Sunday, November 5, 2017

The 2017 NOS(E) Award Shortlist

I think the 2017 NOS(E) Award shortlist is (has to be! must be!) the last shortlist (or at least the last major shortlist) for the season. Despite enjoying shortlists, I’m full of hope because I have plenty of books to write about and, well, there’s so much overlap in the award posts this year that the fun started to fade long ago, even if copying and pasting makes it easy to write said posts…

And so, without further ado (as they say), here’s the ten-book list, which was announced late last week. Winners will be announced next February.

  • Olga Breininger: В Советском Союзе не было аддерола (There Was No Adderal in the Soviet Union) certainly has a memorable title. Breininger’s originally from Kazakhstan but lives in Boston. The novel starts off mentioning a conference of Slavists… the book was longlisted for the Debut Prize in 2015.
  • Aleksandr Brener: Жития убиенных художников (Life Stories [as in lives, in the context of “lives of saints”] of Killed Artists) was a NatsBest finalist. According to the publisher, Hylaea, the book is composed of brief stories/chapters about Brener’s experiences in various places around the world, looking at people, meetings, attachments, impressions… NatsBest jury reviews are here.
  • Dmitrii Glukhovsky: Текст (Text) is described as a psychological thriller and criminal drama, among other things. Set in Moscow and apparently unpretentious and very present-day, both in terms of language and descriptions. One of you read it and reported enjoying it very much.
  • Vladimir Medvedev: 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. Already a finalist for the Yasnaya Polyana and Booker.
  • German Sadulaev: Иван Ауслендер (Ivan Auslender), also shortlisted for the Yasnaya Polyana Award, 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.
  • Aleksei Salnikov: Петровы в гриппе и вокруг него (Severely tricky title alert, despite having already read a decent chunk of the book! The Petrovs in Various States of the Flu might capture things; this is literally something like “The Petrovs in and around the flu” though I could still be completely missing the point.), which is also a Big Book finalist. I’m reading it right now: it makes me laugh out loud at times and flu symptoms are aptly portrayed, though I wonder if the novel has enough momentum to…
  • Vladimir Sorokin: Манарага (Manaraga), which I read (previous post) and enjoyed. Even if this isn’t Sorokin’s very best, it’s interesting, funny, and, yes, entertaining.
  • Stanislav Snytko: Белая кисть (White Hand (or maybe Paintbrush? or even both?)). Apparently very brief texts with the intended effect of cinematic shots.
  • Anna Tugareva: Иншалла. Чеченский дневник (God Willing. A Chechen Diary) sounds like it’s about Chechen history and identity.
  • Andrei Filimonov: Головастик и святые (known in English as Manikin and the Saints) is represented by the Elkost literary agency so I’ll leave the description to them; it’s here. This book was also a NatsBest finalist; jury reviews are here.

To read judges’ opinions of the books, visit Colta.ru, here. There are lots of fun details.

Disclaimers: The usual. I translated excerpts from Zahhak. The NOS Award is a program of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. The foundation also runs the Transcript grant program, which has supported many of my translations.

Up Next: Trip report on the American Literary Translators Association conference in Minneapolis and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Books: Zahhak. Anna Kozlova’s F20, about which my feelings are far more mixed. Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Tashkent Novel, which I enjoyed.

Farewell to Vladimir Makanin

I was very sad to learn that writer Vladimir Makanin died last week. I enjoyed Makanin’s stories and fiction enough that I listed him first in my “Russian Writers A to Я” post for the letter “M.” Here’s what I wrote about Makanin and his work back in that 2011 post:

I’ve read quite a few books and stories by Vladimir Makanin and found more than enough to consider him a favorite. The very first Makanin line that I read, the beginning of the story “Сюр в Пролетарском районе”(“Surrealism in a Proletarian District”), got me off to a great start: “Человека ловила огромная рука.” (“A huge hand was trying to catch a man.”) (I used the translation in 50 Writers: An Anthology of 20th Century Russian Short Stories.) The sentence fit my mood and the story caught me, too; I went on to read and love Makanin’s novellas Лаз (Escape Hatch) and Долог наш путь (The Long Road Ahead) (previous post).

Later, Андеграунд, или герой нашего времени (Underground or A Hero of Our Time) (previous post) took a couple hundred pages to win me over with its portrayal of a superfluous man for the perestroika era but I ended up admiring the book. Not everything from Makanin has worked for me, though: I didn’t like the Big Book winner Асан (Asan) (previous post) much at all, the Russian Booker-winning Стол, покрытый сукном и с графином посередине (Baize-Covered Table with Decanter) didn’t grab me, and I couldn’t finish Испуг (Fear), which felt like a rehashing of Underground. Despite that, I look forward to reading more of Makanin, especially his early, medium-length stories. A number of Makanin’s works are available in translation.

There’s not much that I wrote then that I’d change now, though I do want to add that one of the reasons I started writing this blog ten years ago is that I found so little English-language material about Makanin on the Internet. Makanin left a large body of work: I have several collections that I’ve barely touched and am particularly looking forward to reading more of his early work. It felt fitting that the shelf holding his books caught my eye—thanks to his Asan—in the World Languages section of the Boston Public Library when I visited yesterday with my brother, who also thoroughly enjoyed Escape Hatch and The Long Road Ahead.