Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ergali Ger’s Koma & the Long NOSE List

Two items this week: quick thoughts on Ergali Ger’s novella Koma (Coma) and then an abridged version of the NOSE award’s 2012 long list…

First, Koma/Coma: I think it’s safe to say that Koma falls into the category of чернуха (chernukha), that wrenchingly crushing naturalism I’ve mentioned so many times before: Ger tells the story of Komera (“Koma”) Protasova, a retired woman who loses everything when she joins a church. Like most of the other chernukha I’ve read, Koma feels painfully—for both better and worse—obvious because the reader senses impending doom. From Koma’s name, with its references to communism and mental incapacity, to the mysterious Teacher of Koma’s church who asks members to hand over their apartments so they can all eventually live in a church-built complex, it was clear Koma’s retirement years would be anything but utopian, communitarian, or golden.

Yes, Koma is obvious but it is quality chernukha—it was a finalist for the 2009 Belkin award and the title work of a collection shortlisted for the 2011 Yasnaya Polyana award—and Ger tells his story logically, building suspense as he shows how Koma’s life implodes. He also works in historical details like the default of summer 1998; no comfort there. Koma reminded me of Roman Senchin’s The Yeltyshevs, another chernukha piece that builds methodically, almost ploddingly, as it chronicles a family’s downfall. Though Koma is well-composed and suspenseful in its hair-pulling chernukha way (“What other tragedy could possibly befall these people?”), I certainly see why some (okay, even many) readers wouldn’t want to relive the darker sides of ‘90s memories via fiction about religious and housing crises. I thought Koma was absorbing but it didn’t show me much I didn’t already know... plus the experience of reading the book felt a little too reminiscent of watching a predictable haunted house movie (not a favorite genre) where the viewer wants to shout, “Don’t open that door!”

The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund’s NOSE Award Long List is the fun part this week: This grab bag of a long list contains 27 books—fiction, poetry, and nonfiction—so I won’t name them all, though I’ll mention the several I’ve read plus the books that are on my shelves. Then I’ll list all (I hope!) the other fiction…

First, the ones I’ve read, at least in part: I read and thoroughly enjoyed Alexander Ilichevsky’s Анархисты (The Anarchists) (previous post) but couldn’t wend my way through Sergei Nosov’s Франсуаза, или Путь к леднику (Françoise Or the Way to the Glacier), a book that’s already been shortlisted for the NatsBest and Big Book and longlisted for the Booker; alas, Nosov just couldn’t make a guy chatting with his herniated disc work for me. Books already on the shelves are: Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Захват Московии (The Capture of Muscovy), which a couple friends have enjoyed; Dmitrii Danilov’s Описание города (Description of a City), which I’m looking forward to; and Alexander Terekhov’s Немцы ([The?] Germans), which already won this year’s NatsBest. Three other familiar titles: Eduard Limonov’s В Сырах (In Syry) and Georgii Davydov’s Крысолов (The Rat Catcher) were both longlisted for the 2012 Russian Booker, and Vladimir Lidskii’s Русский садизм (Russian Sadism) was on the 2012 NatsBest short list.

The NOSE list contains a fair bit of nonfiction—based on quick glances, it looks like one book’s about Pelevin, another is about Russian business, plus there are essays and poems from writers like Gleb Shulpyakov, Sasha Sokolov, German Sadulaev, and Lev Rubinshtein…—but there are a few more novels. We have: Elizaveta Aleksandrova-Zorina’s Маленький человек (A Small Man), Alla Bossart’s Холера (Cholera), Veronika Kungurtseva’s Орина дома и в Потусторонье (Orina at Home and On the Other Side), Iurii Mamleev’s После конца (After the End), Dima Klein’s Двойник Президента (The President’s Double), and Aleksei Motorov’s Юные годы медбрата Паровозова (Male Nurse Parovozov’s Young Years), an autobiographical novel I noticed several times in Moscow. It seems to have quite a following. The NOSE list also includes Lora Beloivan’s story collection, Карбид и амброзия (Carbide and Ambrosia).

Up next: Booker Prize short list, Yasnaya Polyana winners, Marina Stepnova’s Lazar(us) and all his women, Andrei Rubanov’s short stories, and Zaven Babloyan’s Ukrainian-to-Russian translation of Serhij Zhadan’s peculiar Voroshilovgrad, a book I don’t want to read too quickly… in Zaven’s translation, Voroshilovgrad contains peculiarly lovely imagery and a gauzy blend of sur- and reality.

Disclosures: The usual; I know several individuals mentioned in this post. 


  1. Hello, thanks so much for this blog. It is a tremendous resource for students of Russian. I have a question: do you recall ever having seen any novels in Russian with stress marks? I'm having a hard time finding any books with stress marks other than textbooks and children's books. Any ideas of where to find such novels would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Anonymous! I'm glad you find the blog useful.

      As for novels with stress marks... the only ones I recall seeing were special editions for students, most, I believe, from the publisher "Русский язык". That publisher has divided into two companies, and I'm afraid I don't know of anyone else that might be producing books with accent marks. Good luck!