Sunday, February 8, 2015

The 2015 NatsBest Long List

I’ve been so busy translating and tallying snow totals—nearly four feet in the last two weeks, with about another foot allegedly on the way!—that I completely forgot the NatsBest long list was on the way, too. I always love the National Bestseller Award long list: it’s presented in table form with two columns, one for the nominator’s name, the other for the nominee’s name and title, making it easy to see exactly who nominated whom. And it’s always quirky. This year’s list comes courtesy of 53 nominators and I think there are only two books nominated twice, so I will most certainly not list everyone. All the more fun for you to research the list… which is always particularly entertaining because NatsBest begins posting the Big Jury’s reviews of nominees almost as soon as the long list is published.

First off, the two books nominated twice:
There’s one book I’ve already read and one that I’m reading now:
  • Marina Stepnova’s Безбожный переулок (provisionally called The Italian Lessons in English) concerns a doctor in present-day Moscow faced with choices about where and how to live (previous post). I love that Anna Matveeva says in her Big Jury review that Stepnova seems to write in some sort of 5D cinematic format. After translating Stepnova’s Women of Lazarus, I can attest that Matveeva describes Stepnova’s writing perfectly.
  • Lena Eltang’s Картахена (Cartagena) is, hmm, a polyphonic murder mystery. Or at least that’s what it appears to be… the book feels as mysterious as the murder itself, thanks to Eltang’s metaphors, surprising turns of phrase (like that passionate evening involving mussel madness), and vivid Italian settings that I picture oh-so-well after translating excerpts for Eltang’s literary agency. Enjoyable reading for many reasons, particularly because I want to read quickly to find out what happened but keep slowing down to appreciate Eltang’s writing.
And then lots of books by authors I’ve read before:
  • Roman Senchin’s Зона Затопления (Flood/Immersion/Underwater Zone… hard to say without knowing more) is a collection still only in manuscript form, though several pieces have been published by journals.
  • Sergei Nosov’s Фигурные скобки (Curly Brackets (this English term falls into the “you learn something new every day category” for me)) should be available online soon from the journal Новый Мир, which published it.
  • Alexander Snegirev’s Вера (Vera, which also means Faith) is a novel about a forty-year-old woman who is unmarried. Snegirev’s Facebook description uses words including dramatic, comic, erotic (a bit), and political (a little). I’m looking forward to reading it.
  • Tatiana Tolstaya’s Легкие миры (Light Worlds? In which light has the meaning of not heavy…) Short stories; the title story won the Belkin Award. I bought the book after hearing Tolstaya speak at the Moscow International Book Fair in early September.
  • Anna Matveeva’s Девять девяностых (Nine from the Nineties). Short stories. Some, including (apparently) this one, were written for Snob. I thought some of Matveeva’s stories in an earlier collection were very decent.
  • Polina Barskova’s Живые картины (Live Pictures) is a book of prose by a poet, a collection of twelve pieces that came out of Barskova’s research into the history of the Leningrad blockade (excerpt). Knowing Polina’s dedication to this subject, I can’t imagine that the book isn’t interesting.
  • Boris Minaev’s Батист (Batiste) (part 1) (part 2) is a novel about two families, set in the first quarter of the twentieth century. A summary here also includes summaries of a Senchin story (see above) and, for good measure, Aleksei Varlamov’s Мысленный волк (The Imagined Wolf?), a novel set in the 1910s that involves some real-life figures, including our old friend Grigory Rasputin, as well as Yury Arabov’s Столкновение с бабочкой (Clash/Collision with a Butterfly), alternative history with a first chapter titled “Lenin in Zurich.”
That’s already a lot of books so rather than write up full listings of a couple familiar titles from other lists—they’re by Aleksei Makushinskii and Elena Minkina-Taicher, both described in this previous post—I’m going to look up a few couple completely unfamiliar names whose books look interesting and are already published rather than only available in manuscript form:
  • Ulyana Gamayun’s Осень в Декадансе (Autumn in Decadence) concerns a city as seen by a court artist, and (to summarize) Big Jury reviewer Mikhail Viesel says what’s most important here isn’t so much “what” as “how.”
  • Dmitrii Dolinin’s Здесь, под небом чужим (Here Under an Unfamiliar/Alien Sky) contains two novellas, both set during/around the time of World War 1 (excerpt). Dolinin is a former cameraman for the Lenfilm studio.
Up Next: Evgeny Vodolzakin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which I loved; Gleb Shulpyakov’s Museum Named After Dante, which I found mysteriously enjoyable; Alexei Nikitin’s Victory Park, which I found strangely endearing despite having too many backstories for its own good, and the afore-mentioned Cartagena by Lena Eltang, which is just the book for this ridiculously snowy season.

Disclaimers: The usual for having translated, chatted and eaten with, and/or otherwise gotten to know a number of the writers and nominators on the list. Plus I’m translating NatsBest secretary Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina (previous post) for Oneworld Publications.


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