Saturday, October 28, 2017

The 2017 Russian Booker Prize Shortlist: Hmm.

The Russian Booker Prize announced its 2017 shortlist last week. No real surprises here: there are three “usual [shortlist] suspects” plus several books that have been longlisted (some serially) but not shortlisted for various other awards. One of the books in that second trio is the only finalist written by a woman. I can’t say this list sends shivers of anticipation down my spine but at least not every book here was shortlisted elsewhere. (The bar seems set pretty low for excitement this award season, doesn’t it?)  The winner will be announced on December 5. And so:

Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Тайный год (The Mysterious Year) already won the Russian Prize and hit the Big Book shortlist. I’ve read a full novel’s worth of it (225+ pages of small print, large pages; that’s only about a third) but just can’t move myself to go on. The novel is an interesting construct that combines a short period in the life of Ivan the Terrible, lots of dense language with word play, and a somewhat repetitive brew of humor and brutality. On its own terms, it’s brilliant in some odd way but, sorry to say, I don’t find it very readable. I’m especially sad to write that, given my undying love for Gigolashvili’s The Devil’s Wheel (previous post).

Igor Malyshevs Номах. Искры большого пожара (Nomakh. Sparks from a Big Fire) is essentially a novel in stories that describe slices of life with someone very strongly resembling anarchist Nestor Makhno. I read the first several pieces in Nomakh but the book didn’t grab me at all: it felt, hmm, something akin to pedestrian, despite the historical subject matter.

Vladimir Medvedev’s Заххок (Zahhak) (part 1) (part 2) is the only book on the list that I’ve read and finished. And I truly enjoyed it, thanks to Medvedev’s polyphonic account of unrest in Tajikistan in the early 1990s. Like the Gigolashvili book, this novel blends brutality with bits of comic relief but it’s not repetitive, the length is reasonable, and the varied voices mean Zahhak finds ways to speak to a broader readership.

Aleksandr Melikhov’s Свидание с Квазимодо (A Date/Meeting with Quasimodo) involves a criminal psychologist. It’s on the shelf.

Aleksandra Nikolaenko’s Убить Бобрыкина. История одного убийства (To Kill Bobrykin. The Story of One Killing) sounds thoroughly mysterious, like some sort of odd inner dialogue…

Dmitrii 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…). This book hit so many longlists that a major shortlist had to come eventually. About the Russian North. On my shelf.

Disclaimers: The usual. I translated excerpts from Zahhak.

Up Next: Trip report on the American Literary Translators Association conference in Minneapolis and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Books: Zahhak. Anna Kozlova’s F20, about which my feelings are far more mixed. Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Tashkent Novel, which I enjoyed.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Belated Yet Again! Yasnaya Polyana Winners & Blog Birthday

Late again! Yasnaya Polyana Award winners were announced way back on October 12 so I’m painfully late this time around. Getting right down to things: Andrei Rubanov won the contemporary Russian prose award for his Патриот (The Patriot) and Oleg Ermakov was the reader’s choice winner for Песнь Тунгуса (The Tungus’s Song). In the foreign literature category, Mario Vargas Llosa, along with translator Kirill Korkonosenko, won for his El héroe discreto (The Discreet Hero).

I’d been rooting for Vladimir Medvedev’s Zahhak in the contemporary Russian prose category so was surprised that it was The Patriot—rather than either Zahhak or The Tungus’s Song, which I haven’t read but which I’ve read good things about—that won over the jury. As I’ve mentioned before, The Patriot and Znaev, its main character, didn’t capture me at all. That said, I realize the book, which has been shortlisted for two other major prizes, hits numerous nerves with its portrayal of contemporary Russia, a place Rubanov is very good at describing with well-chosen details.

