Sunday, November 4, 2018

2019 NOS(E) Award Finalists

The NOS(E) Award announced a ten-book short list on November 1 in Krasnoyarsk during public debates at the annual Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair. This year’s list seems a bit unusual. For one thing (I’ll go for the personal first!), it’s unusual that five of the books are already on my shelves. And then seven of them (!) were written by women. Beyond that, it’s particularly unusual that almost all these books sound interesting, stylistically and/or thematically, and that I’ve read and heard so many very complimentary comments about the majority of them. Winners will be announced in late January or early February 2019.

Here are the ten finalists in the order they’re listed on the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund site:

  • Denis Gorelov’s Родина слоников (Motherland of Little Elephants) is a nonfiction collection about Soviet cinema and the Soviet Union itself.
  • Yury Leiderman’s Моабитские хроники (Moabit Chronicles) is set in Moabit, the region of Berlin where Leiderman has his art studio.
  • Natalya Meshchaninova’s Рассказы (Stories) is a familiar title: it was a 2018 NatsBest nominee and is on one of critic Galina Yuzefovich’s lists of books she recommended at the September translator Kongress in Moscow. (a story)
  • Anna Nemzer’s Раунд (Round, probably like a “round” of talks or negotiations, though we’ll see) is described as an “optical novel” (different points of view?) that’s based on conversations. Publisher Elena Shubina especially recommended it to me; it’s on my shelf. Galina Yuzefovich added this one to her list of recommended books for a Frankfurt Book Fair presentation. (a sample)
  • Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory) is already a finalist for the Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards. I’ll be starting this one any day now. (An interview.) (A description.)
  • Ksenia Buksha’s Открывается внутрь (Opens In) also comes recommended by Galina Yuzefovich. Linked stories. (A story)
  • Yevgenia Nekrasova’s Калечина-Малечина (Kalechina-Malechina, referring to a game) is yet another Yuzefovich pick. Shubina suggested this one to me, too; it’s on my shelf. (A sample)
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s Нас украли. История преступлений (Kidnapped. The History of Crimes) is set in the 1980s and 1990s; click on the English language title link for a full summary from Petrushevskaya’s literary agency. Also on my shelf.
  • Alla Gorbunova’s Вещи и ущи (hmm, this is kind of like Thing Things and Idea Things but even the author seems to prefer leaving that a mystery…) is a collection of stories. (One story) (Another story)
  • Viktor Pelevin’s iPhuck 10 is a nice way to finish the list, given that it’s the only title that needs no translation. No matter what it’s about.


Disclaimers: The usual. I know and/or collaborate with some of the people and entities mentioned in the post. I have received some of these books from various parties. The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund’s grant program – Transcript – for translations from the Russian helps pay my fees. And, thus, my bills.

Up Next: English-language reading roundup, a brief Russian-language reading roundup, and Big Book finalists, most of which I’m finding very (okay, extraordinarily!) difficult to read in full, thanks to structural problems, lack of editing, and mission drift. Those problems frequently pile up, creating amorphous, bloated texts. There are far too many books these days (not just written in Russian) that seem to require readers to edit the books in their heads as they attempt to read. It’s especially hard to stick with some of big books of the Big Book when I have so much on my shelves that I can’t wait to try, particularly the Nekrasova and Nemzer titles on this list!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Olga Slavnikova Wins 2018 Yasnaya Polyana Award

The Yasnaya Polyana Award announced 2018 winners last week. Olga Slavnikova’s Прыжок в длину (Long Jump) won the jury award and Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory or Post-Memory, as foreign rights holder Suhrkamp calls it) won the readers’ choice prize. Amos Oz and his Russian translator, Viktor Radutskii, won international literature honors for Иуда, which is known as Judas in Nicholas de Lange’s English translation.

