Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The 2014 Big Book Award Winners

Just a very quick post with this year’s Big Book Award winners. There weren’t any real surprises here. I would have loved to have seen Evgeny Chizhov win something—anything!—for his Translation from a Literal Translation, (previous post), which I liked so much but, well…

The jury awards went to:
  • The top prize was awarded to Zakhar Prilepin’s Обитель (The Cloister). A novel about the Solovetsky Islands in the 1920s. The Cloister already won the Book of the Year award and is also a finalist for the Russian Booker. I’ve been reading The Cloister for a while and it will take me another while to finish: it’s very long and rather detailed.
  • Vladimir Sorokin took second place for Теллурия (Tellurium). On my NatsBest long list post, I wrote: A polyphonic novel in 50 highly varying chapters. I read about 150 pages before setting Tellurium aside: Sorokin’s use of a futuristic medieval setting, tiny and huge people, kinky stuff, sociopolitical observations, and a novel (ha!) psychotropic agent all felt way too familiar after Day of the Oprichnik, The Blizzard, and The Sugar Kremlin. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller.
  • Vladimir Sharov won third place for Возвращение в Египет (Return to Egypt). In which one Kolya Gogol (a distant relative of familiar old Nikolai Gogol) finishes writing Dead Souls. An epistolary novel. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller and Russian Booker.

Reader awards went to:

Up Next: Books, likely starting with Viktor Remizov’s Ashes and Dust, a very worthy Big Book finalist about poachers and corruption in the taiga.

Disclaimers: The usual.


  1. I had to do a fair amount of googling to figure out you were talking about Remizov's Volya volnaya ; apparently the author's literary agency is calling it "Ashes and Dust," but I don't know why.

    1. Yes, indeed, it's Воля вольная... my post about Booker finalists mentions the title, which even Remizov had trouble explaining to me. I understand it after reading the book but would have a hard time explaining it, too, though I could summarize and simplify by saying the book shows how certain people exercise their will.

  2. I am rather surprised by Sorokin's taking the second place. I had loads of fun reading Telluria, but it is anything but major literary prize material. It will be interesting to see what you will make of Prilepin's big book. Somehow I've never been tempted to read anything by him.

    1. Thank you, theuntranslated, for your comment on the Big Book! Yes, I remember that you also hadn't thought Telluria was a monument of contemporary Russian fiction... I thought it was good but far too derivative of earlier Sorokin novels, thus not worth the time to finish. That's probably the biggest reason I was disappointed he won second prize; the award didn't surprise me, though, given all the rave reviews. Though it seemed a lot of other readers thought the book was, ahem, derivative of previous Sorokin novels.

      As for Prilepin, I'm also interested to see what I make of The Cloister! I'm about 230 or so pages in (only a third!) and am still not convinced... it's good, it updates the prison camp novel, and the writing is lively, but I keep feeling like something is lacking and/or that the book barely holds together. Meaning I'm not sure what doesn't quite feel right. I've always thought Prilepin's short stories were his best work so I'm very curious to see what happens...