Sunday, April 19, 2015

One Shortlist (NatsBest), One Long List (Big Book)

Last week was so packed with work that I came close to missing the National Bestseller Award (NatsBest) shortlist: thank goodness for some somnambulant scrolling on Facebook! To make this a double-your-pleasure week, the Big Book Award’s long list was released, too. Here are highlights:


The NatsBest shortlist came, as usual, with the point totals each finalist gathered during first-round voting. I’ll rework some of my own descriptions from my post about the long list.

  • Sergei Nosov’s Фигурные скобки (Curly Brackets) (19 points): Described by fellow finalist Anna Matveeva as magical realism about a mathematician who goes from Moscow to Saint Petersburg for a conference of микромаг-s. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that Matveeva Googled “congress of micromagicians”—that’s what the word looks like, though for some reason I like the sound of “microwizard” better—and found several thousand links to appearances by various sorts of magicians. Some English-language Googling brought up the term “micromagic,” a word I’d never heard, though of course I know very little about magic in general. Point of interest: according to Wikipedia, “micromentalism is mentalism performed in an intimate session.” I enjoyed one of Nosov’s books but abandoned another, and this one sounds just crazy enough that it might work. Apparently the 19 points Nosov’s book earned is a NatsBest record.
  • Oleg Kashin’s Горби-дрим (Gorby-Dream) (6 points): Yes, a book about Gorbachev by a journalist.
  • Anna Matveeva’s Девять девяностых (Nine from the Nineties) (6 points): Short stories. Some, including (apparently) this one, were written for Snob. I thought some of Matveeva’s stories in an earlier collection were very decent.
  • Alexander Snegirev’s Вера (Vera, a name and noun that translates as Faith) (6 points): A short novel about a forty-year-old woman who is unmarried. Snegirev’s Facebook description, posted at the time of the NatsBest long list, includes words like dramatic, comic, erotic (a bit), and political (a little). I’m looking forward to reading it. Starting tonight.
  • Vasilii Avchenko’s Кристалл в прозрачной оправе (Crystal in a Transparent Frame) (5 points): This book’s subtitle is “lyrical lectures about water and stones,” and Avchenko apparently covers many aspects of life in Vladivostok, including fish(ing), as in this excerpt.
  • Tatyana Moskvina’s Жизнь советской девушки (Life of a Soviet Girl) (5 points): Apparently a memoir about life in Leningrad during the 1960s through 1980s, with lots of detail. 

As for the Big Book’s long list, well, it is long, weighing in at 30 books, so I’ll just pick out a few points, though they’re probably the dullest points since they leave out the writers who are new to me: I’ve only read about half the writers on the list.

  • Four authors are on the afore-mentioned NatBest shortlist, for the same books: Sergei Nosov, Anna Matveeva, Alexander Snegirev, and Tatyana Moskvina.
  • There are several authors I’ve read in the past, beyond Nosov, Matveeva, and Snegirev: Elena Bochorishvili (Только ждать и смотреть/Just Wait and Watch), Alisa Ganieva (Жених и невеста/Bride and Groom), Andrei Gelasimov (Холод/Cold), Eduard Limonov (Дед. Роман нашего времени/Grandfather. A Novel of Our Time), Viktor Pelevin (Любовь к трем цукербринам/Love for Three Zuckerbrins), Dina Rubina (Русская канарейка/Russian Canary), Sergei Samsonov (Железная кость/Iron Bone), Roman Senchin (Зона затопления/Flood Zone), and Aleksei Slapovskii (Хроника № 13/Chronicle No. 13).
  • There’s also one book I’m reading, albeit very slowly, in spurts: Guzel Yakhina’s debut book, Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes), a historical novel about a kulak woman who, in my reading, currently appears to be on her way to exile.

Disclaimers: The usual, with knowing a few of the writers on the lists and having received books from them or their agents.

Up Next: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov and Lena Eltang’s Cartagena, which is winding down with a surprise ending. The 2015 translation list and perhaps even, hmm, the first in a series of “Translation Notebook” posts, though I’m still working out that idea in my head.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fun with Cats: Starobinets's Catlantis

Sometimes I’m glad I hoard certain books for reading when I know I’ll need something fun and light. Case in point: Anna Starobinets’s Котлантида (Catlantis), which had been napping away on my shelf for several years, occasionally scratching for attention, until a few weeks ago. Catlantis, a children’s chapter book about a cat on a mission, was just the thing for a week that was too full of real-life existential questions (not to mention work on three books in various phases!) to read the sort of heavy-but-wonderful books I generally love so much. Beyond that, I’m glad to have read Catlantis before Jane Bugaeva’s translation comes out from Pushkin Children’s in October (PDF catalogue here, see page 14), just in time for holiday gift-giving.

Catlantis tells the tale of Baguette, a ginger cat who lives on the twelfth floor and loves to sit in the window birdwatching. Baguette doesn’t just watch birds, though: he’s also noticed Purriana, a slender, striped cat with a pink nose. Using Baguette’s family’s dog as a messenger, he and Purriana send each other notes—including Baguette’s poetry, which alludes to everything from Pushkin to favorite foods sources. Baguette, of course, has a competitor for Purriana’s velvety paw: the dreadful dump cat Noir.

Purriana agrees to marry Baguette if he can complete a quest assigned by her great-great grandmother: Baguette, who has powers for time travel, is to go to Catlantis and bring back a certain flower so cats can once again live nine lives. The book’s not very long so I’ll stop with the details here, though I will say that Baguette’s family misses him terribly while he’s away (they’d been planning to put bars on the window before he disappears) and Baguette, who’s of French descent, makes a stop in medieval Europe on his way back from Catlantis. Starobinets includes lots of wonderful word play—I’m sure Jane had tons of fun with that—and even manages to work in questions of religion and belief, related, of course, to black cats.

For my part, Catlantis’s puns and observations of cat peculiarities made me laugh out loud when I really need to. On the more serious side, I appreciated the nine lives element since my real-life existential questions involved my grandmother’s last days: she lived 103 very full years, which must be the human equivalent of at least nine feline lives.

Up Next: Eugene Vodolzakin’s Solovyov and Larionov and Lena Eltang’s Cartagena, a complex murder mystery of sorts that I now seem to be reading slowly because I don’t want to finish it! Also, translators and publishers, please do send me titles and dates for this year’s releases: I’m hoping to post the 2015 translation list soon!

Disclaimers: The usual. I received my copy of Котлантида from Read Russia, thank you!

This post was approved by The Gang of Fur, Edwina and Ireland.