Although I was surprised when Long Jump leaped its way to the three-book Yasnaya Polyana shortlist in September, my surprise faded quickly. Long Jump may not be calling out to me from the shelf, begging (Lisa! Lizok, read more of me!) for attention – it’s very densely populated with metaphors, something I find wearying in any language, and the book lacks the sparkle of Slavnikova’s 2017 (previous post) – but I will finish it. And that’s not just because rumor has it there’s a big plot twist on the way. I may not love Long Jump but the book has plenty of interesting elements, including some sharp social commentary. Vladislav Otroshenko, a Yasnaya Polyana juror, has mentioned in award announcements that Long Jump offers a lens for looking at the world and I certainly can’t argue with that. Vlad’s statements last week also assert that Slavnikova’s book (I’ll paraphrase) is the only [award candidate] written as a novel rather than as primitive self-expression and he adds that Slavnikova wrote a book that makes a statement that’s important for humankind. There’s something – a lot, really – to be said for that, and I can’t quibble with his statement, given that he’s looking at universality, something I also value very highly and found way too little of in the books on the YP longlist that I read or (far more frequently) attempted to read.

Even if I have misgivings about Long Jump, they feel purely technical and very overcomable, and they don’t prevent me from respecting Slavnikova’s achievement, which I can sense even without finishing the novel. I feel something more akin to trepidation about the prospect of reading Post-Memory, which I seem to either hear praised as a Very Important Book or dissed as a long and plotless snoozer. I’ve tried, though/therefore, to avoid reading detailed commentary about Post-Memory, lest I be swayed too far in either direction, particularly since I know good readers from both camps. No matter what I end up thinking of Post-Memory – which, of course I’m hoping to enjoy or at least appreciate, something that, yes, can occasionally be possible even with plotless snoozers – I need to get reading it and finishing Long Jump, too. For now, though, I’m feeling pretty entertained by Alexei Vinokurov’s People of the Black Dragon, a novel in stories that’s also a Big Book finalist.

Up Next: Reading roundups for English-language books and Big Book finalists.

Disclaimers: The usual, for the fact that I’ve translated books by two YP jury members and know Slavnikova a bit.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Blog Turns Eleven – Belated Happy Birthday to the Blog & Frankfurt Book Fair Notes

The blog turned eleven on Tuesday but I was still a bit out of focus after my trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair so decided to wait on festivities until the weekend. As I noted last year, those posts are less interesting to compile now anyway since there’s no point in looking at readership statistics these days. Even so, what’s most important about readership now is what’s always been most important about these posts: thanking you, the readers, for visiting, whether you do so occasionally or regularly. One of the biggest surprises of this blogging endeavor is that people continue visiting, reading, and (apparently) finding useful information on the blog, something that I think of as a sort of online filing cabinet, as, really, an extension of my brain, which is ever more stuffed with details I need to offload.

