Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yasnaya Polyana Long List & Rushed Reading Roundup

The Yasnaya Polyana award announced long lists for its XXI Century and Childhood, Adolescence, Youth prizes last week. The XXI Century list contains some familiar names from recent short lists: Elizaveta Aleksandrova-Zorina’s Маленький человек (A Little Man), Evgenii Vodolazkin’s Лавр (Laurus), Andrei Volos’s Возвращение в Панчруд (excerpts) (Return to Panjrud), Maksim Kantor’s Красный свет (Red Light), Evgenii Kliuev’s Translit (which won a second in the Russian Prize), Maia Kucherskaia’s Тетя Мотя (Aunt Motya), Anna Matveeva’s Подожди, я умру — и приду (Wait a Bit, I’ll Die and Then Come Back… or thereabouts), and Sergei Soloukh’s Игра в ящик (The Box Game). The only longlisted books I’ve read thus far are Vodolazkin’s Laurus (previous post) and Roman Senchin’s Информация (The Information) (previous post). Yasnaya Polyana’s long list contains 41 books, many written by writers I’ve never heard of, let alone read… which is what I appreciate about long lists. A news item from April 30, 2013, notes that Yasnaya Polyana received 163 nominations: 105 were for the XXI Century category and 58 were for Childhood, Adolescence, Youth. Of those titles, 41 made the XXI Century long list and 22 made the Childhood, Adolescence, Youth long list.

Nonfiction isn’t my thing but I can’t help but mention that the Просветитель (Educator/Enlightener) award recently announced a long list, too. Two titles caught my eye: Sergei Beliakov’s Гумилев сын Гумилева (excerpts) (Gumilev, Son of Gumilev) in the biography category, and Maxim Krongaus’s Самоучитель Олбанского (I’ll go with Teach Yourself Olbansky). Beliakov’s book is already a finalist for the 2013 Big Book award.

Reading Roundup: My attention span has been painfully short during this long season of translation deadlines, travel preparations, and achingly beautiful weather… which means I’ve been reading more short fiction than usual and tossing more books aside than usual. (This also makes me fear various types of mistakes...) I find it horribly difficult to write about short fiction without retelling or spoiling entire stories but do want to note a few I’ve enjoyed. First off, a comment from Elena Bochorichvili prompted me to seek out “Волшебная мазь” (“The Magic Ointment”), a lovely story about a Georgian family that was first published in Novyi mir. Bochorichvili uses repetition beautifully as she blends together World War 2, the legacy of Stalin, family dynamics, and a mulberry tree. I didn’t want “The Magic Ointment” to end. (Ah, the heartbreak of good short stories!) Earlier this year, a friend brought me three books of by Aleksandr Furman that are part of a four-book series called История одного присутствия(“The Story of One Presence”). The books tell, chronologically and from a close third-person perspective, of the Soviet-era childhood of one Aleksandr Furman. I’ve read sections from the beginning of each book and share my friend’s puzzlement about how to describe the appeal of their chapters/stories. Furman doesn’t seem to write soft-focus tales of happy childhoods: my scattered reading may be very skewed but parental comfort seems largely absent in a world filled with threats. The first piece in the second volume details a long, scary-sounding hospital stay and the second tells of a sexual predator; the first piece in volume three describes the teenaged Furman’s stay in a psychiatric hospital, where he seems to feel more comfortable than he’d felt “outside.” Something about Furman’s tone, though, is accessible, even welcoming. I’ve been enjoying reading the books out of order; this seems to be something of a habit for me. Finally, I’m officially giving up on Leonid Iuzefovich’s Князь ветра (Prince of the Wind), the inaugural National Bestseller winner, after reading 249 of 347 pages: though I enjoyed Iuzefovich’s first two historical detective novels (previous post) about Ivan Putilin, a based-on-a-real person police inspector, I found Prince of the Wind too densely stuffed with historical detail and background on Mongolia to read well. The underlying story here is good, involving murder, family dynamics (again!), the possible sale of a soul to the devil, and, yes, observations about Mongolia, but the book felt terribly out of balance to me. Alas.

Up Next: A continuation of the Favorite Russian Writers series, in which I move on to the letter S. Then a trip report on the Translators’ Coven and poetry translation events in London. And, eventually, Red Spectres: Russian Gothic Tales from the Twentieth Century, a collection of stories translated and selected by Muireann Maguire. I haven’t read all the stories yet but can already say I particularly enjoyed Aleksandr Chayanov’s “Venediktov,” where I marked the line “Thoughts of diabolical encounters persecuted me relentlessly.” The combination of chits for souls and an atmosphere reminiscent of Russian sentimentalism is a winner for me.

Disclaimers: I’ve translated fiction by Elizaveta Aleksandrova-Zorina, Evgenii Vodolazkin, Roman Senchin, and Vladislav Otroshenko, who’s a member of the Yasnaya Polyana jury. I received books by Aleksandr Furman from a friend who, if I remember correctly, obtained them from the author for me. The Overlook Press sent me a copy of Red Spectres; translator and story selector Muireann Maguire acknowledged me in the book for reading a draft of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s “The Phantom,” a story that thoroughly creeped me out even when my main focus was language… Thank you to all! 


Post a Comment