Locked behind the Iron Curtain, a young boy grows up bewitched by his French grandmother’s memories of Paris before the Great War. On her balcony overlooking the Siberian steppes, Charlotte Lemonnier fires her grandson’s imagination with tales of the great flood in 1910, of Proust playing tennis in Neuilly and the President dying in the arms of his mistress, of avenues lined with chestnut trees and elegant cafes.
Charlotte’s vision of a paradise lost, though, is overlaid by her subsequent experience. As her grandson grows older, he learns how this remarkable woman survived the Russian revolution’s aftermath, Stalin’s purges and the horrors of the Second World War, gaining from her a portrait of the country drawn with an outsider’s eye. Yet for all the monstrosities of his native land, he realises he is proud to be Russian. Torn between two cultures, as an adolescent he turns his back on all things French. Then in his twenties he abandons the Soviet Union and eventually reaches Paris – where a startling revelation awaits him.
This luminous, haunting novel traces a sentimental and intellectual journey that embraces the dramatic history of this century.