Sunday, February 10, 2019

2019 NOS(E) Award Winners: No Surprises Here!

The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund’s NOS(E) Award held its annual debate-and-award ceremony last week and the results came as no surprise: Maria Stepanova won the main award for Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory or Post-Memory), Ludmilla Petrushevskaya won the critics’ prize for Нас украли. История преступлений (Kidnapped. The History of Crimes), and Viktor Pelevin won the readers’ vote (plus a Volga regional prize) for iPhuck 10.

Having read, in total or in part, only the Stepanova, Petrushevskaya, Anna Nemzer, Yevgenia Nekrasova, and Ksenia Buksha books – from this shortlist – about all I can say is that I think the Stepanova and Petrushevskaya books were the best choices from my limited pool. Although I enjoyed the Nemzer book (previous post) quite a bit, for all its momentum, history, and social themes, it just didn’t feel as accomplished or substantial as the Stepanova and Petrushevskaya books. Nekrasova’s Kalechina-Malechina has its own wonderful charms (I loved some of the latchkey heroine’s ways of viewing the world, timing her days, for example, by her parents’ return home) but, after reading half, I have to agree with some readers that it feels more like a novella than a novel. K-M read to me like a crossover young adult book with serious material – bullying, absurd teacher behavior, parental discord, a damaged smartphone (oops!), and more – and, given its edginess, I was very disappointed that it didn’t quite hold my interest. [Early May update: I am very happy to say that I am now finishing and very much enjoying Kalechina-Malechina. With a huge plot development in the middle of the book -- a kikimora shows up -- it has worked well to read this book in two chunks.]

I’ve read some very high praise for Buksha’s Открывается внутрь (Opens In), too, but the two story-chapters that I read in this one (in my limited sample, Opens In felt more like connected stories than a novel-in-stories) just didn’t pique my interest: the storylines relating to young mothers, adoption, paternity, and similar themes, felt important but, sadly, too familiar. Buksha’s concept here – a shuttle van route links the characters and the book is divided into sections titled orphanage, mental hospital, and last stop, ouch for the life cycle – is solid but I felt a little shoved into a deterministic situation, something I write with the full realization that life’s like that, particularly for these characters. (And I’m all too sure I’m missing most of the book!) Some of the formal aspects (like minimalist punctuation in places and not hitting the caps key) felt reminiscent of Рамка (The Detector, previous post). Though my small chunk of Opens In felt more accomplished than The Detector, I found The Detector far more intriguing right from the start, thanks to its slightly futuristic premise, which Buksha plays with nicely, and varied characters.

I’ll be posting soon about Kidnapped, which I enjoyed for its humor, slyness, and fresh uses of familiar tropes. All the other books I mentioned are good in their own ways but there’s just no comparison to Petrushevskaya’s mastery of both subject and form. Stepanova’s book, which I’ve seen described as a “meta-novel” and which I also respect tremendously, is so different (previous post, from its Big Book win) that I’d probably describe it using words like “meditative” and “philosophical,” with a “meta-” thrown in somewhere for good measure.

Up Next: Petrushevskaya, Slavist conference trip report, and something else, we’ll see what.

Disclaimers: The usual. I received copies of several of the books mentioned in this post from the publisher and/or the Russian stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair.


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