Thursday, December 2, 2010

2010 Russian Booker Awarded to Koliadina

The 2010 Russian Booker Prize was awarded to Elena Koliadina today for her novel Цветочный крест (The Cross of Flowers or The Flower Cross, take your pick), about a 17th-century man of the cloth, father Loggin.

The news article announcing the award notes that The Cross of Flowers generated plentiful reader reaction. In summary: Lenta mentions negative reviews criticizing Koliadina’s stylized use of old Russian language, comical eroticism, lack of feel for language, and, to top it all off, “элементарное невежество,” “basic ignorance/lack of manners.” I guess nobody should be surprised about any of this since the line under the novel’s title reads “роман-катавасия” – “novel-muddle.”

The Lenta article quotes [indirectly] Koliadina as saying she’d always wanted to write a novel about love and sex but couldn’t find the right words in contemporary Russian. That, apparently, inspired her to seek shelter in pre-Petrine Russian. The key word in the first sentence, though, is афедрон/aphedron, which apparently hails from Greece. Афедрон isn’t in my Russian dictionaries, but the Internet tells me it can mean both latrine and anus in Russian… the specific meaning quickly becomes clear on the first page of the novel. So do the stylistic peculiarities of Koliadina’s writing.

The novel is currently only available in journal form; AST will release it as a book sometime around the new year holiday. For now, find The Cross of Flowers online at the Вологодская литература (Vologda Literature) site, here: beginning middle end.


An English-language article about the award, from Voice of Russia, with a plot summary plus comments from Booker secretary Igor Shaitanov.

Further Russian-language commentary on the book: has a brief news item about the post-award scandal, followed by lots of very interesting comments. I particularly enjoyed reading critic Aleksandr Gavrilov's critique of the novel's stylistics; he essentially says it's sloppy and overloaded, which was my impression, too, from reading the first page and some random pages further in. (Gavrilov read the whole thing.) Snob's summary notes that one article about the award, from Kommersant, mentions that the Booker's five-year contract with its sponsor -- BP! -- is ending. Kommersant writer Anna Narinskaia wonders if the award was meant as a "жест" (gesture) indicating that the Booker organizers are tired of the award. Indeed.

-A piece by Artyom Efimov on, discusses the post-award scandal and plays on Koliadina's use of the word "aphedron."

-The blogger who writes as zametilprosto seemed to root most for Petrosian to win the Booker but liked Cross second-best. Zametilprosto says the book is far more focused on holiness and sin than love and sex. A commenter agreed and calls the book easy but dull/boring (скучно) reading.

-Another news article. This one has quotes from Koliadina... including how her work for Космополитен got her going on the book.

-Critic Andrei Nemzer's absolutely scathing commentary on the award and the book.


  1. The reaction I see across all blogs I am following on LJ is totally negative, this means only one thing - I have to read it.

  2. You'll have to let me know what you think of it!

  3. I read the first page or so and it seemed pretty bad; Nemzer's devastating remarks leave me with no desire to investigate further. But of course I'll be interested to read SL's reaction!

  4. People would hate a book that would be a classic.

  5. @Languagehat: The beginning of the book didn't draw me in, either... in short, the style didn't work for me. But I'm very interested to read what Steven thinks. (No pressure, Steven!)

    @Nana: Yes, it's certainly true that plenty of classics weren't well received when first published.

    In general, I don't have as much interest in this year's major award winners as I might have hoped to have: I think Kochergin's NatsBest winner sounds most interesting of the big three's (Booker, Big Book, NatsBest) top prize winners, but, unlike past years, none of the award announcements inspired me to order up books.

    That said, this year's short and long lists got me reading and enjoying books by writers I'd heard of but never read before: The Devil's Wheel and Happiness Is Possible stand out. And I'm looking forward to Petrosian's House in Which, which should arrive at my own house on Monday.


  7. Thanks, kolokolcev! I can't watch the video (из-за территориальных ограничений) but appreciated many of the comments...


  9. I have to second the public opinion, I could not finish the book. While it is an entertaining read, it can hardly merit a Booker. The language is a jarring combination of slavinisms and modern slang. Of course slavinisms are very much out of place when they come as words out of mouths of regular folks, not priests who would be expected to use some Old Church Slavonic. If you are interested to read a real masterpiece of the epoch (mid 17th century) - you should pick up "Житие протопопа Аввакума, им самим написанное" - a first autobiography in Russian and a very engaging book written by the intransigent "old believer" Avvakum. In it you can compare the language used with Koliadina's. In fact, I am sure Koliadina borrowed a lot from that book, includeing the name of one of the main characters - Father Loggin.