Gleb Alekseev’s Underground Moscow is a short novel about two groups competing to find Ivan the Terrible’s underground library. Underground Moscow is a moderately entertaining blend of underground adventure, Ivan’s terribleness, and a satirical depiction of Western involvement in Russian affairs. There’s even a method of hiding old regime diamonds that makes caching gems in upholstery, as in The Twelve Chairs, look downright pedestrian.
Moscow’s underground tunnels have popped up in lots of other fiction I’ve read, including one of Boris Akunin’s Fandorin novels and Aleksandr Ilichevskii’s Matisse, plus I remember reading about Moscow’s diggers when I lived in Russia… which is to say I think Underground Moscow must be the earliest piece I’ve read about the subterranean city. I should add that Gleb Alekseev seems little-known; he died in 1938, a victim of the Stalin-era terror. My collection of Alekseev’s work contains other novellas that I’m looking forward to trying. The History Channel has an almost hilariously sensationalist short segment about Ivan’s alleged library here.
I bought an electronic reader, an Ectaco Jetbook Lite: it’s low-cost ($85 from Newegg for the reader with a case and ear light), uses regular or rechargeable AA batteries, and reads Cyrillic without any coaxing. It’s very easy to load files to the reader from a computer; it seems to prefer text format (where it can even search for Russian words) but PDF and other formats work, too. Reading on the Jetbook is far more pleasant than I’d expected. The screen is sharp with good contrast, font size is adjustable, and there’s no flash when the pages turn. One downside is that the device seems to love deleting bookmarks; it didn’t like trying to search for a word on a PDF either.
One of you recommended Vsevolod Benigsen’s ГенАцид to me… my two usual book sites don’t have it in book form, so I timed myself downloading it to my Jetbook. It took a total of five minutes to copy and paste the journal version of the text from the journal Знамя’s page on Журнальный Зал to Word, then load and open the file on the Jetbook. I may be a big spender, though, and pay $1.54 to download the full book from kniga.com. Though my strong preference is to read books on paper contained within a cover, transferring legal copies of books from the Internet to the Jetbook is a great alternative to, well, nothing.
Speaking of Знамя, the journal honored winners of its annual awards on January 13, 2011. (news item) The fiction winners were: Timur Kibirov for his novel Лада или радость. Хроника верной и счастливой любви (Lada or Joy. A Chronicle of True and Happy Love), German Sadulaev for his novel Шалинский рейд (The Raid on Shali) (beginning) (end), Sergei Samsonov for his long story/novella Зараза (literally contagion, but something like Scum might work here…), and Olga Slavnikova for her novel Легкая голова (A Light Head) (beginning) (end).
Finally, the new Books from Russia site offers, among other things, writer biographies and book lists, plus several sample translations from the Rossica journal. Books from Russia is an Academia Rossica site/project produced with support from the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications.
Up next: New translations, 2010 and 2011. And some of Fazil Iskander’s Детство Чика (Chik’s Childhood) stories, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.