Friday, December 14, 2007

(Ras)Putin, Robski, and “Moskva-Petushki”

A few random Russian literature news notes for the end of the week:

1. Writer Valentin Rasputin received a Russian government award -- Order for Service to the Fatherland (3rd degree) -- yesterday from Vladimir Putin. (Photo) According to the Kremlin Web site, Putin bestowed awards on 49 “outstanding Russian citizens.” Rasputin also received a special award from Big Book in November.

Putin’s speech at the Kremlin awards ceremony included this line:

Both now and in the future we must do everything we can to ensure that, along with the growth of our economic power, the people creating our national culture become household names in the rest of the world, and that Russian language and literature continue to develop as a means of interethnic and international communication.

I wonder if Putin knows about the Russian Reading Challenge

2. One of this morning’s top news stories (!) on was an item claiming that Oksana Robski, author of Casual and other bestsellers, plans to sell her house. It seems that selling tons of books isn’t enough to maintain a residence in the exclusive Rublyovka part of Moscow. Selling her Bentley would evidently only fund Robski’s expenditures for six months.

Casual fictionalizes Robski’s lifestyle. The book combines genres – primarily chick lit about the upper classes and detective – and became a huge bestseller. When I told a Russian reader friend that Casual had been translated into English, she said, “You mean someone took the time?” She and I both love a good piece of pulp fiction, but Casual lacks substance, structure, and heart. Casual is most notable as a view into Russia’s nouveau riche and for spawning copycat novels, but it’s still not very compelling. Bookslut has a full review.

3. The Biblio-Globus bestseller list for last week included a bit of a surprise: an “author’s text” edition of Venedikt Erofeev’s Москва-Петушки (Moscow to the End of the Line). (This summary has spoilers.) The book was written in 1970 but forbidden in the USSR until perestroika. I always wondered what I missed in my 1990 edition…

Moskva-Petushki is a tough book to summarize, but here’s what I wrote for a Soviet literature workshop last year:

Moscow to the End of the Line is the stream-of-consciousness narrative of a man who makes his way around and out of Moscow, drinking very heavily, philosophizing at times, and never seeming to make it to see the Kremlin. The book is depressing, sad, profane, and (of course) bleak, but there’s another reason it has a cult following: it is also very funny in spots, and the narrator (who coincidently shares the author’s name) shows a lot of heart. That’s why he drinks so much. Unfortunately, heart and soul are qualities that many Soviet literary characters lack. Though difficult to follow in places, this small book is a “Hit Parade” item in a large Russian on-line library.
Moscow to the End of the Line is a great example of messy postmodernism fitting a subject perfectly. And it’s just the right length. Though Moskva-Petushki won’t please everyone, it’s a minor classic.

Books in this posting:
Oksana Robski's Casual on Amazon
Erofeev's Moscow to the End of the Line on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. One should be careful in referring to someone like Putin in a manner that could so easily be read as flippant.

    If you respect him, one might conclude you lack the courage to openly say so.

    If you recognize him for the venal malignancy that he is, rewriting history books to suit his fancy in classic neo-Soviet style and crushing the life out of the spirit of the culture he so hypocritically claims to defend, one might conclude you have enabled him.

    Soviet leaders, too, spoke of expanding the reach of Russian culture even as they killed it (sending writers like Mr. Babel and Mr. Solzhenitsyn off the the camps). So that now Russian is a dying language and a dying race.

    It's a consistent theme right the way through Russian history -- Dosteovsky and Pushkin were likewise persecuted by Russia, and as much by the cowardly denizens thereof who failed to protect them as by the autocrats who raised their swords.

    Easy to get carried away as well with Russophila. Most of the world views Russian culture as extremely boring, always has and always will. Perhaps a big part of that is the naked hostility Russians show towards outsiders, as if they don't really think they are good enough to partake of Russian culture, and the haughty disdain they display towards the culture of other places and towards the idea of reform itself.