Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Busy (Yester)Day for Russian Literary Awards: 2016 Yasnaya Polyana Winners & NOSE Finalists

I’m a day late posting about the Yasnaya Polyana Award’s 2016 winners and the NOSE Award’s 2016 shortlist—I got so caught up working on last year’s Yasnaya Polyana winner, Guzel Yakhina’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, that I forgot to write my post!

Yasnaya Polyana first: there’s a Russian summary with juror commentary here and Alexandra Guzeva’s English-language Russia Beyond the Headlines article on Yasnaya Polyana is very complete, too. Best of all, it means I can stop agonizing over how to translate a problematic winning title and expand on summaries of the books I haven’t read, too. So! The two co-winners—this is the first time a Yasnaya Polyana award has been shared—of the “XXI Century” award are Narine Abgaryan’s С неба упали три яблока (Three Apples Fell from the Sky), a novel I liked very much when I read it last summer (previous post), and Aleksandr Grigorenko’s Потерял слепой дуду (A Blind Man Lost his Flute). As I’d expected, Three Apples won reader voting, too. It’s the Grigorenko title that I wasn’t quite sure how to translate when I wrote my post about the shortlist: beyond the possibility of word play, the word “дуду” is “duduk” in English (Wikipedia offers lots of information about it) but this word for a wooden, double-reeded wind instrument feels a bit obscure to me. In any case, I loved Grigorenko’s Mebet (previous post) so am looking forward to reading the novella, as well as his Ilget, which I bought in September.

The winner of the “Childhood, Adolescence, Youth” award is Marina Nefedova’s Лесник и его нимфа (The Woodsman and His Nymph; RBTH uses “forester”). I was very, very pleased that Vladimir Makanin won the “Modern Classic” prize for his 1984 novella Где сходилось небо с холмами (Where the Sky Meets the Hills): I’ve enjoyed several of Makanin’s early novels and stories (previous posts involving Makanin) and have long regarded him as a modern classic. Finally, Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind, which Apollinaria Avrutina translated into Russian, won the “Foreign Literature” award. Guzeva’s RBTH article notes that A Strangeness has a Russian basis: “[Avrutina] said that the whole novel is based on the epigraph for the second part of A Hero of Our Time by Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov: ‘Asians... once let them feast and drink their fill of boza at a wedding or a funeral, and out will come their knives.’” How about that!

Moving right along, to the NOSE Award… Finalists were announced at the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair after public debates. The winner will be chosen on January 24, 2017.

  • Eugene Vodolazkin’s Авиатор (The Aviator), which is already on the Big Book shortlist and which I’m already translating and loving all over again (previous post). I’m glad to see it made this list.
  • Kirill Kobrin’s Шерлок Холмс и рождение современности. Деньги, девушки, денди Викторианской Эпохи (Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of Modernity. Money, Young Women, and Dandies of the Victorian Epoch) is nonfiction that the title and this excerpt explain.
  • Sergei Kuznetsov’s Калейдоскоп (excerpt) (Kaleidoscope) involves dozens of characters and their stories, set in the twentieth century; one of my Goodreads friends noted sex and vampires. This one sounded interesting from the start but for some reason hearing it described—in a positive way, mind you—as “Pynchon lite” more than once in Moscow intrigues me all the more.
  • Vladimir Martynov’s Книга Перемен (The Book of Changes) is described as more of a palimpsest than a book and as a sort of hypertext for hyperreading that uses zapping and fortune telling practices from The Book of Changes. I was an I Ching fan as a teenager but well, hmm.
  • Aleksandra Petrova’s Аппендикс (excerpt) (The Appendix, in a metaphorical sense, it seems) is a novel about Rome. (A review)
  • Boris Lego’s Сумеречные рассказы (Dusky Stories) is a collection of nineteen Russian gothic stories; a cover blurb calls it the scariest book of the year…
  • Sergei Lebedev’s Люди августа (People of August, click through for synopsis and excerpt) is also on the 2016 Booker shortlist.

Disclaimers & Disclosures: The usual, plus translating that Vodolazkin book, having translated books by two YP jurors, the fact of support for my translation work from Prokhorov Foundation grants, having received the Abgaryan book from her literary agency and translating the very beginning of Three Apples.

Up Next: Trip reports (Moscow and Oakland), Oleg Zaionchkovsky’s Timosha’s Prose and Alexander Snegirev’s patient Faith/Vera, books I’ve been reading in English, plus other Big Book finalists, though the second half of the Big Book list brings me little joy and much left unfinished…


  1. Your title whisperer is here! "Потерял слепой дуду" is a play on the children's rhyme "Потерял пастух дуду," which you can hear recited here (another form is "Потерял мужик дугу"). I would translate it "A Blind Man Lost his Reed Pipe"; the flute is an orchestra instrument and would be misleading here. (Of course, a perfect translation would be a comparable play on a comparable English children's rhyme, but as we all know, there are no perfect translations!)

    1. Thank you for this, Languagehat! The children's rhyme is interesting: I knew there had to be more to this story (as it were). I need to read the novella sooner rather than later... and not just to sort out the title, of course.

  2. It is exciting to see Narine Abgaryan’s С неба упали три яблока as a winner. My Russian edition includes the novel (3 parts)and several stories that follow. Are you translating the stories as well? Her style seems deceptively easy, but the flow of the idioms that sound like poetry must be difficult to translate.

    1. Thank you for your comment, jkdenne, I, too, was very excited to see that Abgaryan won. I only translated a brief excerpt, the very beginning of the novel. You're right that the style seems deceptively easy! I'm not sure how I would respond to your comment if I were to translate the entire book but (for me, anyway) excerpts always take a lot of time for their length.