Sunday, March 8, 2009

All the (Old) News from Last Week

Hmm, last week was one of those weeks when there was so much Russian lit-related news that I could have written a post a day. Of course I didn’t. Atonement, in the forum of a summary:


Viktor Astaf’ev received, posthumously, the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn prize. Astaf’ev is probably best-known for his novels Проклятые и убитые (The Damned and the Dead), a nominee for 1993 Russian Booker Prize, and Печальный детектив (The Sad Detective). (His books in Russian, online)

The Russian Prize jury named its long lists of nominees for authors writing in Russian but living outside Russia. Many of the novelist names are unfamiliar, but I read Zinovii Zinik’s Mushroom Picker years ago in translation (it left a favorable impression) and remember Aleks Tarn as a 2007 Booker nominee. I also have a book of stories by Boris Khazanov on my shelf: a friend read and loved them. Here’s the full list of nominees for poetry, short prose, and long prose.

Politics & Books

A story from March 4th reports that Orlando Figes’s book The Whisperers, about life in the Stalin era, will not appear in Russian translation as planned. The Guardian has more, including Figes’s allegation that a Russian publisher, Atticus, cancelled publication for political reasons. Atticus cited business reasons – a focus on potential bestsellers rather than small print runs – for the cancellation. I thought The Whisperers was very good (previous post).

Meanwhile, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration accused writer Viktor Erofeev of extremism and Russophobia for his novel Энциклопедия русской души (Encyclopedia of the Russian Soul). Erofeev has always been controversial: I remember when, in the perestroika era, one Russian friend gave me a copy of Erofeev’s Русская красавица (Russian Beauty), which another friend denounced (without having read it) as trash. I have yet to read the book so don’t know if I think it’s trash or not, but I do wish “they” would just leave Erofeev and Sorokin and other writers in peace to write their books.



An item from March 5th reports that three new cultural institutions should open in downtown Moscow before 2010: a museum in honor of Mikhail Bulgakov, a cinema arts library named for Sergei Eisenshtein, and a museum honoring the family of film director Andrei Tarkovskii. Andrei Tarkovskii’s father, Arsenii, was a poet; he is buried in the same Peredelkino cemetery as Boris Pasternak.

Vasilii Aksenov underwent an operation last week for a blood clot. He had a stroke last January.

Believe it or not, Britains often lie about having read books. 1984 and War and Peace top the list of “books we pretend we have read.”


Speaking of War and Peace, which I truly am still reading… I’ll be writing a little less about War and Peace in the immediate future but I plan to start a new series, “Russian Writers: A to Я,” very soon. I’ll start with A, and continue through the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, listing a favorite prose writer and poet for each letter.

Oh yes, and happy International Women’s Day! Though there is still a thick layer of snow on the ground here in Maine, mud season is clearly underway, a sure sign of spring. Maybe the crocus will sprout soon. 

Viktor Astaf'ev on Amazon
Zinovii Zinik on Amazon
Boris Khazanov on Amazon
Orlando Figes on Amazon
Viktor Erofeev on Amazon
Vasilii Aksenov on Amazon

Photo from 13dede, via


  1. I own (but haven't yet read) a book by Khazanov; I wrote about it here.

    That Figes story is deeply depressing.

  2. Yes, I agree Languagehat, about the Figes story. Unfortunately, I read and hear far too many similar stories these days.

    I'm glad you added the link to your post about Khazanov -- what a funny coincidence that you found Naglfar in The New Yorker! And that we both have unread Khazanov books. I think this is a clear sign to transfer my Khazanov book, Пока с безмолвной девой, to the "Read Soon?" shelf.

    P.S. I see there is a Swedish "death metal" group called Naglfar.