Thursday, September 10, 2009

News Roundup: Survey Says, Awards, and Gulag

1. Survey Says: Master and Margarita! Please don’t ask me about survey methodology… but reported earlier this week that the research center of the portal polled 3,000 Russians and found that their favorite book was Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. Sixteen percent voted for M&M. Respondents were allowed to name several books.

Runner up was Lev Tolstoy’s War and Peace (see sidebar for previous posts on W&P) with 7 percent, followed by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, at 3 percent. Others on the list, with 1 percent: Dostoevsky’s Idiot and Brothers Karamazov, Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs, Aleksandr Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin, Mikhail Sholokhov’s Quiet Flows the Don, Aleksandr Griboedov’s To Woe from Wit, and Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls.

Foreign books were also eligible. The one-percenters: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Alexandre Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo and Three Musketeers, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and Erich Maria Remarque’s Three Comrades.

2. Yasnaya Polyana Award Finalists. The three finalists for the Yasnaya Polyana literary prize are: Vasilii Golovanov for Остров (The Island), Igor’ Malyshev for Dom (The House), and Roman Senchin for Елтышевы (The Yeltyshevs) (book in Russian: beginning end). writes that one of the prize’s jury members, Lev Anninskii, says the finalists were chosen because their books give Russian readers hope that the country will come out of its moral crisis.

The only writer of the three that I’ve read is Senchin: His Нубук (Nubuck) is about, yes, selling shoes in the 1990s. His Минус (Minus) has been translated into English, by Arch Tait. The publisher, Glas, has information and a link to an excerpt here.

The Rasskazy anthology I keep writing about contains a Senchin story, too, “Тоже история” (“History”), translated by Victoria Mesopir. The story has a documentary feel, first introducing a 62-year-old historian studying 1930s Germany, then placing him in the middle of contemporary Russian history, when he happens upon an opposition demonstration. Though the historical parallels felt a little too obvious for me and I’m not a big fan of meeting contemporary public figures in fiction, something about Senchin’s portrayal of the historian, a well-read man who is ignorant of his own country’s present, felt familiar and true.

3. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag in Schools. The New York Times, among others, reported that excerpts of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Архипелаг ГУЛАГ (The Gulag Archipelago) have become part of the Russian school program. (Times story, from the Associated Press, here.) OpenSpace notes (here) that the program for schoolchildren already included Solzhenitsyn’s “Матренин двор” (“Matryona’s Home”) and Один день Ивана Денисовича (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) (previous post on Ivan Denisovich).

Photo: “A sculpture of the cat Behemoth from the novel The Master and Margarita, on a wall in Andriyivskyy Descent, Kyiv,” 2005, from Wikipedia Commons, user Boulgakov.


  1. The results of that survey are pretty impressive; I shudder to think what a comparable survey of Americans would reveal.

  2. Ha ha, I'm glad you didn't ask about methodology, Languagehat! My first thought was about how they chose the respondents. I also thought the results were impressive and a little surprising. I guess I was most surprised to see so many Dostoevsky books on the list, even though they were one-percenters.

    In case you didn't click through to the article... and for those who don't read Russian... A couple things I didn't mention that were in the original article: 22 percent of respondents didn't respond with any book names, and 37 percent of the favorite book votes were "other," evidently meaning that they received fewer than one percent of the overall vote.

  3. Master and Margarita is one of the best books which I have ever read. Heart of a Dog also.

    But I have never read War and Peace:-) And I suppose most of the people in Russia have not read it too.

    So this poll is... m-m-m-m... Kind of rubbish:-)

  4. Offenbah, as much as I love War and Peace, I have no illusions that everybody read it in high school as they were supposed to!

  5. Please keep in mind that this is Russia not the USA. Our country doesn't work like your country:-) «Supposed to» means nothing here. Russia is supposed to be a democratic country but it's a form of tyranny. Our policemen are supposed to serve and protect but they kill and rob. Our children are supposed to read War and Peace in school but they don't give a shit about it:-)

    When we had our final exam we just paid our teacher and got our good marks. That's all. And everyone in every school, high school, college or university do the same thing. This is a system. This is how it works here.

    So trust me, most of the people in Russia have not read War and Peace.