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.


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