Sunday, February 9, 2020

National Bestseller Award Nominees for 2020

What better to think about on a cold, windy, sunny (yester)day than the 2020 list of 47 National Bestseller Award nominees? This year’s list seems a bit unusual for its lack of repeat nominations – books nominated by more than one person – and I think (suspect?) there are more unfamiliar names for me than usual. The new-to-me names (as well as the lesser-known publishers) are what I find so much fun about NatsBest. Alexander Pelevin’s The Four, a 2019 NatsBest finalist, was one of the most interesting books I read last year and I hadn’t known of either A. Pelevin or his publisher, Пятый Рим/Fifth Rome. NatsBest will announce its 2020 shortlist on April 16. For now, “Big Jury” reviews are already starting to appear on the NatsBest site. Here a few of the nominees…

Starting with books I’ve already read:
  • Liubov Barinova’s Ева (Eve) (previous post) tells of a killing and a kidnapping.
  • Mikhail Elizarov’s Земля (Earth) (previous post) tells, over more than 750 packed pages, of life and death. And that’s only volume one!
  • Dmitry Zakharov’s Средняя Эдда (Middle Edda) tells of a street/graffiti artist (Banksyesque) whose work has political twists and consequences. (I’m still reading, so this is a bit of a cheat.) I’d been looking forward to Middle Edda since I knew it would be very contemporary, but I’m finding it rather confusing because so many characters are doing so many things so very quickly. (I see that critic Galina Yuzefovich had a similar complaint about the book.) Most distressing, Middle Edda doesn’t even feel especially fresh, as literature, though it’s too early to say for sure.
  • Anna Kozlova’s Рюрик (Rurik) (previous post) tells of a boarding school student who hitches a ride with a motorcyclist and goes missing. Another big favorite from 2019, Rurik really did feel fresh.
Continuing with books I was already interested in reading:
  • Evgenia Nekrasova’s Сестромам (Sistermom) is a story collection; I’ve read and appreciated some of the stories already.
  • Olga Pogodina-Kuzmina’s Уран (Uranium) is apparently a documentary novel about events at and around the Sillamäe uranium plant in 1953.
Books by authors I’d never heard of is a big category this year, though not many of them (I’m limiting myself to books that are available now in printed form, not manuscripts) intrigue me enough to put them on a “buy-or-borrow” list. That said, several more almost made this chunk of my post because they sound suitably odd. I really do like odd. Belkin’s book about famous people (the великие/major/big of his title) and animals (the мелкие/minor/small of the title) – e.g. Dostoevsky and bedbugs, Napoleon and bees – sounds like it could be strange enough that it just might work. Here are a few that sound especially promising for the likes of me:
  • Tatyana Zamirovskaya’s Земля случайных чисел (The Land of Random Numbers) sounds like it’s about alternate universes and/or realities. Just my thing.
  • Boris Kletinich’s Моё частное бессмертие (My Personal Immortality) sounds like a polyphonic novel that covers lots of twentieth-century history. Also just my thing?
  • Vladimir Mironenko’s Алёшины сны (Alyosha’s Dreams) is apparently a mystical history tour that includes Rasputin (Grigory) and apocalypse. This definitely sounds like my thing.
Rasputin and apocalypse seem like a good note to end on before more snow and rain fall. Stay warm and dry, wherever you are!

Up Next: Those oft-promised books in English, to which I’ve added a third. Zakharov’s Middle Edda.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. I have translated/am translating excerpts from several of the books on this year’s NatsBest list of nominees. I’ve received copies of some books on this year’s list from literary agents and/or authors and have ties to some nominators, authors, and agents, as well as the award’s secretary.


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