fact, extremely unsettling—something that he was unable to explain, much less stop or control. He was being assailed by his past.

Anatoly Sukhanov is a man with a past he has edited, a past that now haunts him as those edited parts suddenly make themselves known in both his dreams and his waking hours. Just what is it that Sukhanov has suppressed all these years and that at the age of 56 now has him inhabiting a
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everybody
The Dream Life of Sukhanov follows Soviet apparatchik Anatoly Sukhanov as his carefully constructed life unravels before the readers’ eyes. Through the numerous flashbacks we see the protagonist as a child, growing in the shadows of Stalin’s terror and WWII, then an aspiring artist and wanna-be revolutionary, and then a complacent bureaucrat and a sell-out. You can see a big slice of Russia’s turbulent history through the prism of a singular life, but the book’s main focus is on Sukhanov the ind ...more
Mar 20, 2011 added it
The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2005, 2007) by Olga Grushin

I don’t know about you, but as I grow older, I rarely read a book with the total abandonment I used to experience as a child or a teenager. Olga Grushin, a young(ish) American writer who emigrated from Russia at eighteen, must have some special powers in order to cast this spell with both her novels, The Line and The Dream Life of Sukhanov.

The first thing that separates Grushin’s novels from those written by her American contemporaries is t
Oct 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit
Olga Grushin's The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a peculiar novel. It was captivating, then it was tedious, captivating again, and then tedious. It has been compared to the works of Gogol and Bulgakov, but the drifting characters and the impressionistic flavor had the distinctive feel of Chekhov -- laced with a touch of insanity. The references to Chekhov's plays reinforced my perspective. It was very “Russian.”

Grushin traces Sukhanov's life and the Russian art world from the period of Stalinist ri
Cat {Wild Night In}
I don't know about you, but normally I run to a novel to hide from the world and get transported as quickly as possible to a far-away place. At first, (until chapter 6) I found it hard to sink into this story, not because of a dislike of it, but because of the richness of the language. The beauty of the descriptions made me stop to luxuriate in them, for example, "...the sun shot out through the glass in a fiery orange zigzag, and out into the street spilled the zesty smell of roast chicken and ...more
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: desert-island

'Haunting', 'Stunning' & 'Heartbreaking' claims the cover. The blurb is something I always take with a pinch of salt - but on this occasion, for me, the book was all those things.

I think it would strike a chord with many, as most people have to compromise and sell out to some degree in order to have comfort and security for themselves or their family - often losing who they are in this life process. Thankfully, these days not many are in the extreme situation that Sukhanov (and others) faced, in
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone & especially fans of art & surrealism
Shelves: europe, 2012
At first, the long, flowery sentences overfilled with adjectives put me off the story a little bit. But for just a few pages... because, somehow, the story, the writing morphed and these became beautiful, startling descriptions. Melancholy. Surrealism. Art. Life. Youth. Aging.

Truly, this book is sublime. It's like a breathtaking painting put into words. Grushin has an incredible talent for merging the real with the unreal, a current life and a dream. You smoothly drift from reality to dream and
Robert Wechsler
Mar 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Is it better, more valuable, whatever, to trod a well-worn path extremely well or to try to bushwhack a path with mixed results? A moderate person at heart, when I write I try to combine the well-worn and the new. But faced with a debut novel such as this one, a third-person mid-life crisis novel with flashbacks (unusually in first person), dream sequences, and a Soviet twist, I don’t know whether to subtract points for the well-trodden or add points for doing such an amazing job with elements t ...more
May 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Wow! Best novel I've read in quite some time, and it's a first novel. Echoes of Tolstoy, Nabokov, and Bulgakov. English is Grushin's 3rd language, but you wouldn't know it. Story of a 55-year-old man in 1985 Soviet Russia, having a nervous breakdown as his work and family life fall apart and as Soviet Russia is on the brink of falling apart. As a young man, Sukhanov showed promise as a Russian surrealist in the tradition of Dali and Chagall, but in fear for his life and career, he suppresses his ...more
(3.5) When a book has been on my to-read list for a while, I often find I've formed a long-standing impression of what it's like without having read a single word of it, and sometimes the impression turns out to be completely wrong. So it was with this: for years I've been imagining it as highly experimental, difficult, weird. It was rather a shock to discover it's actually a rather conventional historical novel. Once I settled into it, however, it felt like a pleasant change of pace.

