Sunday, July 13, 2014

The 2014 Russian Booker Prize Long List

The Russian Booker Prize announced its long list the other day, selecting 24 of 78 novels eligible for the award. The list includes several books already on the 2014 Big Book short finalist list as well as the winner of this year’s National Bestseller award. Perhaps most interesting about the announcements I read were comments from jury chair Andrei Ar’ev, who said reading the nominees created a “слегка декадентская” (“slightly decadent”) picture of (I’ll ruthlessly summarize and generalize) contemporary literature with more fantasy, mysticism, and otherworldliness than realism. Ar’ev also noted editorial problems, such as typos and anachronisms. None of this comes as any surprise to me! Here are some of the books on the Booker long list… the shortlist will be announced October 8.

First off, there’s this year’s National Bestseller winner:
  • 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.
Five (!!, though the overlap is no big surprise) finalists for the 2014 Big Book Award, two of which were also shortlisted for the National Bestseller:
  • Aleksei Makushinskii: Пароход в Аргентину (Steamship to Argentina). A novel about émigré life and Proustian searches.
  • 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 Sorokin: Теллурия (Tellurium). On my NatsBest long list post, I wrote: A polyphonic novel in 50 highly varying chapters. 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.
There are also numerous books by familiar names, including:
  • Vasilii Aksyonov: Моление (Praying). (part one) (part two) The name may seem familiar but this is Vasilii Ivanovich Aksyonov, not Vasilii Pavlovich Aksyonov.
  • Vsevolod Benigsen: Чакра Фролова (The Frolov Chakra, also known as the “Kulbit” if it’s a pilot maneuver.). In which a film director named Frolov goes to Belarus in 1941 to film a high-performing kolkhoz.
  • Anatoli Kim: Радости рая (The Joys of Heaven). A book that sounds indescribable and mystical, apparently about timelessness.
  • Elena Kostioukovitch: Цвингер (Zwinger). A very long (220,000 words!) novel involving 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 family history.
  • Aleksei Nikitin: Victory Park. Set in Kiev in 1986.
  • Elena Chizhova: Планета грибов (The Mushroom Planet). (excerpt) Chizhova won the Russian Booker a few years ago for The Time of Women.
  • Gleb Shulpiakov: Музей имени Данте (Museum Named for Dante). Journalist and book trader finds diary of unknown Dante translator… I almost bought this when I was in New York in May.
And a couple names completely (or seemingly?) new to me; I’ve chosen books out now in actual book form rather than books only published, thus far, in literary journals:
  • Sergei Zagraevskii: Архитектор его величества (His Majesty’s Architect).
  • Elena Minkina-Taicher: Эффект Ребиндера (The Rehbinder Effect). The effect is described, stubbily, on Wikipedia here.
Disclaimers: The usual.

Up Next: Probably Рыбы молчат по-испански (known in English as Children of Rogozhin). [Edit: to be clear, there is no current English translation of the book, only the provisional title.] Soon: some of the books sent by publishers that have piled up. Also, in case anyone’s wondering: I read more than half of Irina Ratushinksya’s The Odessans then abandoned the book for what I can only sum up as lack of narrative drive: Ratushinskaya creates lots of characters and situations but they feel horribly underdeveloped, very unfortunate for a book set during the Civil War. I’ve also set aside Bulgakov’s White Guard, though I want to start it all over again some day when my head is more prepared to really study the book—particularly its history and language play, which I thoroughly enjoyed—rather than just casually reading it.


  1. "known in English as Children of Rogozhin"

    Is it? In this thread, Alexander Klimin writes: "Рыбы молчат по-испански = Fish Keep Quiet in Spanish (literally translated Russian title) = Children of Rogozhin (French title) = Wake Up in Winter (provisional English title)." There is definitely a French edition Les enfants de Rogojine, but I don't see an English one. Also, I'm confused about the author's name; the Russian edition is by Беленькая, but the French one (like, presumably, the prospective English one) is by Guerman. Why does she use a pseudonym only for foreign publication? So many questions!

    1. Thanks for the questions, Languagehat. As always, it's names that prompt questions! The Elkost literary agency now uses Children of Rogozhin as the (presumably provisional since, as you note, there's no English translation yet) title on its Web site, though the actual URL includes "wake-up-in-winter"! When there are multiple provisional English-language book titles floating around, I generally use the title on the author's agent's Web site.

      As for the author's name. I don't know!