Sunday, April 15, 2012

2012 NatsBest Finalists

I’m a few days late with the National Bestseller short list… here’s the list of six finalists, in order of how many points they were awarded during long list voting. I’m using some titles from literary agents’ pages and taking information for these brief descriptions from various sources, mostly Viktor Toporov’s summary of long list voting, jury member and press reviews, and publisher blurbs.

Aleksandr Terekhov’s Немцы ((The?) Germans) – 12 points. About Luzhkov-era Moscow. The publisher’s blurb calls Germans satirical. (“Satirical” is certainly a genre that seems fitting for Luzhkov-era Moscow…)

Vladimir Lidskii’s Русский садизм (Russian Sadism) – 7 points. Lidskii is the only shortlisted writer I hadn’t heard of, and the NatsBest summary says he was unknown, calling his book “яркий, странный и страшный” (“vivid, strange, and frightening”). Jury member Mikhail Vizel’ said this big novel about the Russian revolution and the “totalitarian empire” that followed is highly naturalistic.

Vladimir Lorchenkov’s Копи Царя Соломона (Tsar Solomon’s Mines) – 7 points. According to the blog called Заметил просто, this energetic action/adventure book is about a Jewish boy named Solomon Tsar. During World War 2 he hides in a cave near a site where the Nazis shoot people; Solomon gathers gold from the bodies, amassing tons. Decades later people want the gold.

Marina Stepnova’s Женщцны Лазаря (excerpt) (The Women of Lazarus) – 7 points. A family saga that starts just after the revolution and centers around a physicist and some of the women in his life. What sounds most interesting to me about The Woman of Lazarus is that Liza Novikova, in a review for Izvestiia, calls Stepnova’s book an “attack on the reading audience of Liudmila Ulitskaya and Dina Rubina.”

Sergei Nosov’s Франсуаза, или Путь к леднику (Françoise, Or the Way to the Glacier) – 6 points. A passage to India to meet a Brahmin, in which the travelers are a poet, a psychiatrist, a jealous couple, and Françoise. Toporov says the ironic storytelling of Françoise is Booker-like.

Anna Starobinets’s Живущий (The Living) – 6 votes. Immortality in a post-disaster world, where everyone on the planet is one. Except a man known as Zero. The cover has to be the scariest on the NatsBest short list. April 17 update: A reader e-mailed to let me know that Hesperus will publish The Living, in James Rann’s translation, this fall. 

The winner will be announced on June 3. No matter who wins, there shouldn’t be any grousing this year that the winner is too famous or too previously prize-laden to be an appropriate choice for an award intended to help a deserving writer become an intellectual/literary bestseller. The writers with the highest profiles are probably Terekhov, who won a Big Book second prize in 2009 for The Stone Bridge, and Starobinets, who is a journalist, screenwriter, and fiction writer. But I don’t think either of them is well-enough known to be a household name.

Speaking of last year’s winner, Dmitry Bykov’s Ostromov, Or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice… I tried reading Ostromov but had to stop after about 90 pages. I loved the setting—Leningrad in the mid-1920s, with seediness and oddities that flashed me back to Vaginov’s city and my reading about the Petersburg mythos—and the characters and Mason theme intrigued me. But Bykov’s wordiness and digressions did me in. And I don’t like to skim books, an approach more than one of you has recommended for reading/enjoying Bykov. I just don’t get much enjoyment from a book when I have to edit so much in my head. 

Up Next: Andrei Rubanov’s Жизнь удалась, which Rubanov’s literary agency calls All That Glitters. Rubanov’s directness is a good antidote to Bykov’s wordiness… and, alas, my spring cold.

Disclaimers: The usual. And thank you to the thoughtful dinner guest who gave me a copy of the Bykov book. 


  1. Well, Lizok, thank you so much again for doing the ground work for readers suffering from the "so many books-so little time" syndrome... I know I can come back here when ready to drop everything else and indulge in reading for hours at a time.

    You wrote:
    "And I don’t like to skim books, an approach more than one of you has recommended for reading/enjoying Bykov. I just don’t get much enjoyment from a book when I have to edit so much in my head."

    I could not agree more.

    Have an enjoyable week!

    1. A belated thank you for your comment, Catherine. The week was enjoyable, though very busy: Monday included a talk about contemporary Russian fiction at Bowdoin, where I'm teaching this semester, and things kept going from there!

      I hope you had a good week, too, and wish you another nice one!