- Svetlana Aleksievich: Время секонд хэнд (See Second-Hand Time for a detailed description and a list of translations). Nonfiction about Russia’s post-Soviet history.
- Yuri Arabov: Столкновение с бабочкой (Clash/Collision with a Butterfly). Hmm, chapter one is titled “Ленин в Цюрихе” (“Lenin in Zurich”); in an interview Arabov referred to the novel as alternative, “what if,” history.
- Vladimir Berezin: Виктор Шкловский (Viktor Shklovsky). Biography of Viktor Shklovsky from the Lives of Remarkable People series.
- Yuri Buida: Яд и мед (Poison and Honey). One of only two books on the list that I’ve read, if only in part. I’ve been kind itching lately to read the short stories in the collection after enjoying the title novella. (previous post)
- Ksenia Buksha: Завод “Свобода” (The “Freedom” Factory). About a factory called Freedom that was founded in 1920 then fails in a later era; based on real events. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller.
- Aleksandr Grigorenko: Ильгет. Три имени судьбы (excerpts) (Ilget. Three Names for Fate). Shortlisted for this year’s NOSE Award. Novel set in the early thirteenth century in the taiga.
- Natalya Gromova: Ключ. Последняя Москва (The Key. The Last/Final Moscow). This one’s called an archival novel, and it apparently focuses largely on the 1930s and a Moscow that no longer exists. Gromova works at the Tsvetaeva house museum in Moscow. There’s more here.
- Yana Dubinyanskaya: Пансионат (The Guesthouse). Varied guests with varied problems all staying at a guesthouse (most likely of an institutional sort) after a global catastrophe. Sounds cryptic.
- Andrei Ivanov: Харбинские мотыльки (Опа! Only the beginning is available online) (The Moths of Harbin). A novel about Russians in Estonia during 1920-1940. This sounds like a difficult but interesting novel. Winner of this year’s NOSE Award.
- Nikolai Klimontovich: Парадокс о европейце (Paradox of/about a/the European). An Italian-born doctor living in the US meets a Soviet investigator, apparently at Lubyanka.
- Elena Kostioukovitch: Цвингер (Zwinger). A very long (220,000 words!) novel that involves searches for art stolen by Germany during World War 2. Kostioukovitch, founder and creative director of the Elkost Literary Agency, draws on extensive research and her own family’s history in Zwinger.
- Aleksei Makushinskii: Пароход в Аргентину (Steamship to Argentina). A novel about émigré life and Proustian searches.
- Vladimir Martynov: Автоархеология на рубеже тысячелетий (Self-Archeology at the Turn of Millennia). Looking at historical changes as a part of the self rather than as something outside the person. Last book in a trilogy.
- Yuri Miloslavskii: Приглашенная. Материалы к биографии Александры Федоровны Чумаковой (excerpt) (Invited. Materials Regarding the Biography of Alexandra Fedorovna Chumakova). About the Big Stuff: love, time, identity, rebirth, and death. Indescribable-sounding.
- Aleksandr Podrabinek: Диссиденты (part 1) (part 2) (Dissidents). Memoir by a journalist and human rights activist.
- Zakhar Prilepin: Обитель (The Cloister). A novel about the Solovetsky Islands in the 1920s.
- Viktor Remizov: Воля вольная (Willful Will/Free Freedom… oh, how I want to preserve those common roots even if the title doesn’t work!). A policeman celebrates his promotion in the wild with a friend and then there’s a conflict with a local… and much more.
- Vladimir Ropshinov: Князь механический (The Mechanical Prince). Alternative history: What if the 1917 revolution hadn’t happened?
- Vladimir Sorokin: 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.
- Evgenii Chizhov: Перевод с подстрочника (literally Translation from a Literal Translation) A novel about a translator who goes to an invented country with a name ending in –stan to get some literal translations of poetry that need to be translated into real Russian.
- Igor Shaitainov: Шекспир (Shakespeare). Biography from the Lives of Remarkable People series.
- Sergei Shargunov: 1993. This novel calls itself “a family portrait set against the backdrop of a burning house”… 1993 was the year of the “October events,” when tanks shelled the Russian White House. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller.
