- World War II in Andreï Makine's Historiographic Metafiction: "No One is Forgotten, Nothing is Forgotten" by Helena Duffy
Helena Duffy's study of the Russian-born French novelist and académicien Andreï Makine pursues a two-fold goal. On the one hand Duffy investigates the representation of World War II, a prominent topic in Makine's fiction, through a critical lens borrowed from postmodern theory. On the other hand, in Duffy's words, her book "sets out to explore the potential clash between the postmodern aura of Makine's novels and their curiously conservative political agenda" (VIII). The "curiosity" of this agenda stems from the fact that it runs counter to the progressive orientation that one would expect from a postmodern narrative. What, then, accounts for Makine's alleged "postmodern aura?" Relying mainly on Linda Hutcheon's notion of historiographic metafiction, Duffy argues that Makine seemingly undermines the notion of objective history by highlighting the textuality of historical knowledge through the use of multiple narrative frames and self-reflexivity. Eschewing totalizing grands récits, Makine mobilizes Lyotardian petits récits in order to challenge the triumphalist and reductive Soviet metanarrative about the war. Duffy focuses in particular on four thematic areas highlighted in Makine's novels: the war hero as victim, the war amputee, the Jew, and the survivor of the siege of Leningrad. [End Page 132]
Duffy's overall rhetorical strategy is the same in each of her chapters: she begins by pointing out Makine's seeming challenge to the Soviet war narrative only to then reverse her argument and arrive at the conclusion that, in reality, Makine reaffirms or reinscribes the Soviet (or Russian patriotic) myth rather than undermining it. Thus, even though the war hero featured in Makine's debut novel, La Fille d'un Héros de l'Union Soviétique, is presented as an abused victim of the Soviet authorities, the narrative nevertheless "posits the perpetuation of the cult of the war, with its heroines and heroes, as a desirable alternative to Russia's espousal of Western individualism, hedonism and mercantilism" (117). By the same token, the ubiquitous presence of maimed bodies in Makine's war fiction, which could be seen as an index of postmodern fragmentation, "nevertheless strives to create a sense of unity and wholeness when it nostalgically reinscribes the disintegrated polity of the Soviet Union and its legitimizing metanarrative" (121). While Makin, commendably, places some Jewish characters in his war stories, thus challenging the elision of the Holocaust and the Jewish fighters from official Soviet historiography, his approach is nevertheless marred by his assimilationist position, since, as Duffy argues, Makine's Jews "embrace a pan-Soviet identity which the author eulogizes and equates with Russianness" (161). Finally, while the novel Confession d'un porte-drapeau déchu "still offers a rather frank and nuanced image" of the Leningrad blockade, Makine's later novel La Vie d'un homme inconnu "is largely concomitant with the heavily romanticised, sanitized and heroised version of the encirclement promulgated in Soviet times" (197). Ultimately, according to Duffy, "Makine's keen interest in the Great Fatherland War stems precisely from his nostalgia for Soviet times" (40). Duffy's conclusion is less than flattering. As she puts it, "Makine seems to have reclaimed postmodern poetics to articulate a profoundly conservative agenda; authoritarian, anti-Western and even at times racist and antiSemitic in tone, his novels express a longing for a strong Russia that is protected from alien—that is Western—ideas, such as market economy, liberal democracy, racial equality or even feminism" (244).
It is hard to disagree with Duffy's characterization of Makine's political views, which he also openly expresses in media interviews and other public pronouncements. To some extent, Duffy's critique of Makine's representation of World War II amounts to listing "sins of omission." She notes, for example, that Makine glosses over such unsavory topics as the Soviet-Nazi collusion of 1939–41, the massacre of Polish officers in Katyn, or the rape of Polish and German...