The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson
Publication date: May 24, 2016
Hardcover: 400 pages
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours for an honest review
This tantalizing possibility drives The Summer Guest, a spellbinding story that draws together, across two centuries, the lives of three women through a moving, mysterious diary.
During the long, hot summer of 1888, an extraordinary friendship blossoms between Anton Chekhov and a young doctor named Zinaida Lintvaryova. Recently blinded by illness, Zinaida has retreated to her family’s estate in the lush countryside of eastern Ukraine, where she is keeping a diary to record her memories of her earlier life. But when the Chekhov family arrives to spend the summer at a dacha on the estate, and she meets the middle son, Anton Pavlovich, her quiet existence is transformed by the connection they share. What begins as a journal kept simply to pass the time becomes an intimate, introspective narrative of Zinaida’s singular relationship with this writer of growing fame.
More than a century later, in 2014, the publication of Zinaida’s diary represents Katya Kendall’s last chance to save her struggling London publishing house. Zinaida’s description of a gifted young man still coming to terms with his talent offers profound insight into a literary legend, but it also raises a tantalizing question: Did Chekhov, known only as a short-story writer and dramatist, write a novel that has since disappeared? The answer could change history, and finding the manuscript proves an irresistible challenge for Ana Harding, the translator Katya hires. Increasingly drawn into Zinaida and Chekhov’s world, Ana is consumed by her desire to find the “lost” book. As she delves deeper into the moving account of two lives changed by a meeting on a warm May night, she discovers that the manuscript is not the only mystery contained within the diary’s pages.
Inspired by the real-life friendship between Chekhov and the Lintvaryov family, The Summer Guest is a masterful and utterly compelling novel that breathes life into a vanished world while exploring the transformative power of art and the complexities of love and friendship.
The Summer Guest is a beautifully written novel that lingers in the mind even after finishing the book. From the wonderful descriptions of the Russian countryside during the summer months; the examination of friendship; coming to terms with illness and death; to the search for answers by the translator, Ana and final mystery revelation, I was completely drawn in to the story and the lives of the characters.
The novel is told from three perspectives. There is the journal written by Zinaida Lintvaryova; the perspective of the translator of the journal, Ana; and the perspective of Katya, the publisher of the book.
Zinaida Lintvaryova was a young female doctor in Russia and a friend and confidant of Chekhov over two summers. She had recently gone blind from a terminal brain condition, and determines to keep a journal and hopes her young niece will read it one day. Through her journal entries, the reader learns about her relationship with Chekhov and his plans to write a novel. The novel that no one has ever found.
Ana lives alone in a small town in France. She takes the translation job that appeared in her inbox because she had worked for Katya's publishing company before and she needed the money. As she translates the journal, she gets more intrigued by the people and the idea of an unknown Chekhov novel. I really liked Ana's parts of the novel - I loved the descriptions of her quiet life and how she follows her own initiative to do some investigating of her own.
Katya is more mysterious. She is a Russian woman who lives in England with her husband and runs a struggling publishing company. Her sections of the novel are a bit more difficult to glean information from. There are pretty clearly some other things going on here, but it isn't clear until much later what the issues are. They need to publish the diary since they need the money to keep the company afloat - but there isn't enough money to pay the translator fee - but they need the translation in order to publish.
I have to admit that I hadn't read Chekhov - until reading The Summer Guest. A terrible thing to have to confess, but it was true. While reading the novel, I found some of his stories and plays and began reading. I love that I felt like I had read him already just from reading The Summer Guest. I think that the novel will bring more readers to Chekhov's work.
I found The Summer Guest to be a book to be read slowly and savored, not one to speed through. The writing is just beautiful and while the story is sad and poignant, it is also hopeful, respectful, and thought provoking. I loved the whole premise of the book and was impressed at how well it all worked. There is a bit of a twist and I loved that too. The Summer Guest made it to the top of my list of books to recommend to friends.
About Alison AndersonALISON ANDERSON, a native Californian, works as a literary translator in the Swiss Alps. Her many translations include the Europa edition of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Ingrid Betancourt’s memoir, and the work of JMG De Clezio. She has also written two previous novels and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship, as well as fellowships at the prestigious MacDowell Colony and the Hawthornden Retreat for Writers.
Find out more about Alison at her website.
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