Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018 NOS(E) Award Winners: 2 Sorokin, 1 Sal’nikov

Vladimir Sorokin was the big winner at this year’s NOS(E)Award ceremony last week, receiving both the main jury prize and the reader’s choice prize for his Manaraga (previous post). Aleksei Sal’nikov won the literary critic panel’s prize for his Петровы в гриппе и вокруг него (which I think I’ll just call The Petrovs in Various States of the Flu yet again). The literary critic panel award is new this year and, given critical reactions to The Petrovs, I wasn’t at all surprised to see Sal’nikov win. Though I haven’t finished The Petrovs, I noted in last week’s post that I’m looking forward to reading the book in a print edition; somehow it just didn’t feel right to read in electronic form.

Although I was pleased to see Manaraga win the reader’s choice prize and thought the book was a lot of fun, I was surprised to see the main jury choose it. For one thing, Sorokin won a NOSE Award in 2011 for his Метель (The Blizzard) and a repeater win is hardly an example of “новая словесность”—new literature/letters, which is what NOSE was established to recognize—in action. Manaraga may not feel as derived from other Sorokin books as, say, The Sugar Kremlin feels linked to Sorokin’s Oprichnik, but it would be impossible to think anyone but Sorokin wrote Manaraga. I liked Manaraga well enough to put it on my 2017 year-end post as a favorite: the whole “book‘n’grill” idea is ridiculously entertaining and the creepy ending is just right even if Manaraga might feel a tiny bit light. Though not quite lite.

I haven’t read much from the NOSE shortlist (previous post) but I still think Vladimir Medvedev’s Zahhak (previous post) would have been a very worthy winner of any of this season’s major awards: beyond being truly polyphonic, the novel is suspenseful, meaningful, literary, and very readable. The setting in Tajikistan during the early 1990s also gives it plenty of social and historical relevance. I don’t understand juries’ apparent dislike—or maybe just ambivalence?—toward the book, particularly given the many positive comments I’ve heard from other readers. I realize I’m biased about Zahhak after translating excerpts from the book that only reinforced how different Medvedev’s voices are. I suppose this is yet another mystery from the world of contemporary Russian literature.

Up Next: Sergei Kuznetsov’s Teacher Dymov, which I’ve already mentioned enjoying tremendously. And the horsey sequel to Yulia Yakovleva’s Tinker, Tailor, which has been just the sort of slow-action detective novel I needed for a busy time. And some English-language titles.

Disclaimers: The usual plus the excerpts from Zahhak and the fact that the Prokhorov Fund, which runs the NOSE Award, supports many of my translations.


  1. To call Sorokin an example of “новая словесность” is to make a mockery of the concept. I suppose there was the usual behind-the-scenes skulduggery. In any case, thanks for another invaluable award post!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Languagehat! I couldn't agree more about mockery of the concept. Many of the jury members are from other branches of the arts so I have to wonder if a relative lack of familiarity with contemporary Russian fiction (and the award scene, too) combined with a familiarity with Sorokin's work might be part of what happened. That said, I'm glad there's something of a counterbalance with the critic award.

      I know from my own jury experience that judges have to select winners from the pool they're given and sometimes you wish you had other material to work with. (Of course that's patently obvious but even I tend to forget it when I see award announcements.) In this case, though, I'll just repeat that the Medvedev book is very good (and he's certainly far less awarded than Sorokin, making him newer, if only in that sense!) and I've heard very positive comments about the Filimonov book, too, which I need to get to one of these days. Some of the other books sound promising, too. I try not to get too worked up about literary award announcements because, well, whoever runs the awards has every right to do whatever they want. On the other hand, the NOSE seems to be a case of a prize drifting (okay, veering!) pretty far from the reason it was founded: "для выявления и поддержки новых трендов в современной художественной словесности на русском языке."

      And I say that despite enjoying Manaraga very much. It floors me that it didn't even make the painfully weak Big Book shortlist. (I could ramble on about that 2017 list, too...) All that said, the strangest award from this past award cycle was the Rubanov book winning the Yasnaya Polyana. I'm still trying to process that one!