I’ve started considering my trip to Frankfurt as a sort of birthday present to my professional self since, after all, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now – translating Russian fiction – if it weren’t for the blog. (This is good justification to go back again next year, too.) So here, in lazy listicle form, are eleven things I particularly enjoyed about this year’s Frankfurt fair.
  • No Wifi at the Messe! I’ll start with something that brought joy. The book fair promises wifi but my devices this year and last failed to accept it. People with lots of Frankfurt experience told me this is an eternal problem and not a device-specific issue. (Some kind people from the Uzbek stand, for example, had a theory that the wifi doesn’t like Samsung, which is what I have.) Whatever the wifi issue, it was a treat not to have Internet access during the days. Next year I’ll just print out my calendar and leave the device in the safe.
  • Book Surprises. I never quite know what Russian-to-English translations I’ll find at book fairs. Of course I already have Oliver Ready’s translations of Vladimir Sharov, published by Dedalus Books, and was happy to see them, thanks to my friendships with both Sharov and Ready. And I knew of Tatyana Tolstaya’s Aetherial Worlds, published by Knopf, translated by Anya Migdal, and prominently displayed on The Wylie Agency’s stand. I was, thus, far curiouser about a few translations on the shelves at the Seagull Books stand: a clutch of books by Sergei Eisenstein, translated by multiple translators, The Prison Poems of Nikolai Bukharin, translated by George Shriver (!), and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Time within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986, translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Seagull kindly gave me Eisenstein’s On the Detective Story, translated by Alan Upchurch, and just paging through has been interesting: there’s a cast of thousands, thanks to references to Lenin, Hitchcock, Pushkin, Gogol, and many more.
  • Other Books I Brought Home. I received books at various other stands, too. There’s Yulia Yakovleva’s The Raven’s Children, the first book in a trilogy (from Samokat) for kids that discusses the Stalin era; Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp has already translated the book into English for Penguin. I’m especially excited to give Eduard Verkin’s Sakhalin Island a try (I love a good post-apocalyptic novel), and was happy to find copies of Ksenia Buksha’s Opens In and Yuri Buida’s The Fifth Kingdom after hearing good things about them and forgetting to pick them up in Moscow. There’s also an English-language treat from Maclehose Press: Frank Wynne’s translation of Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex 1, a finalist for this year’s Man Booker International Prize, still unavailable in the U.S.
  • Speaking About Books. I talked about books at the Russia stand, largely basing my comments on some lists – of authors I think have done particularly well in translation and books I consider big favorites – that I’d come up for a panel on contemporary novels with Maya Kucherskaya, Natalia Osipova, Maria Tsiruleva, and Galina Yuzefovich. The lists also came in handy for a talk with Anne Coldefy-Faucard about translation in France and the U.S., moderated by Evgeny Reznichenko. The lists certainly wouldn’t hold any surprises for regular blog readers (and even if you’re not, you can find a favorites list on the sidebar as well as year-end posts that mention reading highlights) so I’ll just say that I was happy to hear that Maria and I share a love for Dmitry Danilov’s Description of a City (previous post) and Horizontal Position (previous post).
  • An Award to Katharina Raabe. I don’t know a lot about what gets translated from Russian into German but I do know that Katharina Raabe, a literary editor at Suhrkamp, is a major force in bringing Russian and Eastern European literature to German-language readers. Knowing her dedication, I was very happy to see that the German Literary Translators’ Association recognized her work with the Übersetzerbarke (“Translators’ Barque”) award. When we talked a bit later about Suhrkamp’s list, she mentioned Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory), a Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana finalist (Suhrkamp’s description, including English translation information) that I’ll be reading soon. Raabe was Katja Petrowskaja’s editor for Vielleicht Esther, which I enjoyed in Shelley Frisch’s translation from the German, Maybe Esther (previous post).
  • The Serendipity Factor. The serendipity factor is part of what gives book fairs – and even travel to and from Frankfurt – their energy. Last year, a woman asked me in the subway if she was on the correct platform to catch a train to the airport; we were both at the right track, then figured out we were both Buchmesse attendees so talked the whole way to the airport… and ended up meeting this year, on purpose, to talk about books and translation. Beyond running into people I wasn’t expecting to see and being introduced to lots more people I was glad to meet, wandering the fair’s food section (which I hadn’t planned on doing) brought me a bag of nice Georgian tea as well as a stop at a Russian cookbook publisher’s stand – their painfully beautiful books drew me. (And then we talked about food translation issues!)
  • Georgia Stories. Georgia was the guest of honor at this year’s fair – the tagline was “Georgia – Made by Characters” – and about seventy authors were listed in the thick (nearly a hundred pages) catalogue for the Georgian program at the Georgian national stand and pavilion. The Georgian pavilion was a stylish and otherworldly place: dark, uncrowded, a bit hushed, and almost eerie, in part thanks to a mesmerizing and mysteriously moving installation with slow-motion video of authors’ faces. I loved the pavilion so made daily visits. I especially enjoyed hearing Shota Iatashvili, a friend from translation congresses in Moscow, speak about his story in collection The Book of Tbilisi, along with fellow author Zviad Kvaratskhelia, editor Becca Parkinson, and moderator Gvantsa Jobava. I need to order up the book! And look up other Georgian books that have been translated into English.
  • Georgian Music & Poetry. Shota and I went to the Georgian café in the pavilion after the story event: I was in serious need of coffee but they’d run out (!) so, well, what was I to do but settle for a glass of Georgian red wine? Which, of course, tasted very nice. The wine turned out to be for the best because it fit so well with an electronic poetry performance from Rati Amaglobeli and Gogi Dzodzuashvili on the nearby large stage. I loved it. Here’s a sample.
  •  Being Part of Something Bigger. Getting a sense of my tiny place in the book world – with the emphasis on “world” – and learning a little about how the book industry works is why the Frankfurt Book Fair feels so important to me. I’m not sure how the book fair counts visitors but 285,024 is a lot, even if it’s not unique visitors, and I’m glad I got out of my quiet home office for a few days to make sure the visitor count reached 285,023 + 1. (Or 285,020 +4 if the stats are per visit!)
  • Next Year. I’m already looking forward to next year when Norway – one of my favorite places on earth – will be the guest of honor. Time to take out all the Norwegian books I’ve accumulated but haven’t read.
  • Glad I Made It at All! Finally, travel being what it is these days, with so many indignities even on a good day and then unusual delays on bad ones, I’m glad I made it to Frankfurt as scheduled! (Doubly glad because I’d co-organized a dinner gathering with colleagues for that night!) I arrived at Logan Airport only about forty-five minutes before my flight because my bus was delayed for more than an hour on the highway thanks to a car fire in New Hampshire. The good people at the Aer Lingus desk told me I could make it – I’d checked in online and could carry on my tiny suitcase – and then they expedited me through security, watching to make sure I got through. I wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t already checked in (something I often slack on) and packing light meant no luggage complications (plus plenty of room to bring home books). Lessons learned!
I hadn’t meant to write an epic – so much for that “lazy listicle”!

