Wednesday, December 11, 2019

2019 Big Book Winners: Erofeev, Savely, and Volga Children

I was excited to see voting results yesterday morning for this year’s Big Book Award. The top winner was the troika of Oleg Lekmanov, Mikhail Sverdlov, and Ilya Simanovsky for their biography Венедикт Ерофеев: посторонний (Venedikt Erofeev: The Outsider). The Outsider is one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year and is one of two books that tied for my top marks. I’ll be writing about The Outsider very soon so for now will just leave you (yet again!) with a line from Oliver Ready’s review for The TLS about the book, “In fact, this is not one biography but two, for between each chapter comes an interlude devoted to Moskva- Petushki.”

Second place went to Grigory Sluzhitel’s Дни Савелия (Savely’s Days) (previous post), a favorite from last year that tied as my other top book. Guzel Yakhina took third place for Дети мои (Children of the Volga), a blend of history and fairy tale motifs in a novel about a Volga German man and his daughter.

Readers’ voting results were a bit different, with Yakhina winning, Sluzhitel’ coming in second, and Evgeny Vodolazkin taking third for his Брисбен (Brisbane), a novel about a virtuoso guitarist coming to terms with a serious medical condition.

I’ve already mentioned that I thought the 2019 Big Book finalists were a big improvement over the last several shortlists. Looking back at this year’s list (previous post), I’m reminded of how much I enjoyed some of the books that didn’t win any awards at all, especially Evgenia Nekrasova’s Kalechina-Malechina (previous post) and Alexei Sal’nikov’s Indirectly, but also parts or aspects of almost all the others. Not everything was to my taste, of course (fortunately!), but this was a year when I saw merit in every single book. I’m crossing my fingers that next year’s lists will be even better and particularly hope more women will make the shortlist. Guzel Yakhina, Linor Goralik, and Evgenia Nekrasova certainly did their part representing women this year with three very different works, but I’d love to see more recognition for some of the other women writing good books. This is particularly important given the Big Book’s relatively high visibility.

Edits: The voting results are detailed on the Год литературы site here.

Up Next: The Erofeev and Brik biographies, which I’ll write about together. Bulat Khanov’s Гнев (Rage or Fury or something similar…).

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. I’m a voting member of the Literary Academy, the Big Book Award’s very big jury. I’ve translated books by two of this year’s award winners and know other authors whose books were finalists.


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