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  • Les Sept Mariages D'Edgar Et Ludmilla by Jean-Christophe Rufin
  • Ann Williams
Rufin, Jean-Christophe. Les sept mariages d'Edgar et Ludmilla. Gallimard, 2019. ISBN 978-2-07-274313-9. Pp. 384.

It is 1958. An adventuresome Edgar, barely in his twenties, goes with friends into the Soviet Union to write an article on communism. He sees Ludmilla, perched high in a tree, and he falls in love. Thus begins this chronicle, one that traverses 50-odd years, showing France in crisis, France "glorieuse", France as seen from the perspective of rich and poor. And Edgar and Ludmilla? We see them in those ways too, glorious and in crisis, impoverished and on top of the world, and, as Rufin's well-chosen title suggests, married and divorced. This novel, which looks suspiciously like a biography, is recounted by a narrator who nudges us toward believing that Edgar and Ludmilla are real. This inquisitive and passionate "researcher" is the son-in-law of the couple whose lives he lays bare. It is a joy, as a reader, to allow oneself to be almost persuaded that Edgar and Ludmilla figured in newspapers and in magazines with big headlines and photos of stars. Why? Because Edgar and Ludmilla are "those kind of people" and this novel really is all about them. Edgar, while charming and lovable, is a shady individual who clambers his way up from nothing. He dabbles in rare book fraud, hotels of questionable repute and business deals of all kinds. He is very successful on the national and international stage (figuratively speaking), except when his business acumen gets him into trouble, resulting in jail time or flight to parts unknown. As for Ludmilla, brought to France from Ukraine by Edgar, she shines on a literal stage when at the Paris Opera she unexpectedly astonishes the audience and is launched into an operatic career. Her singing brings her sublime moments and devastating failures like the ups and downs of her husband. Her reputation rivals that of Maria Callas in the way Edgar's matches that of Bernard Tapie, personalities to whom Rufin refers as he paints a realistic picture of the times. But this is, after all, a novel, and Rufin does not hesitate to resort to some common literary tricks to keep us on tenterhooks. The narrator, who sometimes knows more than he logically should, is a bit too present and his repetitive use of blatant foreshadowing is tiresome. This being said, the novel reads smoothly overall, which creates a delightful contrast to the plot in which Edgar and Ludmilla manage to divorce and remarry on a regular basis. As Edgar says, "Nous avons beaucoup pratiqué le mariage" (360). A marriage of convenience and then a divorce. A media event and a silent dissolution. A child and an affair. And so on. Passion, financial interest, revenge, love, fear, joy, all of these are reasons enough for Edgar and Ludmilla to come together and to pull apart. We feel lucky to be present as the intimate drama unfolds and as the epoch runs its course. We are especially fortunate to bear witness to a world in a time of change and to the volatility of the human heart. [End Page 251]

Ann Williams
Metropolitan State University of Denver (CO)


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