It's 1985,
Lorenzo Berardi
On The Vicissitudes of the Dream Life of Sukhanov.

In the beginning it was fire...

I've rescued this book from a mouldy crate (which once contained Portuguese tangerines) left on the floor of a firemen station in a provincial English town on a placid Saturday afternoon of early May.
The first novel by Olga Grushin was lying on her meek ivory back crushed beneath a pile of heavy-weighted low-browed gaudy rubbish labeled Sophie Kinsella, Danielle Steel and E.L. James.

(BBC Oxford set the mood broadca
Kseniya Melnik
Aug 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Can I just say: WOW. And not just because Grushin is a Russian lady writing in beautiful, crisp, evocative English, that's grand and all, but what an approach to a classic subject matter! She addresses the things we (aspiring writers, artists and such) think about constantly, mumble to ourselves and talk to others, passionately when drunk: what is talent? can it be confused with youth and energy? does an artist have a duty to fulfill himself, and at what expense to his family and friends? is to ...more
Feb 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary
Lyrical, but strangely uncompelling, this is the story of a moral and mental breakdown. An artist of brilliant promise in his youth, Sukhanov sells out to the Soviet way, becoming an art critic/apparatchik promoting 'Russian' art as opposed to decadant Western art. In 1985 at age 56, the combination of mid-life and glasnost brings his past crashing down on him. As in European literature of the 20th century, politics shapes life in a way that is unknown in this country. ...more
Eddie Watkins
May 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
There's something special about this book. The excess of adjectives and adverbs initially put me off, but then I submitted to its magic-tinged realism and was transported into the wonderful mid-life crisis of a Soviet apparatchik. His dream life doesn't begin until he comes out the other side into the real life he should have always been living. ...more
ReemK10 (Paper Pills)
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I discovered Olga Grushin by chance. I thought her to be an elegant, refined, generous, kind, friendly, fiercely intelligent woman, the type of woman that you just fall in love with. A sweetheart! I had no idea that she was an author. I just knew her as a very accomplished and ambitious reader. When it finally dawned on me that she was the author of several novels, I knew I had to read her! I always wanted to save her for a beach vacation where I could devote myself to reading without any interr ...more
Jan 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The best book I have read in a really long time. I'm partial to it, of course, because the novel floats through the world of artists in Soviet Russia. (How could I not love a book like that?) The book really shines, though, because Grushin's prose has that special something that makes the story absolutely haunting and unpredictable. At any moment you feel like her characters could find redemption, come across a ghost, walk away from life as they knew it, or throw themselves off a bridge, and it ...more
Jun 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
Beautiful and lyrical and satirical all at the same time. It's clear that Grushin has read the Russian masters - Bulgakov, Gogol, Dostoevsky - and it shines through in this gorgeous little book. I picked it up from the library, but now I wish that I'd bought it...

My other comment is that it frequently reads like a Chagall painting. And while I didn't necessarily care for Chagall before I read this book, I think I like his work now. I need to go to the MOMA to check.
Nov 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian, contemporary
A fascinating and deeply imaginative novel, beautifully written, surreal and all too real. To an American audience it may read as a high-art tale of midlife crisis, with a Russian twist. That is fair enough, and the novel is highly accomplished on that level. But it is also shot through with quintessentially Russian metaphysics. You will particularly like this book if you are a reader who appreciates writing that exploits words' ability to do more than represent a simulacrum of reality. ...more
Finn Longman
It's difficult to review a book like this. Perhaps I should wait a few days and allow it to sink in before I try -- but it was in the middle of it that I decided I would give it 5 stars, so it should be enough to explain why.