Thank you again for your visits and kind words!

Up Next: Yasnaya Polyana Award winner. Reading roundups for English-language books and Big Book finalists.

Disclaimers: The usual. Although I went to Frankfurt on my own this year, I thank the Institute of Translation for helping me out in several ways in Frankfurt. Huge thanks, too, to everyone else who treated me to books, happy hour wine, and lovely meals!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Goodbye to Oleg Pavlov

I’d been planning to write a light, easy post today but I’m writing instead about the death of writer Oleg Pavlov. He died this Moscow afternoon, of a heart attack. He was only 48 and his death saddens me tremendously. 

Pavlov won the 2012 Solzhenitsyn Prize (previous post) and received the 2002 Russian Booker for his Карагандинские девятины, или Повесть последних дней (Requiem for a Soldier, in Anna Gunin’s translation for And Other Stories). Requiem for a Soldier is the final book of a trilogy that And Other Stories has published in full: the other two books are Казенная сказка (Captain of the Steppe in Ian Appleby’s translation) and Дело Матюшина (The Matiushin Case in Andrew Bromfield’s translation). Arch Tate translated Pavlov’s Асистолия (Asystole or Flatline) for Glagoslav; here’s a sample.

I’ve read only Captain of the Steppe (previous post, where I called it A Barracks Tale) and Flatline (previous post). Neither is cheery but both inspired tremendous respect for Pavlov’s writing. He was a very good writer. I’ve been intending to read the second two books of the trilogy for all too many years now.

Pavlov’s death brought back memories of meeting him at the London Book Fair in 2011, particularly debating the ultimate fate of Flatline’s main character with him and two other readers. I didn’t know him well at all, but Phoebe Taplin’s article for The Calvert Journal covers a great deal about Pavlov’s life and reminds me of my exchanges with Pavlov, too, in which he also described catching a cold in London and, among other things, told me I worked too hard and recommended books to read. I’m very sorry to learn of his passing.

Two other articles on Pavlov’s life and writing:

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The 2018 NOS(E) Award Longlist

The NOS(E) Award longlist – 22 books – was announced last week and for some crazy reason, I’m going to follow what’s more or less become a (personal) tradition and list all the books with brief (okay, often micro-) descriptions. The list will be debated and discussed, culminating in a shortlist announcement, on November 1. Readers may vote on the longlisted books on the Prokhorov Foundation Web site beginning October 15.

I’m not sure what order the Prokhorov Foundation used when they compiled this list but I’ll follow it. I’ve included links to samples, stories, and Журнальный зал listings for many entries – for many, a quick glance will give a sense of the book.

