Sunday, August 19, 2018

Farewell to Vladimir Sharov

I’m very sad to write that Vladimir Sharov died last Friday at the age of sixty-six. Sharov was the author of such novels as Репетиции (The Rehearsals), До и во время (Before and During), both translated into English by Oliver Ready, and Возвращение в Египет (Return to Egypt), for which he won the Russian Booker Prize in 2014.

I didn’t know Sharov well but I’ve enjoyed talking with him at literary and translation events in Moscow and New York. Beyond speaking eloquently about his books, he was warm, quietly funny, and almost otherworldly. Those qualities – plus an on-the-page version of the twinkle in his eye – somehow come through in his writing, too, bringing a human touch to fiction that can be very dense, often with little dialogue. Sharov was also gracious and generous, giving me an extra copy of a thick collection of Platonov’s letters when I told him I’d translated a Platonov story.

I’ll be writing more about Sharov and his Rehearsals this fall. I’ve heard much (very lavish) praise for The Rehearsals among Russian friends who read a lot of contemporary fiction but I think I’m failing the book because my memories from Russian history courses are now so hazy and my religious background has always been worse than slipshod. Despite not making those big picture connections, I love the theatricality in The Rehearsals, the plot possibilities of a Second Coming are appealing, I sense Sharov’s twinkling eye in the humor, and Oliver’s translation both reads very well and compares beautifully with the Russian book, which Sharov was kind enough to give to me after we participated in a roundtable discussion at the Brooklyn Public Library. That’s a fair bit but my gaping knowledge gaps mean I can’t appreciate the book properly, particularly given the fact that I feel like I’m still (very, very slowly) finding my way around Sharov’s world, a place that’s wildly different from what I find in most of the books I read. Finding my way around that world feels all the more important to me now, so I’m looking at some remedial reading as a way to continue learning from Sharov. I’m grateful to him for our conversations and will very much miss seeing him when I visit Moscow next month.

Disclaimers: The usual. Thank you to Dedalus Books for a review copy of The Rehearsals. The Dedalus page about the book includes lengthy excerpts from reviews; the reviews by Michael Orthofer and Jamie Rann very aptly get at the novel’s rewards.


  1. Thanks for this post, Lisa! I am awed and envious that you knew Vladimir Sharov on a personal level - I met him only once and quite peripherally. I'm struck, however, that we both noted that twinkle: as you write, "he was warm, quietly funny, and almost otherworldly. Those qualities – plus an on-the-page version of the twinkle in his eye...". Also, this seems like the moment to thank you for all your wonderful blog posts on contemporary literature. When I was book shopping last week with limited time and luggage space, I used your blog as a guide to which authors I should prioritize! Looking forward to your next posts on Sharov and others.

    1. Russian Dinosaur, I'm not sure how I missed your comment! (The last month has been hectic but I usually receive notifications of comments, though it does seem like something has gone awry with those messages.)

      I didn't know Sharov very well but I always enjoyed seeing him -- there was something about him that inspired tremendous fondness.

      And thank you for the kind words about the blog, I'm hoping it helped you overload your luggage! :)