Saturday, April 29, 2017

The 2017 Big Book Longlist: Another Better-Late-Than-Never Production

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, more than once: I love literary award longlists. And I particularly love comparing literary awards longlists because it seems there are lots of good books that make longlists but not shortlists…

Anyway. This year’s Big Book longlist has 34 titles, of which two are in manuscript form, hence unpublished at the time they were submitted. (I always find this a bit mysterious…) As for methodology: I’ll first list eight books I’m already interested in then move on to a few titles by unfamiliar authors.

  • Andrei Volos’s Должник (The Debtor) is book three of a tetralogy. I’ve never read Volos, despite numerous recommendations over the years… Maybe the tetralogy is the place to start.
  • Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Тайный год (The Secret Year, though I suspect this is “secret” with a good dose of mysteriousness…) is set during the time of Ivan the Terrible.
  • Dmitri Danilov’s Сидеть и смотреть (Sit and Look/Watch), which I read part of—and enjoyed but wanted to read in print form—when it first came out in journal form is very Danilov. (Much of it was written on a phone.)
  • Shamil Idiatullin’s Город Брежнев (Brezhnev City, at least sort of: Naberezhnye Chelny was called “Brezhnev” during 1982-1988) is a brick of a book (700 pages) about the 1980s. Recommended highly by critic Galina Yuzefovich.
  • Anna Kozlova’s F20 is apparently a novel about a teenager with schizophrenia. F20 is already on the 2017 NatsBest shortlist; it won the most points in the first round.
  • Dmitry Novikov’s Голомяное пламя (hmm, the first word is an adjectival form of “голомя,” a Pomor word that means open sea or distant sea… so maybe something like Flame Out at Sea or Flame Over the Open Sea…), which I’ve seen recommended several times already this year, is a book I have a special interest in because Novikov is from Petrozavodsk and writes about the Russian north.
  • Vladimir Sorokin’s Манарага (Manaraga) apparently involves cooking food over fires of burning books. Yuzefovich recommended this title, too. Hmm, I didn’t know Manaraga’s a mountain…
  • Anna Starobinets’s Посмотри на него (Maybe Look at Him? I’m not sure…) is about motherhood and the loss of a child before birth.

Though there are plenty of books by authors I’ve already read—Yuri Buida, Viktor Pelevin, Andrei Rubanov (The Patriot is already a NatsBest shortlister), Dina Rubina, and Aleksei Slapovskii—I’ll pick books by three authors I’d never heard of:

  • Olga Breininger’s В Советском Союзе не было аддерола (There Was No Adderal in the Soviet Union) certainly has a memorable title. Breininger’s originally from Kazakhstan but lives in Boston. The novel starts off mentioning a conference of Slavists… the book was longlisted for the Debut Prize in 2015. Confession: I’ve liked academic conference novels since reading David Lodge during my grad school years. (I wonder if this is connected to the fact that I dropped out of grad school?)
  • Viktoria Lebedeva’s Без труб и барабанов (Without Trumpets and Drums) sounds like it’s a family history/saga, set from the middle of the twentieth century until the present.
  • Andrei Tavrov’s Клуб Элвиса Пресли (The Elvis Presley Club) does not seem to take place near Graceland. Darn. But it looks like there’s Sochi.

Disclaimers: The usual; I’m a member of the Big Book jury, also known as the Literary Academy. The shortlist will be along in late May.

Up next: The Afanasy Mamedov novella set in Baku that I mentioned in previous posts. And some reading in English, including Charlotte Hobson’s The Vanishing Futurist, which is perfect reading for (and about) a hectic time; it pairs nicely with James Womack’s translations of Vladimir Mayakovsky in “Vladimir Mayakovsky” & Other Poems, which arrived last week. I’ll be reading other translations in preparation a roundtable during Russian Literature Week in early May, hosted by Read Russia in New York.


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