  • Denis Gorelov’s Родина слоников (Motherland of Little Elephants) is a nonfiction collection about Soviet cinema and the Soviet Union itself.
  • Vladimir Danikhnov’s Тварь размером с колесо обозрения (Beast/Creature the Size of a Ferris Wheel) is, sadly, a posthumous entry since Danikhnov, who was only 37, died earlier this month of the beast he writes about in the book: cancer.
  • Zinovy Zinik’s Ермолка под тюрбаном (A Yarmulke Under the Turban) concerns the life of Shabtai Zvi, offering parallels to (our) contemporary life.
  • Yury Leiderman’s Моабитские хроники (Moabit Chronicles) is set in Moabit, the region of Berlin where Leiderman has his art studio.
  • Natalya Meshchaninova’s Рассказы (Stories) is a familiar title: it was a 2018 NatsBest nominee and is on one of critic Galina Yuzefovich’s lists of books she recommended to translators at the recent translator conference in Moscow. (a story)
  • Anna Nemzer’s Раунд (Round, probably like a “round” of talks or negotiations, though we’ll see) is described as an “optical novel” (different points of view?) that’s based on conversations. Publisher Elena Shubina especially recommended it to me; it’s on my shelf. (a sample)
  • Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory) is already a finalist for the Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards. (An interview.) (A description.)
  • Eduard Verkin’s Остров Сахалин (Sakhalin Island) is described as containing post-apocalyptic adventure, a love story, lost hopes, and shades of Chekhov. (!)
  • Ksenia Buksha’s Открывается внутрь (Opens In) also comes recommended by Galina Yuzefovich. Linked stories. (A story)
  • Yevgenia Nekrasova’s Калечина-Малечина (Kalechina-Malechina, referring to a game) is yet another Yuzefovich pick. Shubina suggested this one to me, too; it’s on my shelf. (A sample)
  • Olga Beshlei’s Мой дикий ухажер из ФСБ (My Savage Suitor from the FSB, with “FSB” being the state security agency) is apparently a collection of stories; this one’s billed as literature about the young.
  • Grigory Sluzhitel’s Дни Савелия (Savely’s Days) is the novel about a cat that I loved so much earlier this year. (A sample.)
  • Alexander Arkhangelsky’s Бюро проверки (Verification Bureau or something of the sort) is set in 1980 Moscow and feels like a sociocultural catalogue of the age. A Big Book finalist; I’ve read a large chunk (72% according to my reader – a new Kobo that I pretty much do truly love, as much as I can love an ereader, anyway) but the bureau just doesn’t call out to me.
  • Pavel Peppershtein’s Предатель ада (Hell’s Traitor) is yet another collection, though this one gets a “psychedelic” tag on the LitRes site, where there’s an illustrated sample.
  • Yulia Yakovleva’s . Жуки не плачут (literally Beetles Don’t Cry) is the third installment in Yakovleva’s series of books about Leningrad during World War 2, following on The Raven’s Children, which Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp has already translated into English.
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskayas Нас украли. История преступлений (Kidnapped. The History of Crimes) is set in the 1980s and 1990s; click on the English language title link for a full summary from Petrushevskaya’s literary agency.
  • Dmitry Garichev’s Мальчики (Little Boys) is a novella that appears to have only been published thus far in a literary journal; it’s a tough one for a quick study given a lack of dialogue and a plethora of long paragraphs.
  • Alla Gorbunova’s Вещи и ущи (hmm, this is kind of like Thing Things and Idea Things but even the author seems to prefer leaving that a mystery…) is a collection of stories. (One story) (Another story)
  • Polina Zherebtsova’s 45 параллель (The 45th Parallel) is a “documentary novel” about Stavropol, where the author lived after leaving Chechnya in 2004. (an excerpt)
  • Lev Rubinshtein’s Целый год (An Entire Year) looks like it’s a lot of brief texts about events that took place throughout history, organized in calendar order by day but mixing years. (a sample)
  • Sergei Kuznetsov’s Учитель Дымов (Teacher Dimov) looks at three generations of a family in a sort of ensemble piece, making it a quiet and calm sort of family saga. I found it pretty absorbing and enjoyable.
  • Viktor Pelevin’s iPhuck 10 is a nice way to finish the list, given that it’s the only title that needs no translation. No matter what it’s about.
My conclusions on this list: very few traditional novels, lots of collections, a fair bit of nonfiction, blends of genre, and one of the most balanced Russian lists I’ve seen in terms of gender, with ten books written by women and twelve written by men.

Disclaimers: The usual. I know and/or collaborate with some of the authors, publishers, and literary agents mentioned in the post. I have received some of these books from various parties.

Up next: English-language reading roundup, a brief Russian-language reading roundup, and Big Book finalists, where I’ve had an odd start, as the Arkhangelsky entry above shows. I read only the first of three (very loosely connected) parts Bykov’s June after finding parts two and three pretty dull after part one. I’m now reading Oleg Yermakov’s very long book with the mysterious title: time goes back a few centuries in the chapter I’ll be starting tonight, so fingers crossed on that little literary escapade. The first hundred pages read pretty easily with my biggest complaint being too many gratuitous mentions of Richard Ashcroft and The Verve. (And that despite my thorough appreciation for “Bittersweet Symphony.”)