- Vladimir Sharov: 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.
- Roman Shmarakov: Каллиопа, дерево, Кориск (Calliope, the Tree, and Korisk (Help! This is from Aristotle but…)). Epistolary novel.
- Gleb Shulpiakov: Музей имени Данте (Museum Named for Dante). Journalist and book trader finds diary of unknown Dante translator…
- Manuscript № 55: Под мостом из карамели (Under the Caramel Bridge). A new novel, set in present-day Russia, by Elena Koliadina, who won the Booker in 2010 for a famously unappetizing-sounding book, The Cross of Flowers.
- Manuscript № 259: Нарушение правил (Breaking the Rules). This title—well, the phrase itself—is so common that I’ll just wait to see who wrote it. I don’t think it’s a book about rules of the road!
- Manuscript № 326: Короче (In Short). This short word is also very common.
- Manuscript №335: Повесть и житие Данилы Терентьевича Зайцева ( The Tale and Life of Danila Terentevich Zaitsev). The story of Old Believers who resettled in Latin America.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
The Big Book Award announced its long list—a customary combination of fiction and nonfiction—early last week. Since this year’s long list has fewer than 30 books (okay, so it’s 29), I decided to look them all up: I haven’t read any of them in full, which means all I can guarantee here is a clutch of vague descriptions gleaned from cryptic and, often, scarce blurbs and reviews plus yet more dubious translations of titles, many of which are also cryptic, vague, and ambiguous. I have no idea what possesses me to do this every now and again… but at least the task was made a bit easier by a couple biographies with elegantly simple titles (thank you ЖЗЛ!), and some overlap with this year’s 2014 National Bestseller and NOSE shortlists. Big Book will announce its shortlist in late May. Here’s the list, in Russian alphabetical order:
Disclaimers: The usual.
Up Next: A lot… Soviets, another wonderfully produced book from Fuel; this one has drawings by Danzig Baldaev and photos by Sergei Vasiliev. And Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes. Later still, Mikhail Bulgakov’s White Guard.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Yes, that’s right, this year there are two National Bestseller shortlists: the usual NatsBest shortlist and a NatsBest-Beginning shortlist of books written by young writers. Where “young” means under 35. The “Beginning” piece of NatsBest is sponsored by the TV channel 2x2; 2x2 will choose the winner. There’s a bit of list-based overlap:
The “usual” NatsBest shortlist
- Sergei Shargunov: 1993. This novel calls itself “a family portrait set against the backdrop of a burning house”… 1993 was the year of the “October events,” when tanks shelled the Russian White House. (13 points)
- Pavel Krusanov: Царь головы ([edit The Tsar in the Head, thanks Languagehat!] Tsar of the Head? I feel like I’m missing something horribly, embarrassingly obvious here, me and my titles!..). Short stories. (10 points)
- Ksenia Buksha: Завод “Свобода” (The “Freedom” Factory). About a factory called Freedom that was founded in 1920 then fails in a later era; based on real events. (9 points)
- Vladimir Sharov: 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. (8 points)
- Marat Basyrov: Печатная машина (The Typewriter). A novel with story-like chapters; this one sounds difficult to describe, with (to summarize vague summaries) existential suffering. (6 points)
- Vladimir Sorokin: 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. (6 points)
The NatsBest-Beginning shortlist
- Valerii Airapetian: Свободное падение (Freefall) Short stories. (6 points)
- Ksenia Buksha: Завод “Свобода” (The “Freedom” Factory) About a factory called Freedom that was founded in 1920 then fails in a later era; based on real events. (4 points)
- Kirill Ryabov: Сжигатель трупов (The Corpse Incinerator/Burner) A debut novel with stories that NatsBest secretary Vadim Levental says fit the book’s title, which is also Ryabov’s pseudonym. Hmm. (2 points)
- Anna Starobinets: Икарова железа (The Icarus Gland) This book, “a collection of speculative stories,” will be coming out in English translation in 2014, from a new publisher, Skyhook Press. (2 points)
- Sergei Shargunov: 1993. This novel calls itself “a family portrait against the backdrop of a burning house”… 1993 was the year of the “October events,” when tanks shelled the Russian White House. (2 points)
Disclaimers. The usual.
