Sunday, June 21, 2020

The 2020 Yasnaya Polyana Longlist – So Many Books!

After skipping out last weekend in favor of intensive weeding and other yard work, I’d been looking forward to (finally!) writing this week about books I’ve read. But then the Yasnaya Polyana longlist materialized. Meaning the books-I’ve-read potpourri post will wait until next weekend.

There are 39 books on YP’s list so I’ll get right to things. First off, nine books – Buksha, Elizarov, Idiatullin, Ilichevsky, Kibirov, Makushinsky, Rubina, Sinitskaya, and Chizhov – overlap with the Big Book shortlist (previous post) and three – Astvatsaturov, Elizarov, Sinitskaya – overlap with the NatsBest shortlist (previous post). That’s not especially interesting. What’s probably more interesting is that fourteen of YP’s longlisted titles were written by women. Two of my authors, Vladislav Otroshenko and Evgeny Vodolazkin, are quoted saying this year’s list is particularly interesting and varied. I think “varied” struck me more here than “interesting,” since there are so many familiar titles and not many of the unfamiliar ones are novels. And not many of the unfamiliar novels appeal.

I’ll keep things easy and focus on a few books by unfamiliar authors. It’s been brain-meltingly hot lately. At least until the fog rolled in today, cooling things off so much I may be reaching for the cozy socks again. So let’s see what turns up among new-to-me authors…

  • Tatyana Novoselovas Живы будем - не умрем. По страницам жизни уральской крестьянки (roughly Well Be Alive, We Wont Die. Pages from the Life of a Urals Peasant Woman) is a memoir written by a woman born in 1943 and raised at a collective farm; her father died during the war. She worked as a physics teacher for about 40 years. It’s the kolkhoz that fascinates me.
  • Tatyana Pletneva’s Пункт третий (Point Number Three) is a novel set during 1979-1981 in Moscow, Leningrad, and a prison camp in the Urals. It looks like it involves dissidents and KGB officers.
  • Kanta Ibragimov’s Стигал (Stigal) is narrated by a Chechen man whose family was destroyed during the Chechen War.
  • Petr Vlasov and Olga Vlasova’s Московская стена (The Moscow Wall) sounds like a dystopian novel set in a time after a global crisis has destroyed the world we know. I do know of Petr Vlasov’s illustrated work (about cats at the Hermitage) but, well, that’s not a dystopia (I don’t think?), meaning Vlasov is unfamiliar in this dystopian guise.

Up Next: Ksenia Buksha’s Churov and Churbanov, which I thought was both very good and very interesting; that potpourri I’ve been meaning to write for so long…

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Not much this time around other than having translated work by prize judges and authors mentioned in this post.


  1. Apparently the Ibragimov novel was published in 2015; I guess the eligibility rules are flexible? Incidentally, stigal is the Chechen word for 'sky.'

    1. Thanks for your comment, Languagehat! Yes, I recall that they're flexible. (Though for some reason, I thought their statute of limitations was closer to three years, which is already pretty generous!)

      Thank you for mentioning about стигал. The word is also a name, which is why I didn't translate the title. Here's the section of the book, which you may have already seen, that mentions that. (I think there's a footnote that mentions that it means "небо," though there's no preview and it comes out garbled, at least when I visited!) From Google Books.

  2. They all look pretty grim to me. I've read a few post Soviet era novels and although they all had a serious point to make, they were not off-putting like these ones me, anyway.

    1. No, they don't look like a very cheerful bunch, do they? Cheer is often severely lacking in contemporary Russian fiction. And that does often (how to put it?) get to me. Unfortunately, I often find the comedy comes up short in less grim books by feeling too easy, too expected. I've been lucky to translate some authors that know how to combine serious topics with humor that works: Vodolazkin, Abgaryan, and Otroshenko among them.