Sunday, June 7, 2020

Big Book Finalists for 2020: A Lucky Thirteen List for Lizok’s Summer Reading Plan

Well, this year’s Big Book shortlist came in an unusual way: the announcement was held on Zoom rather than at a GUM luncheon this time around so I dragged myself to my computer at seven in the morning to watch. Despite the early (for me) hour, it was fun to see some friends and experience (yet again!) the oddly voyeuristic feeling of observing people in their Zoom habitats.

Since there are thirteen finalists this year, I’ll get to the list without further ado, listing the shortlisters in the order they were named over Zoom. In a few cases, I’ll mention brief the authors’ brief answers to questions from Dmitry Bak, who served as the broadcast’s genial, smiling host.

  • Timur Kibirov’s Генерал и его семья (The General and His Family) is a long family saga written by a writer who’s probably best known as a poet. (For his part, Kibirov says he has not switched to prose and is working on a new book of poetry.) The novel is set in the late Soviet period. My colleague Jamie Olson has translated some of Kibirov’s poetry; you can find a few of his translations here.
  • Shamil Idiatullin’s Бывшая Ленина (Former Lenin [Street, though not only “street,” from what I gather]) is set in a provincial city with all sorts of problems and takes place, hm, last year.
  • Evgeny Chizhov’s Собиратель рая (Collector of Heaven or Collecting Heaven?), which I read in part and called “good-natured” in my longlist post, is a slow, meandering novel about a woman with dementia and her son, who loves flea markets. There’s some good humor and lots of atmosphere but I found the book disappointing, perhaps in part because I loved Chizhov’s The Translation (previous post) so much. I will, however, revisit Collector.
  • Alexander Ilichevsky made the list with Чертеж Ньютона (Newton’s Sketch), which apparently features three journeys and settings including Nevada, the Pamirs, and Jerusalem. The narrator mentions in the novel’s first sentence that he works with dark matter…
  • Pavel Selukov’s Добыть Тарковского ([Verbing, I think perhaps Procuring or somesuch] Tarkovsky) is a collection of short stories that are apparently set in Perm in the nineties and noughties. Thank you to Bak for asking Selukov which Tarkovsky the title refers to… though Selukov deflected the question. (Now that I have the book, I know the answer but won’t spoil anything for anyone…)
  • Grigori Arosev and Evgenii Kremchukov’s Деление на ноль (Division by Zero) apparently concerns a dystopia. Which feels right up my alley these days. [Guilty pleasure: I confess that I was almost pleased to see Kremchukov confess that he forgot what he wanted to say when it was his turn to speak. Zoom seems to have the exact same effect on me perhaps because I’m always watching people in their little boxes…]
  • Vasily Avchenko and Alexei Korovashko’s Олег Куваев: повесть о нерегламентированном человеке (Oleg Kuvaev: Story of an Unregulated Person) is a biography of Oleg Kuvaev, who has a cult following and is best known for a book called Territory. And, evidently, a life of adventure.
  • Sofia Sinitskaya will continue to haunt me with her titles! Her Сияние «Жеможаха» (The Glimmering [of the] Zhemozhakha, though I’m loving the idea of The “Zhemozhakha” Shining since the title’s other word is the same as the Russian title of a certain Stephen King book) is now on my summer book list. Sinitskaya said that word I can’t really translate (yet!) is a sort of symbol of the absurd. I’ll return to my notes and report back after revisiting her previous book involving Zhemozhakha and then reading this one where [OMG!] Zhemozhakha apparently drives a car! Maybe zhemozhakha can become a word in English.
  • Dina Rubina is back with another trilogy – Наполеонов обоз (Napoleon’s Caravan/Convoy or somesuch) – that looks like another family saga. When Bak asked Rubina why the story is so long, Rubina said [long story short here] she couldn’t leave anything unsaid.
  • Natalia Gromova made the list with an autobiographical novel, Насквозь (Through and Through, perhaps?).
  • Mikhail Elizarov’s Земля (Earth) is the only book I’ve already read in full (previous post).
  • Alexei Makushinskys Предместья мысли. Философическая прогулка (The Outskirts of Thought. A Philosophical Stroll, something like that, perhaps?) visits places where Nikolai Berdyaev and Jacques Maritain lived.
  • I’m currently reading Ksenia Buksha’s Чуров и Чурбанов (Churov and Churbanov), which I’d already bought in bound, printed form (hurray for old-fashioned books!), chronicles the lives of two classmates. It’s very readable and a bit light, though I feel like there may be some dark turns ahead.

I’ll leave it there for now, other than to note that – as in years past – I was disappointed not to see more books written by women on the list. I was especially surprised that Olga Pogodina-Kuzmina’s Uranium didn’t make the list. But, as last year, I’ll be sure to buy Uranium and some of the other longlisters by women writers, though that list of 39 books had only eight written by women, meaning there are not many there to choose from.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: I’m on the jury of the Big Book Award and have received electronic copies of all the finalists. I’ve met some of the writers on the list and translated an excerpt of Earth.

Up Next: The long-promised potpourri. Busksha’s Churov and Churbanov.


  1. Thanks for the nod, Lisa. I haven’t looked at Kibirov’s new novel yet, but his last one («Лада, или Радость») was full of poetry. Do you know if this one is the same?

    1. I'm always happy to link to your blog and work, Jamie! I scrolled through a bunch of the new Kibirov book and did find some poetry, though some was written by not-Kibirov.