Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Lucky Day: The 2019 Yasnaya Polyana Longlist

Yesterday really did feel like my lucky day: just after I sat down, book at my side, to start blogging about Anna Kozlova’s Rurik, I noticed a Facebook post about this year’s Yasnaya Polyana Award longlist. Why lucky? Because I was in more of a news mood than a book description mood. Meaning: Here’s a post about the forty-three-book longlist, of which I’ve read six in full and seven in part, with another five already on the shelves. As usual, several overlap with other award lists (notably the Big Book shortlist) and some are only available in journals.

The Yasnaya Polyana shortlist will be announced later this month; the award ceremony will be held in October. This list is so long and so full of titles I’ve seen but don’t know much about that I don’t have many guesses about what might make the short list. So I’ll just get on with things!

Books I’ve already read in full:
  • Alisa Ganieva’s Оскорбленные чувтсва (Offended Sensibilities) (previous post), an entertaining depiction of contemporary life in a smallish Russian city.
  • Anna Kozlova’s Рюрик (Rurik) is the one I’ll write about next week. I liked Rurik a lot for its biting humor, portrait of people and mores in the contemporary world, and edginess.
  • Evgenia Nekrasova’s Kalechina-Malechina (previous post), which I admired for Nekrasova’s imagination and Platonovesque flourishes. A Big Book finalist.
  • Anna Nemzer’s Раунд (The Round) (previous post), a novel with a documentary feel that covers past and present with raw emotion, colloquial language, and suspense. A NOSE finalist.
  • Aleksei Saln’ikov’s Опосредованно (Indirectly or something similar) is one of my favorites of the year, though I haven’t written about it yet because I want to reread it in hard copy. A woman living in the Urals in a world a lot likes ours writes poetry, which has narcotic effects. A 2019 Big Book finalist.
  • Grigory Sluzhitel’s Дни Савелия (Savely’s Days) (previous post) was one of my 2018 favorites: I just couldn’t resist the first-cat narrative set in Moscow. Another 2018 Big Book finalist.
Other 2019 Big Book finalists on the YaP longlist:
  • Aleksandr Gonorovsky’s Собачий лес (Dog Forest, though I’m suspecting layers of meaning here…) apparently combines a lot of genres and addresses topics including historical trauma. I have yet to begin this book.
  • Roman Senchin’s Дождь в Париже (Rain in Paris) is about a Russian man who’s in Paris reflecting on his life and missing out on seeing the city. Rain in Paris is cleanly written and contains lots of material for readers interested in the 1980s and 1990s in Russia (ah, video salons!) but it felt derivative (вторичный) and too familiar to me, meaning I couldn’t get past the first day of drinking and reminiscences in the hotel room. (Recommended, though, for anyone interested in that period who has not yet read much fiction about it.)
  • Vyacheslav Stavetsky’s Жизнь А.Г. (The Life of A.G.) concerns a Spanish dictator who fails to shoot himself (to escape punishment) and is sentenced to being paraded around the country in a cage. Despite my interest in twentieth-century Spain (it comes up a lot in my Russian reading) and despite my love of language (where would I be without it?), I quickly grew frustrated with Stavetsky’s wordiness (which Galina Yuzefovich sums up perfectly in her review for Meduza) and loads of background information. I’ll try it again to give it a fair shot for the Big Book but I felt like both A.G. and I were victims of the undertow of Stavetsky’s waves of words and sentences.
  • Guzel Yakhina’s Дети мои (Children of the Volga) blends history and fairy/folk tale motifs in a novel about a Volga German man and his daughter. Reading in progress.
A few authors I’d never heard of (there weren’t many to choose from) whose books sound promising:
  • Lora Beloivan’s Южнорусское Овчарово (Southern Russian Ovcharovo, where the title is apparently a place name and “Ovcharovo” is related to the word for a shepherd dog if a book site commenter is to be believed) sounds like a cozy, enjoyable book set in the Russian Far East.
  • Evgenii Kaminskii’s Свобода (part two) (Freedom) looks very northern, with its ice packs and bears. After the hot summer, give me winter.
  • Maria Rybakova’s Если есть рай (If There’s a Heaven/Paradise) is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t recognize her name until I saw she also wrote Гнедич (Gnedich), translated by Elena Dimov for Glagoslav.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Two authors I’ve translated are on the Yasnaya Polyana jury and I’ve received many of the above-mentioned books from publishers, authors, or the Big Book Award.

Up Next: Anna Kozlova’s Rurik, Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Earthly Paradise, two books in English, and some other books in Russian.


  1. Nice! I do hope you decide to write about Жизнь А.Г. and Свобода. I'm interested in them as both a reader and a translator.

  2. Thanks for your comment, J.T.! We'll see how things go with Жизнь А.Г., which did make the YaP shortlist; I will likely look into Свобода (which did not make the YaP shortlist) later.

    For now, though, you can find links to reviews and the text of Жизнь А.Г. on Wikipedia.

  3. I also received this comment from Mx (but hit the wrong button and deleted it from The System instead of publishing it!):
    I distinctly remember we told you about Lora B and maybe even gave you one of her books (about this part I'm unclear but we spoke about her). She's a genius far exceeding many Russian contemporaries

    I'll write to Mx! (I don't recall Beloivan's name though may have jotted it in my notebook. I don't seem to have a book, though!)