Saturday, June 25, 2022

Déjà Vu All Over Again: The 2022 Yasnaya Polyana Longlist

Another week, another award list. And another award list – this time it’s the Yasnaya Polyana longlist – that repeats many of the nominees found on previous award lists. But I shrug my shoulders (yet again!) since, well, awards and juries do what they do. Which is fine.

And so. This list contains thirty-seven books that fit many of the usual patterns. Thirteen of the titles (just over one third) were written by women. Twelve of them were published by Elena Shubina’s imprint at AST. Six of the thirty-seven books – by Belyakov, Danilov, Yermakov, Mamedov, Matveeva, and Sinitskaya – are on the 2022 Big Book shortlist. One – Shipingóv’s Stream (Стрим) – was shortlisted for the 2021 NatsBest and NOSE awards. Islam Khanipaev’s Типа я (Like, Me, perhaps?) was a 2021 NOSE finalist and a 2022 NatsBest finalist, though, alas, that NatsBest prize will never be awarded. And Yevgenia Nekrasova won the regional (“wanderer”) NOSE award for Кожа (Skin). I’m sure there are other repeaters that I could mention.

There are lots of other familiar names on the list: Alexander Ilichevsky, Andrei Volos, Alexander Snegirev, and Alla Gorbunova… But there are also a few names I’d never heard. And since the new-to-me writers (and publishers, too) are what I enjoy most about longlists, I’ll mention a few that arouse my curiosity:

  • Sakhib Shikhmirzaeva’s В ритме гоор (In the Goor Rhythm? “goor” is an Avar dance) sounds like a family saga set in Dagestan. Shikhmirzaeva mentions in an interview that Vladislav Otroshenko, a YP juror and one of my authors, admired the book early on.
  • Denis Sobelyov’s Воскрешение (Resurrection) sounds like an epic of a historical novel (928 pages!), looking at a brother and sister during the 1980s and 1990s (plus perhaps family history?) with settings all around the world.
  • Anastasia Astafyeva’s Для особого случая (maybe something like For a Special Case?) is a collection of short stories. Her surname is familiar because writer Viktor Astafyev is her father. The title story of the collection is here… may I’ll read it and resolve the question of the title!
  • Artem Lyakhovich’s Логово Змиево (The Zmiev Lair or somesuch, since Zmiev is apparently a toponym) sounds like a fantasy novel about a pianist who’s so caught up in his own world that he doesn’t notice a coup. Lyakhovich is a Ukrainian writer (primarily of children’s books – he’s won three Kniguru awards) and, yes, a pianist, too.

On that happy note, I’ll remind you that you can find this list of books on the Yasnaya Polyana site (with links to descriptions that are far better than mine!), here.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Two of “my” authors are jurors for this award. I know some of the authors on the list.

Up Next: Yes, I will get to the books I’ve read! (I’d planned to start on that today… but then came this list.) Maybe I’ll start with the two on this list that I’ve read in full: Danilov’s Hey, Sasha! and Bogdanova’s Season of Poisoned Fruits. Both are very good.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The 2022 Big Book Award’s Short Finalist List

The Big Book Award released its list of finalists last week: ten books made the list. The list is a bit short for a Big Book finalist list, which maxes out at fifteen, according to rules and regulations. The list leaves me scratching my head a bit more than Big Book lists from recent years past. I’m very happy for the authors and publishers who made the list – the books by Danilov, Mamedov, and Sinitskaya particularly appeal to me – but I’m very sorry it doesn’t include a few more new author names or small publishers. I’m especially sorry that (yes, here I go again!) only three of the ten books were written by women.

Of course it’s an annual ritual to complain about award lists and winners, particularly for the Big Book since, well, it’s so big and publicized. But this year’s list feels sadder and safer than most, particularly because so many of the finalists are repeaters and five finalist slots went unused. Vera Bogdanova’s Season of Poisoned Fruits, which I think is very, very good, deserved recognition and I thought Natalia Repina’s Lev: A Life (previous post) was very good, too. Bogdanova’s Season and Tatyana Zamirovskaya’s Смерти.net (her literary agency calls it The Deadnet), which I have not yet read, have both been mentioned in a few of the social media posts I’ve seen that ask, “How could they not have included…?” In any case, rather than complain even more about a list that I can’t change, I’ll just add the Mamedov and Sinitskaya books to my personal wish list.

