Friday, March 12, 2010

More Mid-March Miscellany: 1 Nomination, 2 Adaptations, 1 Review, 1 Passing & 4 Reading Ideas

Sometimes I go for weeks without seeing any news related to Russian literature, but then there are weeks like this one…

1 Nomination. The most exciting news of the day was learning that Andrew Bromfield’s translation of Boris Akunin’s Коронация (The Coronation), published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is on the long list for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Coronation, a “high-society detective novel,” is one of my Fandorin favorites.

2 Adaptations. Dostoevsky made the front page of today’s New York Times, in the article “A 12-Hour Play, and Endless Bragging Rights,” about Peter Stein’s lengthy production of The Demons scheduled for the Lincoln Center Festival in July. At $175, including meals, it’s a good value, but I agree with some of the commenters who think 12 hours sounds, uhm, rather long. My husband thinks it sounds like a hazing ritual… In film news, reports here that Karen Shakhnazarov’s film version of Anton Chekhov’s Палата No. 6 (Ward No. 6) won the Manoel de Oliveira award at the Fantasporto film festival in Porto, Portugal. The film is set in the present but evidently preserves Chekhov’s plot. Mosfilm has a site here with information, including an English-language trailer.

1 Review. In contemporary fiction news, Gregory Freidin’s article-review of Aleksandr Terekhov’s Каменный мост (The Stone Bridge) is on TimesOnline here. Chances are good I won’t be writing about The Stone Bridge any year soon: I stopped reading on page 364 of 829. Freiden reveals aspects of the ending that confirm that I truly did quit reading while I was ahead. From what I can gather, readers either love or hate The Stone Bridge. Two friends loved it but I dreaded reading it. That’s always a bad sign. I can handle loathsome narrators (one reader I know mentioned misogynism), but the combination of loathsome and (okay, I’ll just say it!) boring was too much.

1 Passing. reported (here) that Russian poet Elena Shvarts died yesterday. A Russian-English book of Shvarts’s poetry, Birdsong on the Seabed, translated by Sasha Dugdale, was a finalist for the 2009 Rossica Prize. Wikipedia lists Shvarts’s translated works.

4 Recommendations. Finally, Elif Batuman, author of that other book called The Possessed (previous post), wrote a piece for The Daily Beast (here) recommending four modern classics of Russian literature. They are: Viktor Shklovskii’s ZOO, или Письма не о любви (ZOO, or Letters Not about Love), Andrei Platonov’s Джан (translated by Robert Chander and Olga Meerson as Soul), poet Osip Mandel’shtam’s memoir Шум времени (The Noise of Time), and Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms.

Oddly, two of these books – ZOO and Soul – have come up recently in dinner conversations with friends. Did I read ZOO years ago? I don’t remember for sure, though I know I read some of Shklovsky’s literary theory as well as his Сентиментальное путешествие (Sentimental Journey) for courses. And Soul, which a friend liked very much, came up right after I posted (here) a link to an interview in which Robert Chandler discusses Platonov. Unfortunately, Chandler’s introduction to Soul (PDF here) indicates that I don’t have the full text of the Russian original of Soul. Even so, I’m thinking I may read it before delving into Чевенгур (Chevengur), which is over 400 pages long.

The Coronation on Amazon

Dostoevsky's Demons, Devils & Possessed on Amazon

Batuman's The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them on Amazon

Shklovsky's Zoo, or Letters Not About Love on Amazon

Shvarts's Birdsong on the Seabed on Amazon

Platonov's Soul: And Other Stories on Amazon

Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms


  1. Have you read the last Akunin's book "Вся жизнь театр"? What do you think about it?

    And, you know, Akunin's books is not real literature.

  2. And coult you dawnload and watch it:
    It's a cool!

  3. As it happens, I've just started Чевенгур, which I'm enjoying tremendously (well, with the inevitable caveats about the word "enjoying" when applied to Platonov's often depressing material!).

    And, you know, Akunin's books is not real literature.

    That's silly, there's no sense trying to draw a line between "real literature" and "not real literature." Just because Akunin can be enjoyed by the average reader does not make him some kind of lower-class phenomenon. Do you also consider Москва-Петушки "not real literature"?

  4. Well, I like Akunin but his books is a kind of comics. It's a literary game, belles-lettres.

  5. @Kolokolcev, no, I have not read Вся жизнь театр -- have you read it? My Akunin reading is limited to the Fandorin books and a Pelageia book.

    Like Languagehat, I have a difficult time labeling books or writers as "real" or "not real" literature. I agree that Akunin plays all sorts of literary games in his Fandorin books: he created a series of postmodernist detective novels that allude to Russian classics. I don't see why they can't be considered literature!

    @Languagehat: I'm glad to hear you're enjoying (as it were) Чевенгур.

  6. Yes, I've read it. Correct name is "Весь мир театр". It's another book about adventures of Erast Petrovich.
    "A theatrical mystery. The 55-year-old Fandorin has his life turned upside-down when investigating strange incidents in a fashionable Moscow theater."
    Well, It's not bad at all. But "The State Counsellor" is my favorite novel.

    I could send it by e-mail to you if you wish.

  7. I mean "Весь мир театр".

  8. Kolokocev, I don't think Akunin chose a very memorable title for his book! It's funny: I've seen the real title many, many times on book sites, and you read the book but... both sound "right," probably because of the varied translations of Shakespeare.

    Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I'm not sure which of the Akunin books is my favorite... I liked Коронация (Coronation) quite a bit but liked Статский советник (The State Counsellor) very much, too. And the last two books, the lovers of death. I might like Декоратор (The Decorator) the best, though, since I think it's the key to the whole series.