I’ve read quite a few books and stories by Vladimir Makanin and found more than enough to consider him a favorite. The very first Makanin line that I read, the beginning of the story “Сюр в Пролетарском районе”(“Surrealism in a Proletarian District”), got me off to a great start: “Человека ловила огромная рука.” (“A huge hand was trying to catch a man.”) (I used the translation in 50 Writers: An Anthology of 20th Century Russian Short Stories.) The sentence fit my mood and the story caught me, too; I went on to read and love Makanin’s novellas Лаз (Escape Hatch) and Долог наш путь (The Long Road Ahead) (previous post).
Later, Андеграунд, или герой нашего времени (Underground or A Hero of Our Time) (previous post) took a couple hundred pages to win me over with its portrayal of a superfluous man for the perestroika era but I ended up admiring the book. Not everything from Makanin has worked for me, though: I didn’t like the Big Book winner Асан (Asan) (previous post) much at all, the Russian Booker-winning Стол, покрытый сукном и с графином посередине (Baize-Covered Table with Decanter) didn’t grab me, and I couldn’t finish Испуг (Fear), which felt like a rehashing of Underground. Despite that, I look forward to reading more of Makanin, especially his early, medium-length stories. A number of Makanin’s works are available in translation.
More M writers: I very much enjoyed Afanasii Mamedov’s Фрау Шрам (Frau Scar) (previous post) and want to read more of his writing, and I’d like to explore Dmitrii Merezhkovskii and Iurii Mamleev more, too… I’ve read only small bits of both and would be happy for recommendations.
In poetry, I’ve always enjoyed Osip Mandel’shtam, whose acmeist poetry was a big part of my graduate coursework. “Адмиралтейство” (“The Admiralty”) is a sentimental favorite, probably partly because it’s one of the first Mandel’shtam poems I read, partly because the Admiralty was a landmark for me when I spent a summer in Leningrad. Another: “Волк” (“Wolf”), which I analyzed a few years ago with a friend. I’ve also enjoyed reading Vladimir Maiakovskii, though I think I find him more memorable as a Futurist figure than as a writer.
As for the literary helpers: D. S. Mirsky’s A History of Russian Literature has been with me since the early ‘80s, when I first started reading Russian literature in Russian. My little paperback is water-stained, falling apart, and dusty-smelling. But it’s a classic on the classics, and I still use it. I should also mention Gary Saul Morson, who taught War and Peace to me twice, first in an undergraduate course on history and literature that also covered Fathers and Sons and Notes from the Underground, then in a graduate course on War and Peace. I didn’t realize then how much he’d taught me about reading, writing, literary criticism, and carnival. One day (one year?) I will read all of his Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time, in order, instead of picking up the book and reading random chunks, à la Pierre Bezukhov.
Up next: Iurii Buida’s Синяя кровь (Blue Blood), which I’ve been enjoying after a rough start with too many quirky names, then Dostoevsky’s Неточка Незванова (Netochka Nezvanova), which I’m reading as part of my preparation for speaking on a panel—with Marian Schwartz and Jamie Olson—at the American Literary Translators Association conference next month.
Image credit: Photo of Vladimir Makanin from Rodrigo Fernandez, via Wikipedia
A History of Russian Literature: From Its Beginnings to 1900 (an update I ought to buy [so the book doesn't make me sneeze]!)