And so…

  • Pavel Basinsky’s Подлинная история Анны Карениной (The True Story of Anna Karenina) is, as I wrote on the NatsBest end-of-season post, apparently just what it purports to be.
  • Sergei Belyakov’s Парижские мальчики в сталинской Москве (Parisian Boys in Stalinist Moscow) is also apparently just what it purports to be: nonfiction about Parisian men (including Marina Tsvetaeva’s son, Georgy Yefron) and their life and times in Stalinist Moscow.
  • Alexei Varlamov’s Имя Розанова (The Name of Rozanov) is a biography of Vasily Rozanov.
  • Dmitry Danilov’s Саша, привет! (Hey, Sasha!) (text) is the only book on the list that I’ve read in full. Danilov is a friend and a perennial favorite author, and Саша, привет! is one of my favorite Danilov books. Hey, Sasha! concerns a man who’s committed a moral crime and is being punished in an odd way. Everything about the book hit me just right: form, content, and absurdity. And it just keeps feeling truer and truer…
  • Oleg Yermakov’s Родник Олафа (The Olaf Spring or Olaf’s Spring? (in the sense of a source of water)) (the beginning) is the first novel of a trilogy set in the distant past (the description mentions “ancient” Russia), apparently encompassing a journey (literal and figurative, I suspect) and childrearing as a boy, his father, and friends go to sell oak lumber (and fur?).
  • Ruslan Kozlov’s Stabat Mater (chapters) is set in a world where a pandemic kills only children.
  • It’s enough for me to know that Afanasy Mamedov’s Пароход Бабелон (The Steamship Babelon) (excerpt) is set in Baku in 1936. And that it blends genres. I thoroughly enjoyed Mamedov’s Frau Scar (previous post) so am looking forward to this one.
  • Anna Matveevas Каждые сто лет. Роман с дневником (Every Hundred Years. A Novel with a Diary) sounds like it blends two temporal and geographical settings in stories told by two women.
  • Sofia Sinitskaya’s Хроника Горбатого (I’m still guessing The Hunchback’s Chronicle here…) seems to combine history and fiction; it’s apparently set in Vyborg, a place I’ve ridden through on trains once or twice.
  • Guzel Yakhina’s Эшелон на Самарканд (Train to Samarkand) is summed up very well on the Elkost literary agency’s Web site, here.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: I’m taking time off (a year or two or three or forever, I haven’t yet decided) from serving on the Big Book Award’s jury. I know several of the authors on the list. And I’ve translated samples of Vera Bogdanova’s work as well as a Guzel Yakhina’s novel Zuleikha.

Up Next: The afore-mentioned Sasha, Privet!, Kirill Ryabov’s 777, Julia Kisina’s Bubush, Vera Bogdanova’s Season of Poisoned Fruits… and a couple others. There’s quite a pile here on the bookshelf…

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The 2022 Big Book Longlist

The Big Book Award’s 2022 longlist was released about two weeks ago but I’m still sluggish so here we (finally) are! This year’s list truly is long: 48 books. I’ve read three in full, have one in the cart, and am very interested in a bunch more. Only four authors are totally unknown to me, which is a bit of a disappointment since I’m always looking for new authors to read. Even more of a disappointment is that not even quite a third of the longlisted titles are written by women.

The shortlist should be announced by mid-June. For now, here’s a sliver of the longlist.

I’ll start with three books I read and enjoyed very much:

  • Vera Bogdanova’s Сезон отравленных плодов (The Season of Poisoned Fruits) explores the lives of three characters – three cousins whose parents hover in the background – as well as societal norms and events (notably terrorism) that formed their (millennial) generation. I particularly liked Bogdanova’s use of a dacha setting. I’ll be posting about this book soon.
  • A dacha settlement also figures prominently in Natalia Repina’s Жизнеописание Льва (Lev: A Life) (previous post), which was shortlisted for the 2021 Yasnaya Polyana Award.
  • Dmitry Danilov is a friend and a perennial favorite author. His Саша, привет! (I still hear this title more as Hey, Sasha! than Hi, Sasha!) concerns a man who’s committed a moral crime and is being punished in an odd way. Everything about Hey, Sasha! hit me just right: form, content, and absurdity. And it just keeps feeling truer and truer…
  • I’ll note that there’s one book on the list that I blogged about but didn’t finish: Timur Valitov’s Угловая комната (The Corner Room) (previous post). To keep the chain going: that post also describes a book by Sasha Filipenko who’s on the 2022 Big Book longlist for Кремулятор (The Cremulator), a novel that’s available online here and here.

