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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lizka and her Men

Alexander Ikonnikov

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Lizka and her Men

Title: Lizka and her Men
Author: Alexander Ikonnikov
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Lizka and her Men - US
Lizka and her Men - UK
Lizka and her Men - Canada
Lizka et ses hommes - France
Liska und ihre Männer - Deutschland
  • First published in German, as Liska und ihre Männer
  • Russian title: Лизка и еë мужчины
  • Translated by Andrew Bromfield

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing but ultimately too sketchy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 13/11/2003 Andreas Rosenfelder
The Guardian . 14/4/2007 Catherine Taylor
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 9/10/2003 Adam Olschewski
Die Zeit . 25/9/2003 Rolf-Bernhard Essig

  From the Reviews:
  • "Man müßte diesen Roman als erzählerischen Tribut an die Trostlosigkeit betrachten, als knatternden Stummfilm der Jetztzeit, vollzöge nicht das Schlußkapitel eine wilde und vollkommen überraschende Drehung." - Andreas Rosenfelder, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This sparkling, outlandish book, the first of Alexander Ikonnikov's works to be translated into English, is warmed through with vodka, memorable characters, poetry, humour and wisdom. It is as much a sharp observation of Russia at the time of perestroika as of the pragmatic Lizka's emotional development." - Catherine Taylor, The Guardian

  • "Perlen im Roman stimmen vollends versöhnlich: ein Dialog zwischen Liska und ihrer Mutter, der in acht Zeilen durch vier Jahre springt, eine grandiose russische Hochzeit mit lustvoll zelebrierten Ritualen, dann endlich eine Fülle von Situationen und Orten, so unbeschönigt lebendig beschrieben, dass man handwerkliche Mängel darüber vergisst." - Rolf-Bernhard Essig, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lizka and her Men is a short, fast novel about Liza -- called Lizka -- Ogurtsova, born in a small town in central Russia in 1970. The men in her life do figure prominently -- it's the men that lead to most of the changes in her life -- but Lizka is very much the central figure. Focussing on her life after she leaves sleepy Lopukhov at age seventeen, Lizka and her Men is also a novel about the perestroika-era, and the changes in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
       Her father already sets the tone for the book: he's notable for little more than his absence, letting Lizka down and forcing Lizka's mother into a rather sordid life of what amounts to prostitution. Unimpressed by sex -- if that's all there is to it she thinks after the first time, then: "I'm never going to love anyone" -- her relationships with men don't really work out from the very beginning, and it's already that that leads to her leaving home for the (relatively) big city.
       Lizka enrolls in nursing school -- pretty much for want of any other options -- and takes up with a series of men. They have their charm and appeal, but none is Mr.Right: one is a con-man, another well-connected and generous but unable to arouse true passion in her. She marries, too, but even that doesn't last -- though she takes up her husband's profession, becoming a trolleybus-driver.
       Things move fast, and Ikonnikov slides over the months and years -- sometimes very smoothly and effectively:

     "Where's our Daddy ?" three-year-old Lizka used to ask.
     "At the war, my little daughter."
     "But we're not at war with anyone !" five-year-old Lizka used to exclaim.
     "But our country has a lot of friends and we have to help them."
     "And why haven't I ever seen these friends ?" the seven-year-old girl used to ask.
       Elsewhere he seems content to offer what amounts to anecdotal story-telling, as if he couldn't be bothered to flesh things (or characters) out more. Still, it's in the asides and descriptions that much of the book's appeal lies, as Ikonnikov almost off-hand manages to convey much of life in those final years of the Soviet Union, and the first transitions beyond communism -- where, for example:
     The country had gone insane yet again. Following an old habit with roots going back centuries, they were demolishing the old without the slightest idea of what the new would be like.
       From Lizka's dorm-room when she gets to the big city (and living arrangements in general), to her dealings with officialdom, to the attempts of the trolleybus drivers to adapt to the new economy and new rules, Ikonnikov captures much of the Russian life in those times well.
       Ikonnikov also pulls a rabbit of sorts (or at least a pair of rabbit slippers) out of his hat towards the end of the book, as the author emerges from the background, presents himself in the first-person and describes his own wooing of Lizka, who thus shifts from relatively neutral (book-)subject to love-object -- putting what has come before in a new and different perspective.
       Ikonnikov has pieced together some very good material, and much is well and deftly written -- there's a good ear, and sense of humour, at work here -- but it remains too piecemeal, rather than full portrait. Lizka and her Men is enjoyable, and a show of talent, but not nearly everything it might have been.

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Lizka and her Men: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Alexander Ikonnikov (Александр Иконников) was born in 1974.

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© 2008 the complete review

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