The Goncourt prize in France seems to be drawn to Russian writers who can write French better than many French natives.In 1938 it was awarded to Henri Troyat (né Lev Aslanovitch Tarasov) for his L’Araigne. He later became a Member of L’Académie Française. In 1956 and again in 1975 it was awarded to Romain Gary (né Roman Kacew). And more recently, in 1995, André Makine (a.k.a. Gabriel Osmonde) received this prestigious prize.Had Nabokov been the son not of an Anglophile but of a Francophile, we would probably have another example.Le Testament français is my first novel by Makine. It is also his first novel. I am grateful to Fionnuala who drew it to my attention.This book is autobiographical in a roundabout way since it is in the narration of his own early life that the narrator focuses on the account of someone else’s life, the life of his grandmother. And it is in so doing that the narrator can eventually find himself.This book has appealed to me in many ways. First and foremost there is its language. Le testament is one of those books that leave a taste in your mouth because its language is so beautiful that you want to detain its words for a little while longer and savor them. The tale is that Makine, when seeking to publish his work in France, had to invent a fictional translator because editors could not believe that such splendid writing in French could be authored by a foreigner.The second appeal is that ever since I read in my teens, and reread later on, [b:Le Grand Meaulnes|794779|Le Grand Meaulnes|Alain-Fournier|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1178422620s/794779.jpg|51583] by Alain-Forunier, I have developed a weakness for stories narrated by a young person in the French provinces and taking place either just before WWI or during the interwar period. They embody for me, fully, the meaning of the word nostalgia, even if this perfect nostalgia is extraneous to me since neither the period nor the geography belong to my lived experiences.And finally there is the added theme of the mixed nationalities as a determinant in the formation of the self. These correspond to two countries standing at opposite cultural poles, and yet with many historical links. The young narrator is torn between the dreamed France with its scenes of sophisticated and exquisite Salons and cultural cafés or delicious countryside, and the tangible and rough Russia in the process of transforming itself into a Stalinist state, with its harsh scenes of severe poverty, disturbing cruelty and inhospitable steppes.In this search for the self through the memories of someone else, the young narrator will try to collect cues from all possible sources and gradually finish the puzzle of his existence, even if some of these hints insist, like it so often happens with old photographs, to remain stubbornly mute.Le testament français is a cherishable read and I recommended it to any lovers of Proust. Not only is Marcel Proust mentioned twice in the novel as the epitome of the dreamed refined Paris, but the Proustian themes of memories and self searching are consciously explored here again. This time they are given the new element of the divergent pull from both the Russian and French cultures. It is as if this novel were a deliberate tribute to Proust and his French writing, as felt by a Russian soul.Wonderful.-------It has been translated into English (truly)as [b:Dreams of My Russian Summers|135158|Dreams of My Russian Summers|Andreï Makine|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347769108s/135158.jpg|130243]. It is noteworthy that they have chosen the other cultural pole, the Russian not the French, for the English title. I find that this translated title is too prosaic and has lost the evocative power of the original. I hope the rest of the translatio has captured the original lyrical tone.