Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year! & 2017 Highlights

Happy New Year! С Новым годом! I hope you are enjoying the holiday and staying warm, wherever you are!

In terms of the year in books, 2017 seems (logically enough, I suppose) to fit the pattern of the last couple of years: lots of work on translations plus a quality-not-quantity situation with my reading. This year, however, brought some unexpected travel and more books than I ever thought I’d receive in a year. A few highlights… 

Two favorite books by authors new to me: Vladimir Medvedev’s Заххок (Zahhak), which I’ll be writing about soon, is the polyphonic novel set in Tajikistan that I’d been rooting for to win either the Yasnaya Polyana or Booker award. And then there’s Anna Kozlova’s F20 (previous post), which won the National Bestseller Award: F20 is harsh and graphic in depicting mental illness and societal problems. Its feels even more necessary to me a couple months after reading; it has really stuck with me.

Favorite book nobody else seems to like by an author I’d already read: Vladimir Sorokin’s Manaraga (previous post) may not be his best book—it’s tough to beast (ha!) his Oprichnik—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a smart, entertaining book that I loved zipping through. I feel a special gratitude to Sorokin for creating a body of work that lets the reader find common themes (sometimes, admittedly, too familiar) in his books and make connections that enhance the reading.

Favorite book other readers like by an author I’d already read: Sergei Kuznetsov’s Kaleidoscope (previous post), which is my favorite of the year, though I think of it as a 2016 book because that’s when I started it: in fact, I vividly remember reading it as I greeted 2017. Not many 800-page books work for me (see below) but this one’s so nicely structured and rooted in the canon and, hmm, human sentiments and reality, too, that I didn’t want it to end.

Least favorite trend & most favorite way to react: I won’t list titles but I ran across far too many books that felt unjustifiably long because of lack of structure and/or editing. On the positive side, I’ve been reading short stories as an antidote. Sergei Nosov gave me his collection Полтора кролика (A Rabbit and a Half) when I was in St. Petersburg and the first story, “Морозилка” (“The Freezer”), is, appropriately enough, set at New Year’s and involves the retelling of a scary story. It has a nice combination of tenderness, humor, and suspense: I read the beginning in the Metro in Petersburg and was sorry I didn’t have enough time to finish because my ride was too short. Another story from the collection, “Шестое июня” (“The Sixth of June”) was a favorite in the Petersburg Noir collection (previous post). I also got started on Elena Dolgopyat’s Родина (Motherland), which starts off with an updated, transplanted “Overcoat”-themed story… short stories feel like the perfect counterbalance to untrimmed novels that just don’t warrant 500 or more pages.

Favorite unexpected developments: My trips to Frankfurt for the Buchmesse and St. Petersburg, for the Cultural Forum, were both almost painfully wonderful (previous post), for the opportunity to see so many friends and colleagues from all over. And I was thrilled that my translation of Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina, for Oneworld Publications, was shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

Saddest moment: The death of Vladimir Makanin. I’m not sure I would have started writing this blog if it hadn’t been for the dearth of English-language information about his books. They deserve more attention.

PEN book pile, with cat ear in foreground.
Happiest things: There were some almost transcendental moments during travel—a dance party in a glass cylinder of a club, a wee-small-hours-of-the-morning tour of St. Peterburg thanks to a quirky taxi driver who wanted me to see more—and now there’s the ongoing happiness of reading dozens of books I received over the year. Authors and organizations gave me lots of books in Russian during the year, and, as a judge for the PEN Translation Prize, I received over 125 books in English translation. Reading them is a serious treat, particularly because so many of them are books I might never have heard of or picked up otherwise.

What’s coming up in 2018: There are lots of books on the shelves that I just didn’t get to in 2017: Sergei Kuznetsov’s Учитель Дымов (The Teacher Dymov, I think), Olga Slavnikova’s Прыжок в длину (Long Jump), and Dmitrii Novikov’s Голомяное пламя, the Booker finalist I’m not quite sure what to call, maybe Flame Over the Open Sea. There are also a few books in English I’m hoping/planning to get to sooner rather than later, including Janet Fitch’s The Revolution of Marina M., which I haven’t even bought yet, lest it distract me from the rest of my PEN reading; and City Folk and Country Folk, by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov, which Columbia University Press already sent to me. I’m also excited to have some translations coming out in 2018, starting with Eugene Vodolazkin’s The Aviator, for Oneworld in May. I’m reading proofs and making final edits now… I can’t think about much beyond that for now!

Thank you! Finally, a very hearty thank you to everybody who visits the blog, whether regularly or occasionally. I’m glad something drew you to Russian literature and brought you here! Special thanks to the numerous organizations and individuals who did so many nice things for me in 2017, whether that was treating me to coffee, borscht, advice, or books, or making my travel possible, as the Institute of Translation and the Yeltsin Center did. Here’s wishing all of you a very happy 2018 filled with fun books (structured to your taste, though emphatically not “taste” in the Manaraga sense…) and good health. Happy New Year!

Up next: Sukhbat Aflatuni’s lovely Tashkent Novel and Vladimir Medvedev’s polyphonic Zahhak

Disclaimers: The usual, with, as mentioned above, special thanks to many people and organizations for books and travel.

Image credit: Fireworks in Bratislava, New Year 2005, from Ondrejk, via Wikipedia.


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