Sunday, June 12, 2016

Yasnaya Polyana Award 2016 Longlists + Five Books About Russia (in English)

Another week, another award list! This week the Yasnaya Polyana Award announced its 2016 longlists, one for adult books, the other for children’s books. One thing I like about the Yasnaya Polyana longlist is that it always seems to contain a whole lot of books and authors I’ve never heard of; I’m hoping that this year I’ll have a chance to look into and read more of those books than I did last year. The 42 books on the adult longlist were chosen from 128 nominations; there were 69 nominations for the children’s award, of which 26 were selected for that longlist. The Yasnaya Polyana Award’s shortlists will be announced in September.

Since this longlist truly is long, I’ll only mention a few categories of books from the adult list. Since there’s always a lot of award list overlap, some of these titles and descriptions will sound very familiar.

Books I’ve already read
  • Narine Abgaryan’s С неба упали три яблока (Three Apples Fell from the Sky). I enjoyed Three Apples (previous post) and translated excerpts.
  • Yuri Buida’s Цейлон (Ceylon) (previous post), which combines the personal and the historical in a fairly balanced, disciplined novel about a family.
  • Boris Yekimovs Осень в Задонье. Повесть о земле и людях (Autumn in Zadon’e. A Novel About Land and People), not my favorite finalist for the 2015 Big Book. (previous post with summary)
Books on the shelf and/or on other award shortlists
  • Pyotr Aleshkovsky’s Крепость (The Citadel). On the shelf, purchased after taking a look at an electronic copy that Aleshkovsky’s literary agency sent to me. Modern times and the Middle Ages merge through archaeology. A 2016 Big Book finalist.
  • Dmitrii Danilov’s Есть вещи поважнее футбола (There Are More Important Things Than Football/Soccer). I’ve enjoyed Danilov’s other books and have this one on the shelf, too. It’s about soccer (inspired by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan’s Faithful), at least nominally. Recent winner of the Nonconformist Award.
  • Alexander Snegirevs Как же ее звали?.. (What Was Her Name, Anyway?). Snegirev very kindly sent me a copy (printed!) of the book, which I’m looking forward to reading.
  • Sergei Soloukh’s Рассказы о животных (Stories About Animals) is, contrary to the title, a novel about human beings, concerning a former academic who’s now working in a business. A 2016 Big Book finalist. (brief interview + excerpt)
  • Leonid Yuzefovich’s Зимняя дорога, (The Winter Road) is described as a “documentary novel”: the cover sums up the details with “General A.N. Pepeliaev and anarchist I.Ia. Strod in Yakutia. 1922-1923.” I’ve been reading small chunks of The Winter Road each night and thoroughly enjoying Yuzefovich’s absorbing, masterful characterizations of people and a time. He works wonders with archival material. 2016 NatsBest winner; a 2016 Big Book finalist.
Other books that sound interesting: some were chosen randomly, eyes closed, finger pointed at screen, and sound like great lucky picks:
  • Sukhbat Aflatuni’s . Поклонение волхвов (Adoration of the Magi) sounds like it captures a lot, from the familiar biblical story in the title to a family story that begins in the middle of the nineteenth century and concludes in the present, with plot lines that involve a secret society, exile, and a romance with the tsar. Aflatuni’s name keeps popping up on award lists. [Note: I originally listed the wrong Aflatuni book in this post but corrected it on September 13, 2016.]
  • Polina Barskova’s Живые картинки (Living 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. On the 2015-2016 NOS(E) shortlist.
  • David Markish’s Луковый мёд (Onion Honey or maybe Honey and Onion, a folk remedy for colds and bronchitis). This is a story collection so might be particularly good to read while sick.
  • Igor Shklyarevskii’s Золотая блесна. Книга радостей и утешений (The Golden Fishing Lure [examples!]. A Book of Joy(s) and Comfort(s)). I took a quick online look at the beginning of this book and got stuck—in the best of ways—on the first lines. Upon Googling, I was glad to find this piece by Shklyarevskii’s friend Zoya Mezhirova, who notes the musicality of the beginning of the book. This book looks like it could be a lot of fun to read.
  • Mikhail Ardov’s Проводы: Хроника одной ночи (The Goodbye Party: A Chronicle of One Night) sounds intriguing: Ardov wrote it fifty years ago but it was published only last year. The Goodbye Party is about a young man who lives in a communal apartment and is about to leave for his army service. Nikolai Alexandrov’s brief review is here.
Bonus! Five Books about Russia… in English
Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal included a “Five Best: A Personal Choice” piece in which translator and novelist Alison Anderson, author of The Summer Guest (previous post), recommends five books about Russia. I admit that I was lukewarm on Daphne Kalotay’s Russian Winter, which I wrote about on my now-defunct other blog (here) back in 2010, and the only other book on the list that I’ve read is Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Beginning of Spring, which didn’t quite hit me, either, though I have thoughts of rereading it… Of the other three, I’m most interested in Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time, which involves Shostakovich. On a side note, I’m very much looking forward to reading Jean-Philippe Blondel’s The 6:41 to Paris, which Anderson translated for New Vessel Press and which is waiting on my English-language “read sooner” shelf.

[Edit: Due to paywall problems, I'll add the titles of the other two books: Helen Dunmore's The Siege and Sylvain Tesson's The Consolation of the Forest.]

Disclaimers: The usual plus: I’ve translated books by two jury members for the Yasnaya Polyana Award. Some of the books on the list have been given to me in paper and/or electronic form.

Up Next: Eugene Vodolazkin’s The Aviator, which I loved when I read it and am loving all over again as I translate it; Alexander Snegirev’s Vera, which I do think I’ll call Faith; Maria Galina’s mysterious Autochthons; and Aleksei Ivanov’s Nasty Weather/Nenast’e, which moves quickly except when it doesn’t.


  1. I thought The Noise of Time was pretty good - I particularly liked the tragicomic cameo role taken by poor old Prokofiev - and it seems like a lot of the detail in the novel is true, which if so is highly intriguing.

    I can't see the Wall Street Journal article because of the firewall, but one recent book about Russia I really loved was Sheila Fitzpatrick's memoir A Spy in the Archives. I found it utterly gripping, and it made me wish I'd been born a decade or two earlier so I could have lived in and really experienced the Soviet Union like she did.

    1. Thank you for the recommendations, Philip Price! I'm even more interested in The Noise of Time now because I've always enjoyed Prokofiev. Good to know, too, about the Fitzpatrick book.

      I'll add the other titles above. I was hoping the article would be accessible since I have a WSJ subscription. (Or maybe the problem is that I only pay $1 a week for said subscription? :-))

    2. Your subscription means that you can see it, but it doesn't help your subscriptionless readers.

    3. Languagehat, yes, unfortunately. Though certain sharing of WSJ links does seem to work. (Which is why I was hoping that this sharing might work.)

      I often find I can get beyond paywalls (this has worked with The Financial Times, for example) by Googling something and clicking through from my Google results... only that works, though, not entering the link.

      One of the mysteries of the modern world, I suppose.