Sunday, April 27, 2014

The 2014 Big Book’s Slightly Shorter Long List

The Big Book Award announced its long list—a customary combination of fiction and nonfiction—early last week. Since this year’s long list has fewer than 30 books (okay, so it’s 29), I decided to look them all up: I haven’t read any of them in full, which means all I can guarantee here is a clutch of vague descriptions gleaned from cryptic and, often, scarce blurbs and reviews plus yet more dubious translations of titles, many of which are also cryptic, vague, and ambiguous. I have no idea what possesses me to do this every now and again… but at least the task was made a bit easier by a couple biographies with elegantly simple titles (thank you ЖЗЛ!), and some overlap with this year’s 2014 National Bestseller and NOSE shortlists. Big Book will announce its shortlist in late May. Here’s the list, in Russian alphabetical order:

  • Svetlana Aleksievich: Время секонд хэнд (See Second-Hand Time for a detailed description and a list of translations). Nonfiction about Russia’s post-Soviet history.
  • Yuri Arabov: Столкновение с бабочкой (Clash/Collision with a Butterfly). Hmm, chapter one is titled “Ленин в Цюрихе” (“Lenin in Zurich”); in an interview Arabov referred to the novel as alternative, “what if,” history.
  • Vladimir Berezin: Виктор Шкловский (Viktor Shklovsky). Biography of Viktor Shklovsky from the Lives of Remarkable People series.
  • Yuri Buida: Яд и мед (Poison and Honey). One of only two books on the list that I’ve read, if only in part. I’ve been kind itching lately to read the short stories in the collection after enjoying the title novella. (previous post)
  • Ksenia Buksha: Завод “Свобода” (The “Freedom” Factory). About a factory called Freedom that was founded in 1920 then fails in a later era; based on real events. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller.
  • Aleksandr Grigorenko: Ильгет. Три имени судьбы (excerpts) (Ilget. Three Names for Fate). Shortlisted for this year’s NOSE Award. Novel set in the early thirteenth century in the taiga.
  • Natalya Gromova: Ключ. Последняя Москва (The Key. The Last/Final Moscow). This one’s called an archival novel, and it apparently focuses largely on the 1930s and a Moscow that no longer exists. Gromova works at the Tsvetaeva house museum in Moscow. There’s more here.
  • Yana Dubinyanskaya: Пансионат (The Guesthouse). Varied guests with varied problems all staying at a guesthouse (most likely of an institutional sort) after a global catastrophe. Sounds cryptic.
  • Andrei Ivanov: Харбинские мотыльки (Опа! Only the beginning is available online) (The Moths of Harbin). A novel about Russians in Estonia during 1920-1940. This sounds like a difficult but interesting novel. Winner of this year’s NOSE Award.
  • Nikolai Klimontovich: Парадокс о европейце (Paradox of/about a/the European). An Italian-born doctor living in the US meets a Soviet investigator, apparently at Lubyanka.
  • Elena Kostioukovitch: Цвингер (Zwinger). A very long (220,000 words!) novel that involves searches for art stolen by Germany during World War 2. Kostioukovitch, founder and creative director of the Elkost Literary Agency, draws on extensive research and her own family’s history in Zwinger.
  • Aleksei Makushinskii: Пароход в Аргентину (Steamship to Argentina). A novel about émigré life and Proustian searches.
  • Vladimir Martynov: Автоархеология на рубеже тысячелетий (Self-Archeology at the Turn of Millennia). Looking at historical changes as a part of the self rather than as something outside the person. Last book in a trilogy.
  • Yuri Miloslavskii: Приглашенная. Материалы к биографии Александры Федоровны Чумаковой (excerpt) (Invited. Materials Regarding the Biography of Alexandra Fedorovna Chumakova). About the Big Stuff: love, time, identity, rebirth, and death. Indescribable-sounding.
  • Aleksandr Podrabinek: Диссиденты (part 1) (part 2) (Dissidents). Memoir by a journalist and human rights activist.
  • Zakhar Prilepin: Обитель (The Cloister). A novel about the Solovetsky Islands in the 1920s.
  • Viktor Remizov: Воля вольная (Willful Will/Free Freedom… oh, how I want to preserve those common roots even if the title doesn’t work!). A policeman celebrates his promotion in the wild with a friend and then there’s a conflict with a local… and much more.
  • Vladimir Ropshinov: Князь механический (The Mechanical Prince). Alternative history: What if the 1917 revolution hadn’t happened?
  • Vladimir Sorokin: Теллурия (Tellurium). On my NatsBest long list post, I wrote: A polyphonic novel in 50 highly varying chapters. I read about 150 pages before setting Tellurium aside: Sorokin’s use of a futuristic medieval setting, tiny and huge people, kinky stuff, sociopolitical observations, and a novel (ha!) psychotropic agent all felt way too familiar after Day of the Oprichnik, The Blizzard, and The Sugar Kremlin. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller.
  • Evgenii Chizhov: Перевод с подстрочника (literally Translation from a Literal Translation) A novel about a translator who goes to an invented country with a name ending in –stan to get some literal translations of poetry that need to be translated into real Russian.
  • Igor Shaitainov: Шекспир (Shakespeare). Biography from the Lives of Remarkable People series.
  • Sergei Shargunov: 1993. This novel calls itself “a family portrait set against the backdrop of a burning house”… 1993 was the year of the “October events,” when tanks shelled the Russian White House. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller.
  • Vladimir Sharov: Возвращение в Египет (Return to Egypt). In which one Kolya Gogol (a distant relative of familiar old Nikolai Gogol) finishes writing Dead Souls. An epistolary novel. Shortlisted for this year’s National Bestseller.
  • Roman Shmarakov: Каллиопа, дерево, Кориск (Calliope, the Tree, and Korisk (Help! This is from Aristotle but…)). Epistolary novel.
  • Gleb Shulpiakov: Музей имени Данте (Museum Named for Dante). Journalist and book trader finds diary of unknown Dante translator…
  • Manuscript № 55: Под мостом из карамели (Under the Caramel Bridge). A new novel, set in present-day Russia, by Elena Koliadina, who won the Booker in 2010 for a famously unappetizing-sounding book, The Cross of Flowers.  
  • Manuscript № 259: Нарушение правил (Breaking the Rules). This title—well, the phrase itself—is so common that I’ll just wait to see who wrote it. I don’t think it’s a book about rules of the road!
  • Manuscript № 326: Короче (In Short). This short word is also very common.
  • Manuscript №335: Повесть и житие Данилы Терентьевича Зайцева ( The Tale and Life of Danila Terentevich Zaitsev). The story of Old Believers who resettled in Latin America.
Notices of spelling errors or lousy title translations will be most welcome!

