Sunday, September 24, 2017

The 2017 Yasnaya Polyana Award Shortlist

I mentioned in my last post that it’s award season… Which means that I’m back this week with yet more prize news: the Yasnaya Polyana Award’s shortlist, which was announced a week or two ago. I’ll be writing about the NOSE Award longlist soon, too.

The Yasnaya Polyana Award has six finalists; winners will be announced on October 12. For more on each book, check out Natalya Lomykina’s detailed summaries (with brief excerpts) on the site.
  • Ksenia Dragunskaya’s КолокольниковПодколокольный ([Between] Kolokolnikov and Podkolokolnyi, I think… this title appears to refer to events taking place between these two streets). It looks like there’s lots of Moscow in this novella and I have to admit I’m a sucker for Moscow novel(la)s, particularly when the plot has something/anything to do with geography and/or toponyms. This novella sounds like it also involves how characters—and Moscow, too—change from the late-Soviet period to the present day. It looks very inviting when I scroll through. Kind of like how central Moscow invites strolling through…
  • Oleg Ermakov’s Песнь тунгуса (The Tungus’s Song) (excerpt) sounds rather mysterious: Klarisa Pulson even called it “an/the original Siberian Twin Peaks” in her Big Book post on Novaya Gazeta. (Klarisa predicted it would be a Big Book finalist. I wish!) Of course the Twin Peaks fan in me (Did I ever mention that I bought a TV in Moscow specially so I could rewatch Twin Peaks, dubbed in Russian?) thinks that’s already a few points in its favor. The novel apparently involves a young man who comes to Siberia to work in forestry and an Evenk man who’s accused of arson and is the grandson of a shaman woman… 
  • Vladimir Medvedev’s Заххок (part 1) (part 2) (Zahhak), which I’ve already read, is my kind of book. I love the polyphony of seven characters telling about troubled times in Tadzhikistan in the early 1990s and I love how Medvedev interweaves the events in his characters’ lives, blending recent history, archetypes (I don’t think I’m stretching the word too much), and good storytelling. It’s sad and brutal in more ways than one, and it’s an excellent book.
  • Mikhail Popov’s На кресах всходних (hmm, the title is apparently taken from the Polish, so it’s something like On (the) Eastern Borders, where the “borders” are the tricky word “kresy”) seems to be set in western Belarus during 1908-1944 and to cover three generations. For future reference, there’s a lengthy article about it here on the Литературная Россия site.
  • Andrei Rubanov’s Патриот (The Patriot) tells the story of former banker Sergei Znaev, who’s the present owner of a failing store. The Patriot hit the NatsBest and Big Book shortlists, too; I’ve read a large chunk. The Patriot isn’t the first time that I’ve liked the premise of a Rubanov novel more than the novel itself: Rubanov writes very decent mainstream fiction (reminder: I love good mainstream fiction) and he’s a master of incorporating contemporary detail into his novels. But this book just didn’t hit me at all. 
  • German Sadulaev’s Иван Ауслендер (Ivan Auslender) sounds like it’s about a middle-aged academic who gets pulled into politics and doesn’t like it… so he heads off to travel. Sadulaev is also very good at pulling current-day material into his books, but his writing tends to be edgier than Rubanov’s.
Disclaimers: The usual. I’m working on excerpts of Zahhak.

Up next: The NOSE Award longlist. Medvedev’s Zahhak. Fall travel report. And books, hmm. I’ve been having a hard time with this year’s Big Book finalists, none of which grab me nearly as much as Zahhak did. Reading Zahhak felt like a literary palate cleanser after failed attempts at all too many Big Book candidates. Most recently, I got stuck deep in the middle Shamil Idiatullin’s Brezhnev City, which contains reams (almost literally, the book is 700 pages long) of wonderful stuff about life in the Soviet Union in 1983, the year I first visited the USSR. Sometimes, though, less is more and the magpie approach simply doesn’t work for me here. Following Elmore Leonard’s principle of not writing the parts that people skip: it feels like a great deal of Idiatullin’s material (at least 25 percent) should have or could have been cut to make the novel shapelier. I feel especially sad about that because so much of what Idiatullin writes is beautifully presented and described, particularly the complex texture of Soviet life in the 1980s and the ever-changing emotions of the main character, a teenage boy. Konstantin Milchin describes the storytelling problems at the end of his review for TASS.


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