Sunday, June 2, 2019

The 2019 NatsBest Goes to Rubanov, Old News Edition

Andrei Rubanov won the 2019 National Bestseller Award for his Финист - ясный сокол (Finist, the Brave Falcon; I’ll keep borrowing the title from a Soviet film for now), a novel with motifs from folktales. Honorary jury chair Yury Voronin broke a tie between Finist and Evgenia Nekrasova’s Kalechina-Malechina, each of which had two votes. Voronin said he would have gone for Mikhail Trofimenkov’s XX век представляет. Кадры и кадавры (The 20th Century Presents. Cadres and Cadavers) if that had been an option, but Cadres and Cadavers had just one other vote. The only other book to win a point in the final round was Alexander Etoev’s Я буду всегда с тобой (I’ll Always Be With You), which I’m looking forward to reading soon, thanks to a very kind colleague.

Rubanov’s win wasn’t particularly surprising given that Finist racked up thirteen points from the award’s “big jury,” second only to Trofimenkov’s fourteen. I was pleased to see Kalechina-Malechina, which I’ll be writing about soon, come in second after finding a lot to admire in Nekrasova’s colorfully written story about a young girl.

I saw the news about the NatsBest when I was sitting at the airport waiting to fly home after spending a day in New York for Read Russia’s Russian Literature Week… I clicked through to read the beginning of Finist, which, of course, feels very different from any Rubanov I’ve read since it’s set in the distant past rather than either a dystopian future Moscow (Chlorophyllia is still my favorite Rubanov book, previous post) or a very right-here-right-now Moscow, as in The Patriot, which won the Yasnaya Polyana Award in 2017. In any case, I’m interested in giving Finist a try in print – or maybe again on the reader without the distraction of gate changes and crowds of humanity walking past.

I had a very fun time in New York, traveling for a Read Russia discussion with Olga Slavnikova, Guzel Yakhina, and Ian Dreiblatt. Olga’s The Man Who Couldn’tDie and Guzel’s Zuleikha both came out in English translation (Marian Schwartz’s and mine, respectively) this year, and Ian is a wonderful translator, poet, and reader-observer, so there was plenty of “in conversation” to go around. Other than sleeping and riding the subway (never simultaneously), I spent my other hours in New York drinking coffee, wandering Central Park, and meeting and eating with my fellow panelists, other translators, other Read Russians, and the very good people of Columbia University Press/Russian Library who will release my translation of Margarita Khemlin’s Klotsvog into the world in August. They’ve done a great job with the book and I’m very excited for it to come out.

Up Next: More award news! Big Book finalists will be announced this week. Then Nekrasova’s Kalechina-Malechina and other tales. All bets are off for what comes after that.

Disclaimers: The usual, including that I translated NatsBest secretary Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina.


  1. Other than sleeping and riding the subway (never simultaneously)

    Good thinking! When I fell asleep on the subway as a young and foolish arrival in the city, I woke up with my wallet missing. Fortunately, being poor as well as young and foolish, I didn't lose much, and it taught me a life lesson.

    Thanks as always for your useful award reporting!

    1. Oh my, how awful to have your wallet stolen on the subway, Languagehat! I did sometimes doze a bit on the Moscow Metro when I took long rides but, somewhat miraculously, I never slept through my stop.

    2. It wasn't that awful -- my reaction was a mix of irritation, amusement at my own stupidity, and gratitude it hadn't been worse. It was much the same as when I lost some money to a couple of very good con artists who lured me into their fabrications on the street near my house; I was so hooked I ran into my apartment to get cash for the temporary use they were so convincing about, and returned with an envelope that contained (surprise!) strips of newspaper instead of twenty-dollar bills. Again, I didn't lose much (poverty), and I definitely felt it was worth it for the education it provided.