What else? How about two slightly familiar titles that sound promising?

  • I have Ivan Shipnigֶóv’s Стрим (Stream), a 2021 NatsBest finalist, in the book cart. It sounds like a promising polyphonic novel.
  • Sofia Sinitskaya’s Хроника горбатого (The Hunchback’s Chronicle) combines history and fiction. Languagehat reported in a comment to my 2022 NatsBest shortlist post that “apparently the novel features the descendants of the crusader Thomas the Hunchback and the pagan weaver Ursula, for what that’s worth.”

Among the unknowns are:

  • Sergei Dmitrenko’s Салтыков (Щедрин) (Saltykov (Shchedrin)), a biography of none other than Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, whose absolutely crushing The Golovlyov Family I’d recommend to just about anyone.
  • All I need to know about Katerina Kozhevina’s Лучшие люди города (The City’s Best People, in the sense of “elite” though I’m not sure what would fit the novel’s tone) is that the geographical setting is Sakhalin Island, a favorite place, and the temporal setting is vague.

Finally, here’s something a bit unusual that I hope comes into being:

  • The book listed as “Manuscript No. 296” is На небе никого (There’s Nobody in the Sky, I guess?), which you can read about on this crowdfunding page. It’s described as “a book about people at war” and it combines photographs from Artur Bondar’s collection with texts by Ksenia Buksha that are based on diaries and recollections. I hope it receives funding.

There are plenty of other books on the list that sound promising, including several that I’ve read in part (some await my return…) but I’ll leave further explorations to you!

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. I served on the Big Book jury for seven seasons; I left the Literary Academy this year, though, something I’d been contemplating for a year or two. On another note, the Big Book longlist isn’t the award’s only news: Georgy Urushadze, who headed up the organization that ran the award and is also the person who invited me to join the jury, recently left his job. I’m very grateful to him for the opportunity to become part of Big Book.

Up Next: I truly do plan to write more about books I’ve read! I’ve promised posts about several, among them Danilov’s Sasha, Kirill Ryabov’s 777, and Bogdanova’s Season… and there are a few more. I swear I’ll get to them soon.



Saturday, April 16, 2022

National Bestseller Award Ends 2022 Season With Sort of a Shortlist

In an unusual but – considering the times – unsurprising turn of events, the National Bestseller Award announced a six-book shortlist on April 11, adding that no prize will be awarded this year. Vladislav Tolstov’s commentary on the shortlist (which he says, in my paraphrase, is not so much a shortlist as final ratings of books that attracted jurors’ attention) ends with uncertainty about the future of NatsBest.

Have written (and attempted to digest) that, I think I’ll just stick to what we know, which is that the six books I’ll list below tallied the most points when NatsBest’s “big jury” voted. I’ll also remind readers that the NatsBest site archives jury members’ reviews.

Here’s the not-a-shortlist for 2022:

  • Kirill Ryabov’s Фашисты (Fascists) is a collection of short stories. (7 points) 
  • Sofia Sinitskaya’s Хроника Горбатого (The Hunchback’s Chronicle?) sounds like it combines history and fiction; it’s apparently set in Vyborg, a place I’ve ridden through on trains once or twice. (7 points)
  • Islam Khanipaev’s Типа я (The first-person narrator constantly uses “типа,” which is like “like,” so maybe Like, Me or something similar, though this title makes my head ache!) is the diary of an eight-year-old boy trying to figure out the world. It was a NOS(E) Award shortlister last season. (7 points)
  • Pavel Basinsky’s Подлинная история Анны Карениной (The Real Story of Anna Karenina) is apparently just what it purports to be. (6 points)
  • Yulia Kisina’s Бубуш (Bubush) is an abstract, metaphysical sort of book… (6 points)
  • Sergei Avilov’s Капибару любят все (Everybody Loves a/the Capybara, I guess?) involves a forty-year old man who goes to the Barents Sea with a woman. It sounds like there may not be any capybaras in the book. No wonder it totaled… (5 points) rather than 50!


