Sunday, September 20, 2015

Better Late Than Never: The 2015 Russian Booker Prize Longlist

Hmm, I just realized, yesterday, that I missed the Russian Booker Award’s longlist announcement on July 9. Here, then, are a few belated notes on the 24-book list. The six finalists will be named on October 9 so time’s running short for the longlist! Or even for a short version of the longlist.

There are lots of books—a third, if I’ve caught everything—that are already finalists for or winners of other awards this year:
  • Aleksei Varlamov’s Мысленный волк (The Imagined Wolf, perhaps?). A novel set in the 1910s that involves some real-life figures, including our old friend Grigory Rasputin. Big Book Award finalist. I’ll be reading this one very soon so hope to figure out the title.
  • Danila Zaitsev’s Повесть и житие Данилы Терентьевича Зайцева (The Life and Tale of Danila Terentyevich Zaitsev). In which a Russian Old Believer born in China and living in Argentina tells his story. Already a Yasnaya Polyana Award finalist.
  • Tatyana Moskvina’s Жизнь советской девушки (Life of a Soviet Girl): Apparently a memoir about life in Leningrad during the 1960s through 1980s, with lots of detail. National Bestseller Award finalist.
  • Sergei Nosov’s Фигурные скобки (Curly Brackets): Described by fellow finalist Anna Matveeva as magical realism about a mathematician who goes from Moscow to Saint Petersburg for a conference of микромаг-s. Big winner at the 2015 NatsBest Award; I already bought this one for when I finish all the Big Book Award finalists. It looks fun.
  • Dina Rubina’s Русская канарейка ((The?) Russian Canary). Trilogy, a family saga set in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A Big Book finalist; Rubina’s canary and I did not get along.
  • Roman Senchin’s Зона затопления (Flood Zone). A 2015 Big Book Award and Yasnaya Polyana Award finalist; a new take on themes from Valentin Rasputin’s Farewell to Matyora: a village is about to be flooded for a hydroelectric plant. Not my favorite Senchin.
  • Alexander Snegirev’s Вера (Vera, a name and noun that translates as Faith): A short novel about a forty-year-old woman who is unmarried. Snegirev’s Facebook description, posted at the time of the NatsBest long list, includes words like dramatic, comic, erotic (a bit), and political (a little). NatsBest finalist. I read the beginning and enjoyed it but want to read the book on paper.
  • Guzel’ Yakhina’s Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes). Another Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana finalist (previous post); I’m now enjoying it even more as I work on excerpts. A historical novel in which a kulak woman is exiled.

There are several other writers I’ve read before:
  • Alisa Ganieva is on the list for Жених и невестa (Bride and Groom), which you can read about here. I’m looking forward to this one. Edit: an English translation, by Carol Apollonio, will be on the way next winter, from Deep Vellum.
  • Andrei Gelasimov’s Холод (Cold), the name of which makes me want to wait to read this book in winter, even without knowing what it’s about. (I love winter.)
  • Anna Matveeva made the list for a novel, Завидное чувство Веры Стениной (Vera Stenina’s Enviable Feeling, I think?); Enviable Feeling is apparently about female envy. (Here’s chapter one.)

And then there’s a whole pile of books—I’ll list a few already published in book form—I know nothing or very little about:
  • Platon Besedin’s Учитель (The Teacher), which was nominated twice for the NatsBest but not shortlisted, is apparently a novel about a Ukrainian boy, the first book in a tetralogy (!). (Mitya Samoilov’s Big Jury review)
  • Unsurprisingly, Vasilii Golovanov’s Каспийская книга (The/A Caspian Book) discusses all sorts of aspects of travel around/near the Caspian Sea. Golovanov won the 2009 Yasnaya Polyana Award for Island, which I’ve had on the shelf for three years but not yet read.
  • Oleg Radzinskii’s Агафонкин и время (Agafonkin and Time) is about a time-traveling courier. Hmm.

Bonus Links on a Translated Book! Since Alisa Ganieva’s latest book is on the Booker longlist… and since I spent the fateful Russian Booker date, July 9, with old friends visiting Maine… and since we talked about the situation in the Caucasus, including Dagestan, which Alisa writes about... and since I mentioned Alisa’s books to them, this seems like the perfect time to mention The Mountain and the Wall, Carol Apollonio’s translation of Праздничная гора. The translation was published by Deep Vellum, with an introduction by Ronald Meyer. Though I felt a bit ill-prepared for The Mountain and the Wall—I’m not nearly as informed about Dagestani political and religious issues as I should be—I still enjoyed reading about reactions and unrest that follow rumors of being walled off from Russia. Various forms of chaos struck me and stuck with me the most, whether Alisa was describing personal relationships, skipping through a book (something that always reminds me of good old Pierre Bezukhov!), a visit to a club, or street demonstrations. I haven’t read the Russian original and was grateful that Carol sorted out the Avar and other languages that make appearances in the novel. I also enjoyed Carol’s enjoyment of Alisa’s humor. I’m looking forward to Bride and Groom, which sounds more personal and more “my” book, though I would certainly recommend The Mountain and the Wall to anyone interested in Dagestan or the Caucasus. Links: excerpts on Body, reviews on The Rumpus and Tony’s Reading List.

Disclaimers: The usual. Thank you to Deep Vellum for the copy of The Mountain and the Wall. (I know everyone whose names I listed for this book and would have just kept quiet if I hadn’t liked it!)

Up Next: Lots of books! More books from the Big Book finalist list, including Boris Yekimov’s Autumn in Zadon’e, which I finished but didn’t like very much (at all), and Anna Matveeva’s story collection Девять девяностых (Nine from the Nineties). Also: Narine Abgaryan’s People Who Are Always With Me.


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