Sunday, October 11, 2015

The 2015 Russian Booker Shortlist & a Nobel Note

The Russian Booker Prize jury announced the 2015 Russian Booker shortlist on Friday. What feels most notable this year is that the writers are so young: Pokrovsky, born in 1954, has been on the planet the longest, Senchin is in his mid-forties, and the rest are in their thirties. The list also feels pretty varied and appealing (!). The (!) is because some Russian Booker shortlists have seemed a bit, hmm, dry. Here you go:
  • Alisa Ganieva’s Жених и невеста (Bride and Groom), which Carol Apollonio is currently translating for Deep Vellum Publishing, for release in 2017. The novel apparently looks at the institution of marriage (including tradition and superstition) among young people in rural Dagestan.
  • Vladimir Danikhnov’s Колыбельная (Lullaby). This book’s description says it’s a noirish novel set in a nameless southern city beset with serial killings. It also indicates the writing reminds of Platonov’s. An excerpt is available on; epigraph from Mickey Spillane.
  • Yuri Pokrovsky’s Среди людей (Among People) is set in the 1970s, also in a nameless city (top secret military stuff), and is composed of 49 connected “fragments” related to nine main characters.
  • Roman Senchin’s Зона затопления (Flood Zone) examines what happens when everyone’s forced out of a village to make way for a hydroelectric plant. Not my favorite Senchin—I couldn’t bring myself to finish it and my favorite is still The Yeltyshevs—but Flood Zone is on this year’s Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana shortlists, too. I have to think it will win a major award as a sort of “makeup call” after The Yeltyshevs didn’t win. Excerpts available on Журнальный зал; I read more than half the book and thought “Чернушка” was one of the best chapters I read.
  • Alexander Snegiev’s Вера (Vera or Faith, depending on whether you’d like to translate the meaning of the name or not…). Either way, Vera was on the NatsBest shortlist, too; I’ve seen Snegirev’s writing in Vera compared to Platonov’s, too (for example here). I enjoyed reading the beginning of Vera on an electronic reader but was just jonesing to take real notes in the margin, with a real pencil…
  • Guzel Yakina’s Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes) is also a finalist for the Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards. I very much enjoyed reading Zuleikha and translating excerpts was at least as much fun (previous post). An excerpt is available on

In other news, I’m sure everybody already knows that Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature last week. With my big old fiction bias, I haven’t read any of her books but thought I’d note current translations in English. (Thanks to a project for the Institute of Translation last week, I just happen to know what’s on the list!) I’ll just mention the English-language titles here, without the original Russian. There may be more excerpts of various works available online: they aren’t easy to track down due to varying spellings, titles, and multiple versions. These variables make my poor, addled head spin. Please note, too, that the author’s last name is sometimes spelled Alexievitch. Here’s her page on the site of her literary agent, Galina Dursthoff so you can keep track of new books on the way. I welcome any and all corrections and additions to this list—I’m sure there are other pieces available!

I think the Nobel Prize’s site has the best listing of current translated books so will send you there rather than retype book information. Time Second-Hand, which was a Big Book Award finalist last year and won the reader award, will be out from Fitzcarraldo Editions next year, in Bela Shayevich’s translation.  

Shorter Pieces and Excerpts that I believe are from the same cycle or collection:

There are also several pieces in various issues of Autodafe: The Journal of the International Parliament of Writers; some pages are blocked so I’m not always sure exactly what’s where or there.

Disclaimers: Having translated work by Senchin and Yakhina, and met Ganieva and Snegirev multiple times.

Up Next: So many books! Narine Abgaryan’s People Who Are Always With Me.
Lots 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), some books I didn’t finish, plus the ones I’m working on now: Alexei Varlamov’s The Imagined Wolf (it really is “imagined”), Valery Zalotukha’s super-long but ridiculously mesmerizing The Candle, and Igor Virabov’s “biography” of Andrei Voznesensky that I might want to call “kitschy” or “tacky,” though/therefore that factor does keep me turning the pages. And there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages, all with very small type. We’ll see if I tire…


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