Saturday, March 16, 2013

Favorite Russian Writers А to Я: Rybakov

Alphabet favorites are back! Though my entry for the Letter R (Р) is a bit limited in terms of all-out favorites, there are enough writers I like—with the hope for turns to the even-more-positive—that I’m not going to skip R like I skipped N and O.

My one true favorite for R is Anatolii Rybakov, despite my somewhat limited experience reading him: Rybakov’s Дети Арбата (Children of the Arbat), the first volume of a trilogy, is enough. I read the trilogy before I started writing the blog but I did keep a book diary then, where I praised the first volume most, called the second “awful,” and summed up with, “The books were definitely flawed but they did manage to capture something important: the mood and stories of a lost portion of a generation.” Rybakov’s Тяжёлый песок (Heavy Sand) (previous post) left me with mixed feelings a few years ago, too, but I suspect I’d probably appreciate its characters and storytelling techniques far more now, after reading so much more fiction (much of it by Margarita Khemlin, who’s also from Chernigov) set in Ukraine. I also have a sentimental reason for favoriting Rybakov: he made a reading in my department when I was in grad school. I think this was in 1986, though I remember almost nothing except that Rybakov made a positive impression.

Another R-letter writer I’ve enjoyed is Irina Ratushinskaya; I read Alyona Kojevnikov’s translation of Ratushinskaya’s prison camp memoir Grey Is the Color of Hope in the late eighties or early nineties. I read a fair bit of fiction and nonfiction about prison camps when I was in college but I think Ratushinskaya’s book has stuck with me through the years because her story was contemporary: she was in prison in 1983, the year I first visited the Soviet Union. Ratushinskaya’s Тень портрета (The Portrait’s Shadow) didn’t impress me much in my preblog years but I’ve heard good things about her Одесситы (The Odessans), which I bought last year and keep meaning to read sooner rather than later.

As for others… Andrei Rubanov is another writer that’s left me with mixed impressions: his Chlorophyllia (previous post) and All That Glitters (previous post) were both enjoyable and pretty decent but just didn’t feel quite as good as I thought they should/could/would be. I read some of the stories in Rubanov’s Shameful Feats/Exploits at the beach last summer and thought they were decent, too. As with Dina Rubina (see below!), Rubanov’s short fiction feels more controlled and focused than his novels. I like Rubanov’s ability to combine genres and appreciate his blunt talk very, very much.

I’ve also enjoyed some of Dina Rubina’s writing, particularly her short story “Apples from Shlitzbutter’s Garden” (previous post), though I find some of her writing too overstuffed with detail. I have a couple collections of Rubina’s short and medium-length works—several readers have particularly recommended her shorter, earlier writings to me—and hope to find more that I like.

As for classics, hmm, well, I guess I’m pretty much at zero… I have some vague remembrance of reading Kondratii Ryleev’s poetry in grad school but am probably more likely to seek out Aleksei Remizov, whom I seem to have ignored all these years. He sounds like a stylistically interesting writer, so I’d welcome recommendations! And there’s one modern poet that’s been recommended to me many times over the years, Nikolai Rubtsov, whose books I received as gifts back in the late eighties or early nineties.

Up Next: A trip report about the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in slushy Boston. Igor Savelyev’s Tereshkova Flies to Mars, known as Mission to Mars in English: Amanda Love Darragh’s translation will be out this summer from Glas. And then Evgenii Vodolazkin’s Laurus.

Image: Aleksei Remizov, via Wikipedia.


  1. You should definitely read Remizov; I posted my recommendation here. The only other big-name Rs I can think of are Vasily Rozanov and Valentin Rasputin, both of whom I've never read but am looking forward to.

    I'm curious; do you remember why you found Страх awful? I remember it as not quite as gripping as the first volume, but not that much of a falling off.

    1. Thank you for the Remizov link, Languagehat. I'll have to check out the book you recommended. Someone else mentioned Rozanov to me recently, hmm... and I'm not sure how I completely forgot about Rasputin, whom I've barely read (a short story or two, ages ago) but keep intending to read.

      As for Страх, the sparse notes in my book diary mention that I thought the Stalin sections "hemmed in" the other characters and I do remember feeling there was too much Stalin in the trilogy. I also seem to get particularly picky about trilogies!

  2. I just picked up a copy of Лавр yesterday, along with Kucherskaya's Тетя Мотя. They both sound really good. I'm pretty much 100% sure (if that's possible) that I won't read Лавр before you write about it.

    1. It's funny: I almost bought the Kucherskaya book several times when I was in Moscow. But never did! It looked a little less interesting to me than Лавр, which is, indeed, a very interesting reading experience... I'm enjoying it very much, though it is one of the most difficult books I've read in a long time thanks to the language.