Sunday, May 10, 2020

The 2020 Big Book Longlist

The Big Book Award announced its longlist, hm, oh, about a week or two or three ago. (It’s always Blursday now, right?) This year’s list didn’t draw me in immediately but let’s see what happens as I go through it more carefully, to see what’s new. There are 39 books on the list (and only eight written by women, which is a disappointment yet again, though, as always, I have no idea what books were nominated) so I certainly don’t plan to list everything. But I love longlists so am (eternally) hoping there might be something good to discover. Here goes.

First, a few books that I’ve already read, if only in part:
  • Mikhail Elizarov’s Земля (Earth), the only book I’ve read in full. And “in full” means hundreds and hundreds of pages (previous post), so in full. Earth was the top vote-getter for this year’s NatsBest shortlist.
  • Dmitry Zakharov’s Средняя Эдда (Middle Edda), of which I read about half, was a big disappointment, though the book itself is slender. It’s fairly up-to-the-minute with its sociopolitical and sociocultural material but, for my taste, it’s too packed with people, places, and stuff to read well. It was also hugely distracting that a character is named Ovechkin, calling to mind The Great 8.
  • Evgeny Chizhov’s Собиратель рая (perhaps Collecting Heaven?) is a good-natured book that’s the opposite of Middle Edda: slow and meandering. It, too, disappointed, though I appreciated some of the humor and flea market finds.

A few other books have already made this year’s NatsBest shortlist or NOSE shortlist. Almost all of these sound good in some way.
  • Andrei Astvatsaturov’s Не кормите и не трогайте пеликанов (Don’t Feed or Touch the Pelicans) (NatsBest)
  • Kirill Kobrin’s Поднебесный экспресс (The Celestial Express), which still sounds interesting. (NOSE)
  • Olga Pogodina-Kuzmina’s Уран (Uranium), which I very much want to read. (NatsBest)
  • Kirill Ryabov’s Пёс (The Dog) (NatsBest)
  • Sofia Sinitskaya’s Сияние "жеможаха" (still punting on the title!) (NatsBest)
  • Alexander Stesin’s Нью-йоркский обход (New York Rounds) (NOSE, winner of the jury award)

And this time, given that I’ve spent time doing unexpected tasks like diverting runoff in the yard (I’ve loved doing this since childhood so couldn’t resist), I’m going to pick a few other books using my favorite method: the easiest titles (of fiction) to translate. Preferably books and/or authors I don’t know much about.

  • Ksenia Buksha’s Чуров и Чурбанов (Churov and Churbanov) is about two classmates who grew up in the nineties. Sounds interesting and is now on order.
  • Timur Kibirov’s Генерал и его семья (The General and His Family) is billed as a historical novel about a family; it’s set in the late Soviet period.
  • Victor Martinovich’s Ночь (Night) is billed as a dystopia and a novel that’s a travelogue and game… where the world is an ongoing cold night. Hm. Sounds intriguingly dreary.
  • ???’s Гимны (Hymns) is a total mystery since it’s Manuscript No. 101. (But the title’s easy!)
  • Dmitry Stakhov’s Крысиный король (The Rat King) sounds a bit bizarre, about a guy who specializes in rat/rodent extermination (дератизация! I had no idea this was a word… but there you go!) by using cannibal rats; it’s set from the early twentieth century until now. (Hmm, I’ve been reading Camus’s The Plague where the early rat scenes brought me back to my Moscow Years…)

I’ll end on that cheerful note and wish everyone good health and happy reading! Big Book finalists, by the way, will be announced by June 15.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual, including having translated excerpts from one of these books. And being a member of the Big Book jury. Who is, I hasten to add, grateful that some of these books sound like they could be interesting. I have two or three of these on order and would have ordered more had they been readily available on!

Up next: Potpourri post.