Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Prizes: Russian Booker Short List & Yasnaya Polyana Winners

The 2009 Russian Booker Prize short list is in! The finalists:

Elena KatishonokЖили-были старик со старухой (Once There Lived an Old Man and His Wife) (excerpt)

Roman SenchinЕлтышевы (The Yeltyshevs) (beginning) (end)

Aleksandr TerekhovКаменный мост (The Stone Bridge)

Boris KhazanovВчерашняя вечность (Yesterday’s Eternity)

Elena Chizhova – Время женщин (A Time of/for Women)

Leonid IuzefovichЖуравли и карлики (beginning middle end) (Cranes and Dwarfs)

The most notable omissions from the short list are Andrei Gelasimov’s Степные боги (Steppe Gods) (previous post), which already won the 2009 National Bestseller, and Vladimir Makanin’s Асан (Asan) (previous post), the 2008 Big Book winner. has additional background here. Among the information: all the books have history themes and one judge says he had 11 names on this preliminary “short” list but the award’s rules stipulate that “short” means six. The winner of the 500,000 tax-free ruble prize will be announced on December 3, 2009.

Yasnaya Polyana award winners were announced on Monday, and they have a distinct northern feel. Vladimir Lichutin won the “Contemporary Classic” award. I wasn’t familiar with him until Monday… but quickly learned that his historical trilogy Раскол (The Schism) has received a lot of praise. One example: Vladimir Bondarenko’s list of 50 of the best twentieth-century Russian books includes The Schism. Bondarenko’s description mentions northern mysticism and calls the book a combination of fact, myth, legend, and мистерия, a Russian word that can refer to either secret rituals (usually pagan, I believe) or medieval religious drama… I think we call the latter miracle-play.

(A brief aside: Thank you to Languagehat for sending me the link to the Bondarenko list – it includes a lot of interesting picks. Some, like Master and Margarita and The Petty Demon, are old favorites, but others have stood on my shelves, unread, for too long. Those include Fadeev’s Разгром (The Rout) and Aleksei Tolstoy’s Петр Первый (Peter the Great).)

Yasnaya Polyana’s “21st century. Outstanding Work of Contemporary Prose” award went to Vasilii Golovanov for Остров, или Оправдание бессмысленных путешествий (The Island or Justification of Pointless Journeys), a nonfiction book that is evidently difficult to describe… terms like essay, philosophy, and exploration all pop up. Even a quick glance at the first page seems to confirm all those, as Golovanov mentions tundra and a chilly hotel room in Naryan-Mar.

This Российская газета article has more on the Yasnaya Polyana awards.


  1. Wow, more acclaim for Lichutin! That's surprising...
    I strongly disliked the one book I've read by him, "Миледи Ротман", which looked like a weird, thinly disguised "разлюли-малина"-style antisemitic rant to me.

  2. Alex, did you see this review of the book from Lev Danilkin? He calls it "блевотно" antisemitic in spots but also says Lichutin is a good writer. I don't know деревенщик literature very well at all, perhaps because certain tendencies in it make me nervous. This is complex to explain, but it is probably partly because I grew up in the country myself and have тяжёлое отношение with it...

    I find a certain irony in the Contemporary Classic award going to a writer who seems to be best-known for a trilogy about the Great Schism. I don't know anything at all about the politics of the Yasnaya Polyana award.

    Speaking of politics, I didn't have time to go into this when I wrote my initial post, but Bondarenko, the guy with the list of 20th-century favorites that includes Раскол, certainly seems to have his own slant on things: called him "критик из «патриотов», персонаж из иной, параллельной действительности." Not exactly surprising, given his work at Завтра and, previously, День. Which isn't to say I don't think his list includes a lot of good books. It does but his parallel reality shows painfully clearly when he says he thinks nobody mentions or publishes Babel anymore. That's absolutely absurd!

    There's much more I could write about all this but I'll stop here for now.

  3. I have fond memories of деревенщик literature from school years and there's much that I'd love to re-read as an adult. But Lichutin represents the darker, creepier side of it that I'd like to stay away from...

  4. Yes, exactly, Alex, it's the darker, creepier side that sometimes makes me nervous. I should have used "sometimes" in my comment yesterday!

    I'd love to hear which деревенщик literature you enjoyed as a school kid, even if you're not sure how you'd feel about it as an adult.

  5. Well, Шукшин is/was terrific.
    I've read the complete works at about the age of 12 & my memory of it is fuzzy, but I don't remember reading anything else quite like "До третьих петухов" and the short stories don't seem to have lost their grip on me. Astafyev's "Царь-Рыба" seemed wonderful. Rasputin's novellas ("Прощание с Матерой, etc), too. There's probably more that I'm forgetting...

  6. *is pleased to note that all those books are on the List*

  7. Thanks, Alex! I loved Shukshin's Калина красная -- somehow his darkness is the kind I like. I have more of his повести plus a small collection of short stories... as well as some Rasputin повести, which I am always meaning to read.

    Languagehat, if Калина красная isn't already on the list, I'll add it...

  8. Speaking of the creepy side of деревенщики literature - I just picked up Елтышевы, and it goes for that very feel.

    A story of the degradation of a dirt-poor Russian family that moves to a village with a hope of starting a new life... "Чернуха", basically.

    It's very short, but I don't feel like finishing it just because it's raw, unvarnished writing that's just a punch in the gut - and little more...

  9. That's interesting, Alex, about Елтышевы... I seem to (rather fuzzily) recall that his Нубук also included a character (or two?) going somewhere rural after business trouble in St. Petersburg. The book is about the time I lived in Russia, and I thought much of the atmosphere and details felt very true but, over all, I (and a friend who borrowed it) thought the book was just shruggingly okay as a piece of fiction. It sounds like there are similarities between Елтышевы and Минус, too.