Disclaimers: The usual.

Up Next: A lot… Soviets, another wonderfully produced book from Fuel; this one has drawings by Danzig Baldaev and photos by Sergei Vasiliev. And Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes. Later still, Mikhail Bulgakov’s White Guard.


  1. Thanks for sharing. One tiny thing: you have an extra "o" here: Школовский (sorry, I'm an editor).

    1. Thank you, Irina! I'm so very glad you saw that, particularly because I thought I'd taken out that extra "o"! (I copied and pasted the original Russian list from somewhere and noticed the typo; it's now been replicated all over the runet because lots of other people obviously did the same copying thing I did... Now I also see the title should probably also include "Viktor"!)

      Anyway, thank you!

  2. Thank you for posting these descriptions, Lisa! I love following your blog for news about recently released Russian literature! :) Are you also planning to do an overview of the Ясная Поляна finalists for 2014? That is my favourite prize and I plan to read all of the books shortlisted :)

    1. You're welcome, Anya! Thank you for your kind comment -- I'm especially glad for it since I learned about your blog. )))

      To answer your question, yes, I definitely plan to write a post about Ясная Поляна/Yasnaya Polyana finalists. It's one of my favorite awards, too. I tend to write posts about the long and short lists (and winners) for Ясная Поляна, Big Book, NOSE, Booker, and National Bestseller; I usually write less about other awards, e.g. Bely, Solzhenitsyn, and Rossica Translation, though a lot depends on the news cycle (ha ha) and what the awards are doing in a given season.