Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year! & Reading Highlights from 2010

Happy new year! С Новым годом! I hope 2011 brings you lots of fun and intriguing Russian fiction, whether you read in English or Russian. Before the year ends, I thought I’d mention some 2010 favorites and a few reading intentions – not to be mistaken for goals or resolutions – for 2011:

Most enjoyably readable long novel: Based on reviews and awards nominations, I expected to like Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Чертово колесо (The Devil’s Wheel), but I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the book or the skill with which Gigolashvili brings dozens of characters to life while describing withdrawal from drugs and the Soviet way of life. (previous post) Bonus: Ad Marginem, which published The Devil’s Wheel, sent a link to a story by Gigolashvili as a holiday gift. (No, I haven’t read it yet…)

Favorite first-person narrative: With Клоцвог (Klotsvog), Margarita Khemlin does a wonderful job putting the reader inside the head of a character with all sorts of unpleasant life experiences. Khemlin has a tremendous ability to use simple language to create complex situations and characters. I’ve translated one of her short stories and hope to find it a good home in 2011. (previous post)

Favorite чернуха (dark/naturalistic realism): Roman Senchin’s Елтышевы (The Yeltyshevs), a horribly sad and realistic depiction of a failed family, is so beautifully and simply told that I asked about translating it... I’m working on it… (previous post)

Best nonfiction: I’m still recovering from Drawings from the Gulag, written and drawn by Danzig Baldaev. With its graphic visual and written descriptions of Gulag abuses, the book is very difficult to read but I think Baldaev’s perspective is important. Yes, I admit I only read one book of nonfiction this year but this one carries so much emotion and information that I know it would have been notable even if I’d read dozens. (previous post)

Favorite translated book: I did something unusual this year: I read a book, Moscow Noir, in Russian-English translation because I couldn’t wait for the collection of originals to appear in Russian. The translations read well, and the book was dark, dark, dark, as promised. Okay, I confess this is another category with no real competition since Drawings from the Gulag is bilingual. But the book was good, and the editors, Natalia Smirnova and Julia Goumen, did a great job compiling it. (previous post)

What might be coming in 2011: Hmm, the Sh writers seem to lead: I’ve been delaying my Shklovsky mini-marathon for far too long, and I’ve been staring at several of Mikhail Shishkin’s books for months. I also have Viacheslav Shishkov’s Угрюм-река, which I’ll call Gloom River in English, if only because it sounds like “Moon River”… Finally, I’m particularly looking forward to reading Iurii Buida after finally being able to buy one of his books, after several years of on-and-off attempts.

A big thanks to everyone for all your visits, comments, and e-mail messages in 2010! It’s been a fun year of reading, blogging, and hearing from so many of you. I look forward to more reading and book talk in 2011 -- happy new year!

Disclosures: I received Drawings from the Gulag and Moscow Noir from their publishers, Fuel and Akashic, respectively.

New year stamp image from Mariluna, via Wikipedia.


  1. С наступающим! I look forward to keeping up with Russian literature through your reviews, and maybe your starting on Shklovsky will inspire me to dig into my own accumulating pile.

  2. Dear Lisa,

    I only recently discovered your blog, but it is such a delight. The only problem I have is how to search it efficiently.

    I wonder whether you read/discussed Pelevin's "t" or whether you are going to do it. I am reading Pavel Basinsky's "Бегство из рая," and I may follow up with Pelevin.

    I enjoyed your comments on "War and Peace." Are are planning on reading another long classic in 2011?

    С Новым Годом! Всего самого наилучшего!

  3. Thank you, languagehat and jkdenne, for your kind comments. С Новым годом!

    @languagehat: Dalkey's gift of Energy of Delusion, way back in May, inspired me to clump all the Shklovsky on a "consider reading relatively soon shelf"... of course "relatively" is the operational word here!

    @jkdenne: First, I'm curious about your thoughts on Бегство из рая... what do you think?

    Indeed, searching blogs isn't always easy -- my biggest frustration is that the built-in search doesn't capture information in comments. Clicking on author tags is probably the most dependable way to find out if I've written about a specific book: I create author tags for all the writers whose books I write about in depth or whose books win major prizes. NB: I generally use Library of Congress transliteration... except for names like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. If all else fails, just send me a message or write a comment.

    As for reading plans... I've never been much of a Pelevin fan so don't have any intention of reading t, at least not now. I do have a couple long Soviet-era classics on the shelf, though: Угрюм-река and Тихий Дон, another Ш-authored book. I didn't like Quiet Flows the Don when I read it years ago in translation but thought I'd give it another try after a frequent commentor mentioned enjoying it. I'm also rereading В круге первом, albeit at a very slow pace.

    Happy new year and happy reading to all!

  4. Happy New Year and thank you for this wonderful blog!

  5. Thank you, Seesaw, and a very happy new year to you, too!

  6. Thanks for the list and your blog. I've been reading your blog for some time, but this is my first time commenting.

    I recently began reading Елтышевы, and like you I'm hooked and horribly depressed. I'm starting Человек, который знал всё soon too.

    By the way, you mentioned in a post that you dislike reading books printed from websites. I add books from websites to my new Kindle, which unlike previous versions displays Cyrillic. It works wonderfully well.

  7. Thank you for your visits and your comment, Anthony! I'm glad you've been appreciating Елтышевы -- it was a real highlight of my reading last year. I'd be interested to hear what you think of Человек, который знал всё, too.

    Thank you for mentioning the Kindle. It's funny that you happened to write about it now: I just bought a Jetbook Lite for reading manuscripts and books from online journals. It also handles Cyrillic well and is very inexpensive. I'll probably write more about it in my next post.

    Happy reading!

  8. Dear Liza, have you seen that -

    Mariam Petrosyan's HOUSE is the winner of 2010 Student Booker Prize.

  9. Thank you, Anonymous, for your comment! Somehow I missed the announcement that Petrosian's Дом, в котором... won the Student Booker. I was happy to see that two of my favorites from 2010 -- the Gigolashvili and Khemlin books -- made the Student Booker short list, too.

    And I will try Petrosian's book again sometime...

  10. I love the stamp :) I hope to one day actually find the time to read some of these Russian books.

  11. tricours, I especially liked that particular stamp, too! I also hope you have a chance to read some of these books.