Sunday, September 11, 2011

More Awards News & a Bit on Grekova’s Faculty

There are weeks (like, say, last week) when it feels like I can’t check my blog reader or without finding more news about Russian literary awards. Book of the Year winners were named on Wednesday at the Moscow International Book Fair, and I was pleased to see that an eight-volume edition of works by Andrei Platonov, published by Vremia, won the main Book of the Year prize. Prose of the Year went to Olga Slavnikova’s Lightheaded (previous post); the other nominees in the prose category were Mikhail Shishkin’s Letter-Book (previous post) and a book of essays about history by Iakov Gordin. has a full list of winners here, and some short lists are available here.

Then the Yasnaya Polyana award announced its six-book short list on Friday. I don’t know much about any of these writers or books but that, of course, is why I so enjoy following prize lists. The winner will be announced in late September or early October.

  • Ergali Ger’s Кома (Koma) – This novella/long story starts with the phrase “Родом Кома была из Рыбинска”—“Koma was a native of Rybinsk”—which got me interested because I once spent a couple days floating around the Rybinsk Water Reservoir on a research vessel and eating fresh fish.
  • Elena Katishonok’s Жили-были старик со старухой (Once There Lived an Old Man and His Wife) (excerpt) – This book was a Booker finalist in 2009.
  • Natal’ia Kliuchareva’s Деревня дураков (Village of Fools) – Kliuchareva is the only writer of the six that I’ve read so far: one of her stories is in the Rasskazy collection. It was one of my favorites. I still, BTW, highly recommend Rasskazy (previous post).
  • Irina Mamaeva’s Земля Гай (Gai Land, where Gai is the name of a settlement)
  • Iurii Mamleev’s Русские походы в тонкий мир (perhaps Russian Hikes/Campaigns Into a Subtle World?) – I still haven’t read much Mamleev, beyond a couple very short stories that I read at the beach recently.
  • Dmitrii Shevarov’s Добрые лица (Kind Faces)

As for I(rina) Grekova’s Кафедра (The Faculty): I realized I don’t have much to say about the book. After Grekova’s shorter Ship of Widows, Hairdresser, and Little Garusov, The Faculty felt a bit long and dispersed: the novel is composed of episodes in the lives of a math (cybernetics, I believe) department’s faculty members and students. The episodes are linked with various degrees of looseness and tightness; lives overlap like my beloved Venn diagrams. Grekova’s writing is, as usual, very readable, and she offers lots of insights and details on life, family, friendship, work, and death, reflecting Soviet reality… despite all that, plus Grekova’s tremendous compassion for her characters, The Faculty didn’t feel, well, special, compared with the other works I’ve read. I think the problem—a relatively minor one, I suppose, since I didn’t skim—is my preference for more tightly focused narratives.

Up Next: Well, there’s Leonid Girshovich’s “Вий”, вокальный цикл Шуберта на слова Гоголя (a title I’ve seen translated as “Viy,” Schubert’s Songs to Gogol’s Words), which I still think is peculiar. I’m also finding it a little repetitive and/or plodding, and definitely very showy so am going to do something I don’t usually do: read a chapter a day but focus more on another book, Sergei Kuznetsov’s Хоровод воды (Water’s Round Dance or The Round Dance of Water), a Big Book finalist. An excerpt, with comments from Kuznetsov, is on Snob. By coincidence, Kuznetsov’s book, which two friends recommended to me very highly, mentions the Rybinsk Water Reservoir in its early pages. Let’s hope this is a sign that it will help me break a streak of unsatisfying books.

Disclosures: Tin House, publisher of Rasskazy, is a publisher I enjoy speaking with about translated fiction.


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