Another astonishingly beautiful story from Makine (Once Upon the River Love, 1998), this one unutterably sad, plumbing the depths of an ÇmigrÇ Russian mother’s despair at the course of her son’s sexual awakening during the bitter postwar winter of 1946 in rural France. Fittingly enough, Princess Arbyelina’s tragedy is related over the course of a long night by the gatekeeper at the cemetery where she’s buried. He starts by describing a summer scene of two wet bodies on a riverbank: one, Olga’s, alive but clothed in tatters and unmoving; the other, a corpulent, suited ex-Russian officer, freshly dead. How they came to be there involves the previous winter, the worst in a century, and the ÇmigrÇ community settled in an abandoned brewery nearby. Olga, a refugee battered in her flight from the Bolsheviks and abandoned by her husband in Paris, arrived with her young son shortly before the war began, keeping largely to herself while running the community library. By 1946, she has a poet-lover in Paris who no longer excites her and a restless, brooding teenager whose youth has been transmuted through the crucible of hemophilia. With the onset of winter, Olga begins sleeping in a strange, leaden manner, which she slowly realizes is the result of her son drugging her nightly tea. This discovery leads to another even more unthinkable, and as she grapples with a knowledge that she can share with no one, she finds herself unable to alter what’s going on. An end comes to it, finally—in the shape of a corpse on a riverbank—though for Olga that end brings the loss of what little grip on reality she has left. As chilling and finely charted a descent into madness as has ever been imagined, with many extraordinary moments along the way: all imbued with a wrenching combination of love and despair, fire and ice.