New Fiction: The Summer Guest – Alison Anderson

The translator of the beloved and bestselling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog takes a turn as author this time. This historical novel is a lovely meditation on art and life propelled by the germ of a true story–the several summers the young Anton Chekhov spent holidays in the Ukrainian countryside on the cusp of his fame as a writer.  That becomes the launching pad for a second, modern plotline about a translator and publisher who are investigating Chekhov’s diary of that period in hope of uncovering a lost, unpublished novel by the master.

This thumbnail really doesn’t do justice to what a delicate and moving story this is. It really reminded me of how I felt after reading A.S. Byatt’s classic novel, Possession. Art, literature, mortality–the fraught and ephemeral nature of what moves us most deeply—it makes for a very satisfying experience. PW’s review below does do justice to the complex threads and themes of the story.

The Summer Guest received two starred reviews and is already scheduled for the NYTBR.

 This subtle and haunting novel…intertwines the lives of three women whose fragile worlds are on the edge of collapse. Katya Kendall, a Russian emigre, hopes the translation of a diary by an obscure Ukrainian doctor at whose family home Anton Chekov spent two summers will save her troubled British publishing house along with her marriage. Translator Ana Harding finds her solitude and her current worries temporarily set aside by both the beauty of the diary and the allure of possibly discovering an unpublished Chekhov novel. But the most piercing story belongs to the diary’s author, Zinaida Lintvaryova, or Zina, trapped by blindness and a deepening illness at her family home of Luka, on the river Pysol, in the year 1888, who finds reprieve in her notable guest, also a doctor, on the cusp on literary stardom….[R]eaders of any stamp can enjoy the melancholy beauty of a vanished world and the surprise twist that, at the end, offers what all three characters have been searching for—‘something completely unexpected and equally precious: another way of seeing the world.’”
Publishers Weekly

A gorgeous elegy to a great Russian writer…But Chekhov forms only one facet of this remarkable novel, which is also a moving account of three women separated by time, nationality, and geography and how each comes to terms with her own life…. Anderson’s characterizations…are delightfully complex, and she treats them with patience, sensitivity, and sympathy. Her prose is the height of elegance….An exceptional novel about the transcendent possibilities of literature, friendship, and contemplation.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This alluring and deceptively ingenuous novel demands close consideration from its readers, contains an internal mystery, and packs a heartbreakingly lovely emotional punch.”
Booklist (starred review)

“The blind doctor, Zinaida Lintvaryova, stays in my heart long after I close Alison Anderson’s beautifully written book. The young Chekhov himself cannot outshine Zinaida as she urgently explores life, science, art, family, and love, her passion defying death.”
— Helen Simonson

The Summer Guest is a great read for those interested in European Russian historical fiction as it dances back and forth in the past and present between the stories of three women.  Set in the summers of 1888 and 1889 we read the diary of a dying Ukrainian doctor, Zinaida and her friendship with a writer who spends his summers there working on his novel. Zinaida’s past connects to both the translator of her diary and the author trying to bring her stories to life again. Ziaida’s bravery and openness with her summer guest motivate the women of the present to move on with their own life and make their own adventures.”
— Cassie Bell, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

The Summer Guest (9780062423368) by Alison Anderson. $27.99 hardcover

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