Sunday, October 28, 2018

Olga Slavnikova Wins 2018 Yasnaya Polyana Award

The Yasnaya Polyana Award announced 2018 winners last week. Olga Slavnikova’s Прыжок в длину (Long Jump) won the jury award and Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory or Post-Memory, as foreign rights holder Suhrkamp calls it) won the readers’ choice prize. Amos Oz and his Russian translator, Viktor Radutskii, won international literature honors for Иуда, which is known as Judas in Nicholas de Lange’s English translation.

Although I was surprised when Long Jump leaped its way to the three-book Yasnaya Polyana shortlist in September, my surprise faded quickly. Long Jump may not be calling out to me from the shelf, begging (Lisa! Lizok, read more of me!) for attention – it’s very densely populated with metaphors, something I find wearying in any language, and the book lacks the sparkle of Slavnikova’s 2017 (previous post) – but I will finish it. And that’s not just because rumor has it there’s a big plot twist on the way. I may not love Long Jump but the book has plenty of interesting elements, including some sharp social commentary. Vladislav Otroshenko, a Yasnaya Polyana juror, has mentioned in award announcements that Long Jump offers a lens for looking at the world and I certainly can’t argue with that. Vlad’s statements last week also assert that Slavnikova’s book (I’ll paraphrase) is the only [award candidate] written as a novel rather than as primitive self-expression and he adds that Slavnikova wrote a book that makes a statement that’s important for humankind. There’s something – a lot, really – to be said for that, and I can’t quibble with his statement, given that he’s looking at universality, something I also value very highly and found way too little of in the books on the YP longlist that I read or (far more frequently) attempted to read.

Even if I have misgivings about Long Jump, they feel purely technical and very overcomable, and they don’t prevent me from respecting Slavnikova’s achievement, which I can sense even without finishing the novel. I feel something more akin to trepidation about the prospect of reading Post-Memory, which I seem to either hear praised as a Very Important Book or dissed as a long and plotless snoozer. I’ve tried, though/therefore, to avoid reading detailed commentary about Post-Memory, lest I be swayed too far in either direction, particularly since I know good readers from both camps. No matter what I end up thinking of Post-Memory – which, of course I’m hoping to enjoy or at least appreciate, something that, yes, can occasionally be possible even with plotless snoozers – I need to get reading it and finishing Long Jump, too. For now, though, I’m feeling pretty entertained by Alexei Vinokurov’s People of the Black Dragon, a novel in stories that’s also a Big Book finalist.

Up Next: Reading roundups for English-language books and Big Book finalists.

Disclaimers: The usual, for the fact that I’ve translated books by two YP jury members and know Slavnikova a bit.


Post a Comment