I cannot begin to explain why this book had such an emotional impact on me. Some of it, I think, cut a little bit too close to my heart for comfort. There were moments when I stopped and looked at a sentence and knew that it was my own emotions crystallised into words on a p
Oct 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of russian fiction in general...
Shelves: school, newish-books
Second installment of "Novel on the Globe" course.

I really enjoyed this novel and would give it four and a half stars if the website so allowed me. Following in the tradition of most Russian novels, I feel like I could read this novel a few more times and still not entirely obtain all the symbolism and meaning behind it. There are certainly layers upon layers within this text.

The story revolves around the middle-aged character Sukhanov during glasnost period Moscow. At first, we learn that Sukh
Apr 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Amy by: Saxon
This novel at its core is a story of man in his 50s having to confront the decisions that he made as a younger man and how they shaped the course of his life. Sukhanov essentially had two paths that he could have taken. On one path he pursues his passions but will inevitably struggle economically and will be outcasted to a certain extent. The other path requires him to give up, even forsake, that which he is most talented and passionate about, but in exchange he will live quite comfortably. Havi ...more
Dec 31, 2009 added it
Sukhanov's wife, Nina, describing her husband's early, experimental paintings, when she first saw them, says: they are dark, very dark indeed, darker than expected but, also, strange and...beautiful." This is a pretty good summing up of the novel, too.

Simply put, hahaha, this is a dark, colourful novel, bleak, dripping wet, grey, heavy and light as snow flakes, bright, slow, annoying in parts, and rising to flights of fancy so beautiful, painful, and inspiring in its anguish and salvation that
Nick Davies
DNF. Somewhere around the 200 page mark, only a hundred or so from the end, I gave up on this - a book which objectively was probably reasonably deserving of praise, but which had failed to really engage me. This novel deals with a Soviet gentleman - a father, an art critic and magazine editor, a traditionalist in a time of change in the USSR. In some ways a complex character, but in others a person in which I could only find myself taking a far from deep interest. I could neither identify with ...more
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
Quick quibble: aggravatingly adverbby. (A little alliteration for what ails ya?) It slows the reader's pace, which is a fortunate side effect, because this book does so much in the way of imagination, paranoia, and simple historical narrative. There's a lot worth paying attention to.

My favorite stylistic flair is the author's true stealth in sliding from third-person to first-person narrative in service of flashbacks. The stitching is impeccable. They never felt sloppy or even a tinge pretentiou
Jul 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read this year. Gripping, yet feels instantly like a classic, feels slightly like Bulgakov. Just simply loved it. Wish more people could write like this. ...more
Jun 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, russian
Every now and then history elbows its way into a book I’m reading. The life of recently departed Vaclav Havel, at first glance, would seem to offer a stern rebuke to life of Grushin’s protag, “Tolya” Sukhanov (is it fair do compare historical figures with fictional characters? why else to we read novels, if not to see the grubby, muddled “truth” of “real” life in a new light?). Havel, an artist in his own right, chose not to “live within the lie,” as Solzhenitsyn put it; Tolya conforms to the li ...more
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian
Normally I avoid most contemporary literature, especially written by female authors who can turn a phrase, but fail to deliver much more than that. Pretty writing and clever phrasing with flat characters and a contrived experience do absolutely nothing for me. Thankfully, this book is different.

I'll admit that a few florid descriptions at the start made me want to quit ("Streetlamps swam through the liquid mist, their pale reflections drowning in an inverted world of running asphalt"). But I am
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Olga Grushin is the author of four novels - The Charmed Wife, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, The Line, and Forty Rooms - as well as short stories, literary criticism, essays, and other works. She has been awarded the 2007 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and named one of the Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine; her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Tim ...more

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