Sunday, October 20, 2019

2019’s Yasnaya Polyana Award Winners

The onslaught of award news continued this past week as the Yasnaya Polyana Award announced winners. Sergei Samsonov won the contemporary Russian prose category for his Держаться за Землю (Hold Onto (the?) Earth or something similar that captures the importance of mining?) a novel about coal miners and geopolitical conflict, war, in the Donbass region. The award’s news item includes a statement from jury member Vladislav Otroshenko that notes a growing tendency toward writing about contemporary life. This gladdens me after a spate of books about (twentieth-century) history, although – without having yet even attempted to read Samsonov’s book – I’d wondered about exactly what seems to concern reviewer Mikhail Vizel most about the novel. He writes (in my paraphrase) that the events in Donbass are still too hot, too agonizing, for an epic with a bird’s-eye view of events to be artistically effective. He does, though, seem to think many things work well in this fairly traditional novel, where point of view shifts between various characters who inspire reader sympathy.

I was very happy to see that Grigory Sluzhitel won the reader’s choice award for Дни Савелия (Savely’s Days) (previous post), which I’d been so sure would win that category that I bet some catnip on it. Meanwhile, Hernán Rivera Letelier’s El arte de la resurrección (English title: The Art of Resurrection), in Darya Sinitsina’s translation Искусство воскрешения, won the foreign book award. (My quick searches don’t show that the book has been translated into English; here’s a list of translations from Goodreads. A quick check of Amazon doesn’t turn up any English translations of Letelier books and the only two titles WorldCat comes up with for English sure look to be Spanish. There is, however, a review of The Art of Resurrection here.) Finally, so I can end on an up note rather than yet another book that apparently hasn’t been translated: Yasnaya Polyana’s event award went to Igor Volgin for his TV show Игра в бисер (The Bead Game), in which Volgin and four guests discuss literature, some Russian, some non-Russian, mostly by authors who are no longer among the living. (Vodolazkin’s Laurus is an anomaly!) I saw lots of familiar names – writers, scholars, critics, professors – on the guest lists and realize I’ve been missing out on what appear to be interesting programs. I feel particularly silly since Volgin was at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year and I didn’t take note! The show has been on since 2011 so there’s lots to choose from.

Disclaimers and Disclosures. The usual. Two authors I’ve translated are on the YP jury and I know both Grigory Sluzhitel and Mikhail Vizel. Here, by the way, is Vizel’s piece about the award for the Год литературы site.

Up Next: Anna Kozlova’s Rurik, Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Earthly Paradise, two books in English, and some other books in Russian, including Alisa Ganieva’s biography of Lilya Brik, which I’m continuing to enjoy, and Liubov Barinova’s brand-new Eve, which kept me up at night reading.


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