Vladimir Makanin is a professional outsider: someone who, like many of his heroes, has always lived on borderlines and resisted belonging. A Muscovite with strong roots in the Urals, an intellectual with a pronounced practical bent, Makanin has retained, in his writing, something of the austerity and rigour of his first profession, mathematics. Neither ‘official’ nor ‘dissident’, at odds with both his own generation of 1960s liberals—shestidesyatniki—and with the younger ‘School of Moscow prose’* to which critics, at one time, sought to assimilate him, Makanin was to write for almost two decades before finding a secure place in the literary mainstream.
To the combination of opposites which Makanin embodies, it is perhaps worth adding that, physically, he is a strong, vigorous-looking man who resembles, with his big frame and slightly Asiatic features, the Cossack grandfather whom he describes in the interview that follows. But he also walks with a pronounced limp, the result of a serious car accident in his early thirties which left him confined to bed for two years. The shock of this accident reverberates through Makanin’s writing, informing recurrent images of abandonment and helplessness. Yet many of his ‘weakest’ characters—the sick or simple-minded—prove to have a hidden strength, while, conversely, the physically strong may turn out to be impotent and doomed. Tatyana Tolstaya,† speaking of Makanin’s objectivity and ‘coolness’, has stressed the ‘masculinity’ of his work, a quality underscored by abundant imagery of hard, physical labour: digging, hacking, tunnelling. But a feminine principle is equally at work, finding in weakness a gift and a dignity.
Makanin’s peculiar status in life—as both member of and outsider in so many camps—may have contributed to the preoccupation, in his writing, with estrangement, loss, and the nature of belonging. But it has also afforded him a kind of
* See Introduction, p. xxi.
† Tatyana Tolstaya discusses Makanin’s work with Karen Stepanyan in Voprosy literatury, 2 (1988).