Tuesday, May 31, 2016

2016 Big Book Finalists: Lizok’s Summer Reading Plan

Today the Big Book Award announced eleven finalists for its 2016 season. Here’s the list, in Russian alphabetical order, by author surname, followed by a bit of commentary:
  • Pyotr Aleshkovsky’s Крепость (The Citadel), which I bought after reading the beginning of the PDF that Aleshkovsky’s literary agency sent me: archaeology and medieval constructions caught me.
  • Evgeny (Eugene) Vodolazkin’s Авиатор (The Aviator), which I read recently and loved for its blend of genres, epochs, and themes, some familiar from Laurus and Solovyov and Larionov. I’m translating this book and enjoying it all over again as I see, up-close, how the book works.
  • Maria Galina’s Автохтоны (part 1) (part 2) (Autochthons, I guess), which is, I can now confirm, a Galina-esque combination of phantasmagoria, magical realism (though hmm?), history, and a regular-guy (anonymous) hero. I finished Autochthons yesterday and still wonder what I read—not, apparently, an unusual reaction—because the book is (usually) cozily disorienting.
  • Vladimir Dinets’s Песни драконов (Dragon Songs) is, according to the full title, about love and adventures in the world of crocodiles and other relatives of dinosaurs. Dinets, who lives in the US, writes in Russian and English, and an English version of the book already exists: Publishers Weekly loved it. This could be a fun surprise. For online animal pictures, check Dinets’s blog.
  • Aleksei Ivanov’s Ненастье (Nasty Weather, this title is a toponym, too, so I’m going to rethink it) is about an Afghan War veteran who robs an armored car, betraying his comrades. I enjoyed Ivanov’s Geographer (previous post) and this one, which I began last night, is off to a good start.
  • Alexander Ilichevsky’s Справа налево (From Right to Left) contains essays.
  • Anna Matveeva’s Завидное чувство Веры Стениной (Vera Stenina’s Envy; the Russian title is closer to Vera Stenina’s Enviable Sense but that is, indeed, tough to sort...) is a novel about two women and their relationship, which, yes, has strong elements of envy.
  • Sergei Soloukh’s Рассказы о животных (Stories About Animals) is, contrary to the title, a novel about human beings, concerning a former academic who’s now working in a business. (brief interview + excerpt)
  • Ludmila Ulitskaya’s Лестница Якова (Jacob’s Ladder) is a family saga set during 1911-2011; I read the beginning after Ulitskaya’s agent sent me the text. This one’s already on the shelf.
  • Sasha Filipenko’s Травля (Persecution, perhaps?) sounds as indescribable as Galina’s book: I find mentions of youth, irony, cynicism, and this time we live in.
  • Leonid Yuzefovich’s Зимняя дорога, (The Winter Road) is described as a “documentary novel”: the cover sums up the details with “General A.N. Pepeliaev and anarchist I.Ia. Strod in Yakutia. 1922-1923.” I’ve been reading small chunks of The Winter Road each night and thoroughly enjoying Yuzefovich’s absorbing, masterful characterizations of people and a time. He works wonders with archival material.

As for commentary, there were a few books I was especially sorry didn’t make the list… Vasily Avchenko’s Кристалл в прозрачной оправе (excerpt) (Crystal in a Transparent Frame), with its ocean theme, and Dmitry Danilov’s Есть вещи поважнее футбола (There Are Things A Little More Important Than Football/Soccer) are at the top of my list. Our cats were rooting for Aleksandr Arkhangelsky’s Правило муравчика. Сказка про бога, котов и собак (excerpt) (The Rule of the Purrer/The Right Cat Rule. A Tale About God, Cats, and Dogs), which I’ll have to read if only to figure out what to do with the title. Based on some good reviews, I was a little surprised Sergei Kuznetsov’s Калейдоскоп (excerpt) (Kaleidoscope) didn’t make it, though wonder if the combination of dozens of characters and their stories (including, apparently, sex and vampires, which I wouldn’t think would put people off!) might have, nevertheless, put off the experts. Sasha Okun’s Камов и Каминка (Kamov and Kaminka), which purports to involve art and a detective story, looks so appealing that I may have to read it sooner rather than later. And, finally, as I mentioned in a quick note to Klarisa Pul’son, who wrote this prediction of the finalist list, I was surprised that crocodiles knocked poets out of contention for this year’s award: I was expecting either Zakhar Prilepin’s book on Anatoly Mariengof, Boris Kornilov, and Vladimir Lugovskoi, or Dmitrii Bykov’s book on Vladimir Mayakovsky to make the short list. I thought Klarisa did pretty well by (correctly) predicting six out of eleven books that made the shortlist: even without having read all the books on the long list, I was nearly certain Yuzefovich, Ulitskaya, Ivanov, and Vodolazkin would be finalists; I would have put Aleshkovsky, Avchenko, and Kuznetsov at the top of my “probably” list.

I’ll start posting about finalists soon since I’ve already finished two. All in all, this list looks far more to my taste than last year’s—with some old favorites plus some new names and species—so I’m very much looking forward to reading the finalists as well as the books from the long list that are already on the shelf.

Disclaimers: I’m a member of the Big Book’s jury, the Literary Academy, and will vote on finalists later this year. Authors and literary agents have given me electronic copies of several of these books. I am translating one of the finalists.

Up Next: The National Bestseller Award winner. Then three books, all difficult to write about: Eugene Vodolazkin’s The Aviator, which truly does soar, Alexander Snegirev’s Vera, which I do think I’ll call Faith, and Maria Galina’s Autochthons. I’m now reading Aleksei Ivanov’s book, which I’m thinking of as Nasty Weather for now, because of the sound play.


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