Category: Mark Kharitonov

book review – Lines of Fate


This book was one of those finds in a charity shop that at first you are very please with. The blurb on the cover informs you that this won the first Russian equivalent of the Booker Prize so it is with high hopes you open the covers and delve inside. Mark Kharitonov is always in control of the experience and as a reader you never feel totally at ease in the world he describes nor did I ever really understand.

Maybe that is part of the point about this book – it is clearly meant to be difficult – with a cast of numerous characters spanning two different time lines. But in many places it was just too much like shooting fish in the dark and as a result sadly this review is probably lacking a great deal of astute comment.

What did emerge through the fog was the idea that a student was studying for his doctoral thesis but concentrating on the writings of an author who ended up living in exile.

The author not only lived in the wilderness but lacked some of the basic things like paper and resorted to writing on the back of candy wrappers, which were produced in the factory in the town he was staying in. Some of the thoughts put down on the wrappers are just single lines but they seem to speak to the student many years later.

What also seems to speak to the student is the sense of political doom that the author predicted would happen and did indeed shatter his world as the factory was closed and the estate connected with it looted and destroyed.

But in-between those moments of clarity there are meetings both in the past and present with academics and publishers that meet and influence and try to exploit both author and student. But what they also have in common seems to be a failed love affair that ends with the woman disappearing into the mists of time.

The problem with the book is that it just never gets any easier and even at the 200 page mark you are left flummoxed. I know that there is a larger debate about whether or not literature should be difficult and challenging for the reader but there is also something about it being enjoyable.

I am happy to admit that my reading is not as deep and as wide as I would like and neither is the memory that good (hence why I write things down here to remember) but for me this was one of the most difficult reads of last year.

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book review – Lines of Fate


This book was one of those finds in a charity shop that at first you are very please with. The blurb on the cover informs you that this won the first Russian equivalent of the Booker Prize so it is with high hopes you open the covers and delve inside. Mark Kharitonov is always in control of the experience and as a reader you never feel totally at ease in the world he describes nor did I ever really understand.

Maybe that is part of the point about this book – it is clearly meant to be difficult – with a cast of numerous characters spanning two different time lines. But in many places it was just too much like shooting fish in the dark and as a result sadly this review is probably lacking a great deal of astute comment.

What did emerge through the fog was the idea that a student was studying for his doctoral thesis but concentrating on the writings of an author who ended up living in exile.

The author not only lived in the wilderness but lacked some of the basic things like paper and resorted to writing on the back of candy wrappers, which were produced in the factory in the town he was staying in. Some of the thoughts put down on the wrappers are just single lines but they seem to speak to the student many years later.

What also seems to speak to the student is the sense of political doom that the author predicted would happen and did indeed shatter his world as the factory was closed and the estate connected with it looted and destroyed.

But in-between those moments of clarity there are meetings both in the past and present with academics and publishers that meet and influence and try to exploit both author and student. But what they also have in common seems to be a failed love affair that ends with the woman disappearing into the mists of time.

The problem with the book is that it just never gets any easier and even at the 200 page mark you are left flummoxed. I know that there is a larger debate about whether or not literature should be difficult and challenging for the reader but there is also something about it being enjoyable.

I am happy to admit that my reading is not as deep and as wide as I would like and neither is the memory that good (hence why I write things down here to remember) but for me this was one of the most difficult reads of last year.

Lines of Fate – post V

Surfing the web to find the answer to the question: Lines of Fate what on earth does it mean? I stumbled across a review which concludes by saying the book sums up the chaos of the Soviet system. In a sense that it was I am clinging to that on the level of being confusing, ambitious but unclear and a story of how history dogs the modern day then it has worked as a metaphor for the USSR.

However as a reading experience it is difficult, unclear and consitent in its unbreakable nature with page 100, 200 and even 300 going by with it remaining a tough challenge.

Things finally come to an end and you wonder whether the lines of fate refers not just to the sense of lay lines and places having a history that influences the present but also a sense of a connection between people across the past.

Because Anton has kept the quest for the old author he is studying alive the prospect that someone will do the same for him is raised and that is an interesting thought thaty you are left with. It is haunting to think that one day someone could look at these blog posts and start to conjure up my character…

A review will come shortly

Lines of Fate – post IV

Reading this book is like being dragged through a hedge backwards with only the occasional landmark helping you work out where you are.

Once Anton becomes ill and is confined to hospital it becomes easier at least to place him and work out where his mind is wandering.

He seems to be trying to understand the deeper questions of what happened to the writer he had dedicated the last few years of his life studying. The power of the hunt for love and stability is something that has also started to consume Anton and is partly an explanation of why he is in hospital.

Final bit hopefully soon. this has bogged me down for weeks…

Lines of Fate – post III

I am sort of getting to grips with this book. Chapters that start with some of the thoughts that the old author wrote down on the candy wrappers then are either put into a historical context or have an influence on the researcher reading them.

In an attempt to locate more details about the author Anton heads to Moscow and discovers that an old friend who is allergic to the system and hypocrisy has disappeared and that he is now being seen by other academics as a success because of his studies.

Back in the world of the candy wrappers the painful moments when fortunes shifted in the civil war are being charted with the great landowner losing his life and then his collection of pieces from the local museum being pilfered.

But what is starting to emerge is a voice from the past that no only describes and foresees the disruption of a society that starts to lose its foundations and is driven by fear and violence.

Having lost the woman that it becomes clear now not only loved him but bore a son he seems to develop even greater tragedy.

What you start to suspect is that Anton might be that lost son and the end of the author’s life was one of those numerous clashes between individual intelligence and the state.

More tomorrow…

Lines of Fate – post II

This is tough going. Half the time, and there’s no point trying to pretend otherwise, it is hard to know exactly what is going on. That is not just because the two different stories of the author and the student researching him are being blurred but also because of the style of writing.

this is written almost like snatched conversations with you as a reader being expected to fill in the blanks and engage with the story enough to keep on top of where things are going.

I have to confess that my skills as a tired reader picking this up on the way home from work are not up to the task.

As a result there seems to be some sort of obsession by Anton the student with the love of the author he is researching. There is also a moment when the student also discovers the taste of falling foul of the law as those desperate to get his aunt’s living space intrigue against him.

But most of the time it is often just words on a page dancing before your eyes and you are desperately hoping that things will click and you will get more of a handle on it.

Maybe that will happen tomorrow…

Lines of Fate – post I

There is something about literature when it is not easy. It challenges the way you read demanding more concentration and in some cases more imagination to make the jumps that the author is demanding of you. There are also tests of memory that you will only pass if you have been really concentrating.

In some respects this book reminds me of Georges Perec with a bold idea being laid down from the start and time shifting backwards and forwards enough to confuse from the first paragraph.

In Lines of Fate the story that starts to emerge is of a student who is writing a dissertation on an overlooked author who spent most of his life in both exile and enforced exile. Having found most of his works and sketched a biography of his life the student Anton Lizavin has almost completed his studies on Simeon Milashevich.

But he then discovers that the author used to write scraps of thoughts on the back of sweet wrappers because he did not have access to paper. These bits of paper are half thoughts and in some cases appear to be directly addressed to Anton making his quest for the real Milashevich far from finished.

There are red herrings with double identities and different names being used to describe the same person and place and you feel that Kharitonov is having fun with the reader mostly at your own expense as you struggle to navigate through to a point where you feel you have some handle on the story.

More tomorrow…