I’ve been so caught up in deadlines, getting back into routine things like feeding cats and doing laundry after travel, and overcoming the combination of jetlag and a minor but lingering cold that I completely forgot about my blog birthday! It’s been ten years since I started writing the blog and each year I could list more and more ways this blog has changed my life. I didn’t start writing it because I wanted to become a literary translator or because I wanted to learn about the book industry but, somewhat inevitably, I suppose, the blog ended up leading me to both. The fact that I love translating Russian novels and I love learning about the book industry makes the blog all the dearer to me. As does the fact that I’ve met so many blog readers during these last ten years: many of you are now colleagues and friends, another reason the blog holds meaning for me.

This year I’ll dispense with my usual statistics—they’re ever duller anyway since so many surfers, including me, surf so anonymously these days—and just say a very, very heartfelt thanks to everyone who visits the blog, no matter how infrequently. Most of all, as I turn ten, I’m happy that what I write here seems to be useful for so many of you in such varied ways. Thank you again for your visits and for your interest in contemporary Russian fiction!

Up Next: The Booker Prize shortlist is coming right up. Trip report on the American Literary Translators Association conference and the Frankfurt Book Fair—what a ten-day whirlwind journey that was! Plus two books: Medvedev’s Zahhak and Anna Kozlova’s F20.

Disclaimers and disclosures: The usual. I’ve translated excerpts from Zahhak and have translated books by two Yasnaya Polyana judges, though have not discussed this year’s results with either of them.

Image credit: nazreth, via stock.xchng, for the cupcake.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The 2017 NOS Award Longlist

The NOS Award, to which I often add a silent E, announced its twenty-book longlist (not-so) recently (anymore); the shortlist will be debated and announced on November 2. Although (all too) many of these longlisters repeat from the NatsBest, Big Book, and Yasnaya Polyana finalist lists, there are a few unfamiliar titles and authors.

First off, the repeats, who are numerous enough (nine out of twenty!) that I’ll just list them by name in one paragraph: Aleksandr Brener, Mikhail Gigolashvili, Lev Danilkin, Vladimir Medvedev, Viktor Pelevin, Andrei Rubanov, German Sadulaev, Aleksei Sal’nikov, and Andrei Filimonov. At least a few others are veterans of multiple longlists: Olga Breininger, Dmitrii Novikov, and Anna Tugareva.

Three of the remaining eight names are very familiar—Vladimir Sorokin and his Manaraga (previous post), best-seller Dmitrii Glukhovsky and his Текст (Text), and Elena Chizhova with her Китаист (The China Specialist, perhaps?)—so that leaves a grand total of five books and authors I hadn’t heard of. Descriptions of most of their books are rather vague…

  • Sana Valiulina’s Не боюсь Синей Бороды (I’m Not Afraid of Bluebeard, that translation should be correct but I’m keeping it even it isn’t!). Set in Estonia, from the 1970s to the present day. This book interests me the most of these five.
  • Aleksei Zikmund’s Битва Августа (August’s Battle?). ?? This one’s especially mysterious.
  • Viktor Ivaniv’s Конец Покемаря (The End of Pokemar) (part of it, which, alas, does not contain the mysterious Pokemar’… which has to do with napping and sleepyheadness and is partially explained here, though I suspect there may be more to the story…), a posthumous book of collected works.
  • Andrei Levkin’s Дым внутрь погоды (The Smoke Within the Weather). Also mysterious! Prose written by a Russian who lives in Latvia; the book was published in a bilingual edition.
  • Stanislav Snytko’s Белая кисть (White Hand? (or maybe Paintbrush? or even both?)). Apparently very brief texts with the intended effect of cinematic shots.

Disclaimers: The usual. The NOS Award is a program of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. The foundation also runs the Transcript grant program, which has supported many of my translations.

Up next: Medvedev’s Zahhak. Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Tashkent Novel, which I’ve been enjoying for the lovely writing. Yasnaya Polyana Award winners, which I’ll post about briefly when they’re announced since I’ll be traveling. Fall trip report about the ALTA literary translator conference and the Frankfurt Book Fair. I’d hoped to post about Zahhak before the travel but, well… I’m feeling considerable sleepyheadedness myself as I finish everything up!