Sunday, July 14, 2013

The 2013 Russian Booker Prize Long List… All of It

Every so often, I enjoy going through an entire book award long list, methodically looking for books I might enjoy reading. I’m not quite sure what possessed me to sift through the entire 2013 (Russian!) Booker Prize long list on a slightly cloudy but warm and very beach-worthy Saturday afternoon, but there you have it.

So here’s the long list, in Russian alphabetical order by author, with comments, some of which may be a bit odd and uneven since many of the books don’t seem to have gotten much attention… or at least not the kind of attention that I.I. Google recognizes and rewards. I starred the books I’m most interested in. The short list will be announced on October 3.

1. Aleksandr Arkhangel’skii: Музей революции (Museum of the Revolution). I always hate to start a list on a negative note but I tried reading this novel and just didn’t get very far, due to lack of interest; I didn’t even read far enough to get into the museum conflict…

2. * Nikolai Baitov: Любовь Муры (Mura’s Love). The publisher’s blurb says this epistolary novel is about two women’s forbidden love in the 1930s and 1940s, though two reviews I looked at dispute the “forbidden” part. There are, however, two women. And there is love.

3. * Nadezhda Belen’kaia. Рыбы молчат по-испански (Fish Keep Quiet in Spanish). A novel about international adoptions of Russian children.

4. Vladimir Vester: Отель разбитых сердец (Heartbreak Hotel). The book’s subtitle, Секс, кино, один ствол и вечно живой Элвис ПреслиSex, the Movies, One Gun, and an/the Eternally Alive Elvis Presley—seems to say it all.

5. Evgenii (Eugene) Vodolazkin: Лавр (Laurus). One of my favorites (previous post). Already a finalist for this year’s NatsBest and Big Book.

6. Andrei Volos: Возвращение в Панджруд (excerpts) (Return to Panjrud). Volos, who is originally from Dushanbe, often writes about Central Asia. His agent’s site says this novel is about a poet in the Middle Ages. Finalist for this year’s Big Book.

7. * Valerii Votrin: Логопед (The Speech Therapist). The Speech Therapist’s publisher describes the book as depicting a “linguistic antiutopia.” There are two main characters: a speech therapist and a journalist. Watch your spelling and punctuation, people!

8. * Alisa Ganieva: Праздничная гора (excerpt) (Holiday Mountain). A novel about Dagestan… in which Dagestan becomes separate from Russia, resulting in problems and not-so-happy endings.

9. Vladimir Gubailovskii: Учитель цинизма (The Teacher of Cynicism or Cynicism’s Teacher?). A 2012 Big Book finalist. The main character is math student at Moscow State University in the late Soviet era.

10. Denis Gutsko: Бета-самец (Beta Male). This sounds like a novel about a middle-aged guy (not an alpha!) with good connections but not a lot of ambition who is presented with a situation that changes his life.

Menshikov in Berezovo (1888)
11. Andrei Demkin: Ненаписанный дневник (excerpt) (The Unwritten Diary). A historical novel about prince Aleksandr Menshikov and his exile, and the work of artist Vasilii Surikov, who really did paint Menshikov. Hmm.

12. Oleg Ermakov: С той стороны дерева (From the Other Side of the Tree). Apparently about a man who goes to Lake Baikal and finds everything he was looking for and more, including love and local myths.

13. Andrei Ivanov: Харбинские мотыльки (The Moths of Harbin). A novel about Russians in Estonia during 1920-1940. This sounds like a difficult but interesting novel.

14. Aleksandr (Alexander) Kabakov: Старик и ангел (The Old Man and the Angel). A professor in his seventies has regrets about his life, then a heart attack changes all. A review on compares Kabakov’s writing to Aksyonov’s.

15. Anatolii Kurchatkin: Чудо хождения по водам (The Miracle of Walking on Water). According to the Tver’ libraries’ description: a man suddenly discovers he can walk on water, though only when other people are around.

16. Maya Kucherskaya: Тетя Мотя (Auntie Motya a.k.a. Auntie Mina). Another one I couldn’t quite get into: this book about a couple’s not-so-successful life together felt too contrived to me. As of this writing, it’s the top gatherer of Facebook “likes” among 2013 Big Book finalists, though.

17. * Vadim Levental’: Маша Регина (Masha Regina). Levental’s debut novel is about a woman from the provinces who becomes a world-famous film director. Another 2013 Big Book finalist.

18. Olesya Nikolaeva. Меценат. Жизнеописание Александра Берга. (The Patron/Sponsor/Philanthropist. The Life of Aleksandr Berg). A detective novel about the murder of a monastery official.

19. Aleksei Slapovskii. Вспять. Хроника перевернувшегося времени (Backward. A Chronicle of Time Upended (or something of the sort!)). Time goes backward in a provincial town, giving people another last Friday instead of a new Sunday. Sounds like déjà vu all over again.

20. Sergei Solov’ev: Адамов мост (Adam’s Bridge). This one seems to defy summarization India. Jungles. He and She.

21. Andrei Tavrov: Матрос на мачте (The Sailor on the Mast). In this novel, Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov meets a young woman who’s traveling around the Caucasus.

22. Margarita Khemlin: Дознаватель (The Investigator). Another one I read and enjoyed (previous post).

23. Vladimir Shapko: У подножия необъятного мира (At the Foot/Pedestal of an/the Immense World…). This work is called a poem but isn’t written as verse, though one observer who read the first installment in a journal says “poem” fits in the Greek sense because the book is an epic set in the Soviet era and looks at a huge number of characters who are regular people. Our observer sounded rather eager for a sense of what it might all mean…

24. *? Aleksandr Ebanoidze: Предчувствие октября (A Premonition of October). A novel about the Moscow intelligentsia during the transition years.

Disclosures: The usual, including my work translating various texts by Vodolazkin and Khemlin.

Up Next: Aleksandr Ilichevskii’s The Orphics, which still creeps me out; Iurii Buida’s Thief, Spy, and Murderer, which petered out; plus last month’s coven…

Image: Painting by Vasilii Surikov, via Wikipedia.


  1. The longlist is very long... does it mean that Russia churns out huge literary works every year? Or is this for all authors who write in Russian?

    1. Thank you for your question, Nana. Russia does have a lot of writers and publishers; if you're interested in statistics, this article provides a few very basic figures.

      It's also worth noting that the Russian Booker long list was selected from 87 nominations, of which 82 were allowed. The Big Book has even larger numbers: 300 nominations, 36 books on the long list, and 11 finalists.

  2. Лонг-лист Русского Букера в очередной раз оказался более чем странным. В него не вошли вполне достойные кандидаты, но почему-то попали невнятные авторы.
    Впрочем, после победы "Цветочного креста" Колядиной пару лет назад уже не стоит ничему удивляться.

    1. Спасибо за Ваш комментарий, serafimm! После книги Колядиной я тоже уже ничему не удивляюсь от Русского Букера! ))

    2. Меня просто ещё и лично обидело - я выдвигал от "СибОгней" Ольгу Новикову, а она не попала в лонг:)
      Понятно, что выбор всегда субъективен, но иногда он ещё и откровенно нелеп.