Up Next. Oh my! There’s a lot… The Big Book long list is coming very soon. Then we have: Soviets, another wonderfully produced book from Fuel; this one has drawings by Danzig Baldaev and photos by Sergei Vasiliev. And Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes. And, later still, Mikhail Bulgakov’s White Guard.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
I finally read Aleksei Motorov’s Юные годы медбрата Паровозова (Male Nurse Parovozov’s Young Years), which I’d been curious about ever since it won the readers’ prize in the 2013 NOSE competition; Male Nurse Parovozov was clearly popular with readers and sounded like very decent mainstream reading. Motorov’s book did, indeed, turn out to be decent mainstream reading, albeit autobiographical fiction that doesn’t feel especially fictionalized because apparently it’s mostly the names that have been changed… but fine, it was just the thing for yet another stretch of tired evenings. The heaviest lifting here was picking up the book itself, which weighs in at over 500 pages, though I’m certainly not complaining: Parovozov’s first-person narrator is engagingly genial and his stories generally held my attention.
The gist here is that male nurse Aleksei Motorov, our humble first-person narrator, works in emergency medicine at a Moscow hospital during the 1980s, as the Soviet Union is falling apart. Though Motorov is clearly a gifted nurse—doctors seem to trust him with a fair number of procedures—he’s tried and failed to get into medical school quite a few times. Male Nurse Parovozov’s Young Years strings together tales of hospital-based medicine during the ‘80s, describing Motorov’s work as well as a self-inflicted accidental injury that proves, yet again, that no good deed goes unpunished. The injury lands him a bed in his own hospital, and he later applies to med school, yet again, toward the end of the book.
Motorov is at his best when he simply tells stories and describes people at the hospital. Blurbs from writers Lev Rubinshtein and Linor Goralik on the back of my book refer to Motorov’s success in (Here, I’ll mash up their blurbs for you!) combining real life, convincing storytelling, and the everyday. And they’re right. Motorov describes his co-workers with humor and affection—I particularly enjoyed Tamara from Sukhumi and can just hear a sharp voice goadingly calling Motorov a conman at every possible opportunity—and talks about their work in such a perfectly matter-of-fact way that it almost gave me the illusion of being there.
My use of “matter-of-fact” here also functions almost like synonym for “not naturalistic”: though there are mentions of car accidents and brake fluid as a beverage, and Motorov’s hospital takes in refugees from Chernobyl, the point of the book isn’t to tell societal or medical horror stories. His reality finds a peculiarly gentle balance—I’m sure this is a huge part of its appeal to readers in this age of dark, dreary “chernukha” realism—because Motorov invokes successes, failures, and humiliations along with humor and sincerity. There’s nothing extreme other than the book’s humanity and optimism, even when Motorov himself is injured and facing absurd inconveniences during his recovery, like regular post-hospital check-ins with an oblivious policlinic doctor. Of course there’s also the absurd convenience of being able to smoke in the ward!
The majority of Parovozov is set at the hospital, which is good because that’s where the book feels most fluid and energetic, seguing from one chapter to the next almost like oral storytelling. My interest flagged in chapters about Motorov’s childhood and about shopping during the Soviet era, where I had the feeling I was rereading familiar background from other books and even newspaper articles; the account of his final attempt at getting into med school (e.g. witnessing his oral exams) seemed horribly anticlimactic even if chemistry went well. In the end, Male Nurse Parovozov’s Young Years left me with a rather amorphous impression—loosely veiled autobiographical writing often leaves me feeling that way since the narratives are modeled so closely on reality that they lack the intangible organic drive that my memory and readerly instincts thrive on—but Motorov’s geniality, love for medicine, and yes, things like Tamara’s needling jokiness certainly stuck with me, just as they seem to have stuck with readers who voted in the NOSE competition.
Level for non-native readers of Russian: 2.5 out of 5. Not particularly difficult; a conversational, friendly narrative voice. I’d particularly recommend Parovozov to medical interpreters.
Disclosures: The usual.
Up Next: Iurii Mamleev’s The Sublimes and Mikhail Bulgakov’s White Guard. And perhaps The Letter T.