Up Next: Well, yes, I think I’m back, at least sort of. I have been reading, albeit not at my usual pace and generally preferring novels that are heavy on plot since this year’s been a tough one from the very first week and never quite seems to get much easier. In any case, I do hope to at least write a roundup post soon! 

Disclosures and Disclaimers: The usual. And knowing a few people involved with some of these books.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

The 2022 National Bestseller Award Nominees/Longlist

Every year I write about how much I enjoy sifting through the National Bestseller Award’s list of nominees (a.k.a. the longlist), which usually consists of several dozen books, most of which I’d never heard of. This year’s list, announced yesterday, fits the usual pattern, though I think I’ve read more of the nominees than usual. Two! My next post, in fact, will likely be about those books, which were two of my favorites from 2021. There are forty-seven NatsBest nominators this year and it appears there are forty-seven books nominated, about fifteen of them written by women.

I’ll start with the two books I’ve already read in full:

  • Dmitry Danilov’s Саша, привет! (I hear this more as Hey, Sasha! than Hi, Sasha! for some reason) concerns a man who’s committed a moral crime and is being punished in an odd way. Danilov’s a favorite writer and the form, content, and absurdity of Hey, Sasha! hit me just right. 
  • Kirill Ryabov’s 777, about a man who gets instantly rich when an ATM goes haywire, made me laugh out loud more than just about anything else (other than maybe Ulysses?) I’ve read in recent years. Absurdity wins the day again. (And I learned that “777” denotes more than just cheap wine. Having never been to Vegas, I had no idea.)

I’ve also read two nominees in part:

  • Ksenia Burzhskaya’s Мой белый (My [Beloved Color] White, perhaps since white covers the whole spectrum?) is about a girl and her two mothers, who have broken up. I intend to finish reading.
  • Timur Valitov’s debut novel, Угловая комната (The Corner Room), is about a young man who returns to his native city after his father dies (previous post).

And then there are forty-three more… There are so many – including so many by authors I know and/or have read – that I picked a few pretty randomly by scrolling up and down the page and pointing at the screen (while looking away!). It’s quite a variety:

  • Having claimed randomness, I confess that I deviated on choosing this one: Sasha Filipenko’s Кремулятор (The Cremulator), which is in manuscript (and nominated by Vremya publisher Boris Pasternak), stood out because I had no idea what the title means, though the root is certainly a clue. Brrr!
  • Vera Bogdanova’s Сезон отравленных плодов (literally something like The Season of Poisoned Fruits, I guess) isn’t quite out yet, though it’s on the way; I have no idea what it’s about but after reading Bogdanova’s Pavel Zhang and Other River Creatures and translating a sample (previous post), I’m looking forward to it.
  • The description of Aleksandr Velin’s Сердце Демидина (The Heart of Demidin or Demidin’s Heart?) is a bit vague: it’s apparently about the late USSR with a heavy dose of (European) myth mixed in. The KGB is mentioned in early pages I looked at online. So: ?
  • Pavel Basinsky’s Подлинная история Анны Карениной (The Real Story of Anna Karenina) is apparently just what it purports to be.
  • Valery Pecheikin’s Стеклянный человек (literally The Glass Person) is described (in a Russian phrase that I’ve translated) as “splendid intellectual standup where the topic is life itself.” Apparently brief essays/vignettes (as in his previous book, which I have) with a play at the end.
  • Dasha Blagova’s Южный ветер (A Southern Wind? The Southerly Wind? Lots of options here…) is utterly mysterious; it’s only available in manuscript but a print version (with “18+” on the cover) is apparently on the way from a small publisher.
  • Finally, Tatyana Mlynchik’s Ловля молний на живца (hm, I think I’ll go for the easy way out, though it’s probably not very correct: The Human Lightning Rod) is about a schoolgirl with enough electricity in her body that she can charge phones and other devices.

Up Next: Danilov and Ryabov.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual, including knowing some of the nominators and nominees and having received electronic versions of a few of these books from authors or agents.