Saturday, October 2, 2021

Good to be Queen?: The Dyachenkos’ The Ritual

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s novel Ритуал (The Ritual) was recommended to me as “sweet.” And I have to agree that The Ritual is sweet reading: it’s absorbing, light but thoughtful, funny, and mischievous enough in terms of very specific genre play that I’m glad I didn’t know it involves a dragon. Yes, a dragon. The Ritual involves a dragon and a princess. Well, more than one princess, with the main three (for my purposes) being sisters (hm). <Spoilers will now ensue, though I’ll go light on detail.> And so, when the dragon, Arman, starts off his ritual by abducting a princess, he flies away with the wrong one, Yuta, who’s a bit ungainly, perhaps not the damsel a prince – like, let’s say, Austin, who Yuta has a mad crush on – would be eagerest to rescue.

I’ve never read much about dragons so the dragon/princess situation wasn’t the primary attraction for me in The Ritual. (Backstory: I did have E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons as a kid but have absolutely no memory of reading it. Only this afternoon did I find the book, its yellow spine so faded I didn’t recognize it.) Even so, Ritual’s (arche)typical characters – handsome prince, three princess sisters, the dragon-human who has feelings, too – and the plotlines about love, happiness, transformations, growing up, and rescue, felt pretty familiar. What made The Ritual enjoyable was watching the Dyachenkos change, flip, and mix things up so plot twists and turns sometimes resulted in turning happy to unhappy, good to bad. And vice versa.

I’m sure I would have loved The Ritual as a young adult: Yuta’s an independent (sometimes even a bit unruly and moody) young woman who gets used to her lot and manages to settle into detention at Arman’s castle. She covertly explores. Nobody seems to be coming to her rescue so she makes the best of life in the sticks with activities like learning to read very telling prophecies engraved on stone in the castle, embroidering a towel with a fire-breathing dragon, and even asking Arman for a chance to fly on his back. (That scene’s especially sweet, almost a bit steamy.) I also need to mention the magic mirror at Arman’s castle. The mirror shows events in the greater world. Thanks to a description that includes the words паутина (a web, yes, it’s a spider’s here but even so…) and сеть (network), which are both used for the Internet, The Ritual, which dates back to the 1990s, almost feels like a prophecy (not one from the castle, ) of live streaming.

The ending of The Ritual is a bit too open-ended to say that it’s certainly happy (or otherwise) but the Dyachenkos certainly succeed in bringing Yuta, Austin, Arman, and the reader through a series of rituals involving love, disillusionment, putting aside childhood things and learning to be an adult, learning to fly, and lots of other things. And it’s sweet without crossing into treacle or saccharine territory. In short, even if The Ritual didn’t grab me quite as much as the Dyachenkos’ Vita Nostra – I’m now reading the sequel that just came out – it made for satisfying, low-stress reading during a busy time. Which is, in itself, a happy ending.

Bonus! Julia Meitov Hersey – whose English translations of the Dyachenkos’ Vita Nostra and Daughter from the Dark, are already available – has also translated The Ritual into English, though there is not yet a publication date.

Up Next: Oksana Vasyakina’s The Wound, Alexei Polyarinov’s The Reef, and a forthcoming novel by Dmitry Danilov. And the afore-mentioned sequel to Vita Nostra. Among other things.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Julia Meitov Hersey and I know each other through social media and hope to meet in real life one day.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The 2021 NOS(E) Award Longlist

The NOS(E) Award’s 2021 longlist was announced last week. There are twenty books on the list and, as per custom, I’ll list them all. I wonder why I do this every year but, well, I just keep doing it. The shortlist will be announced in November. Some of these books sound mysterious, largely, I suppose, because there isn’t a lot of information about them. Perhaps most interesting this year is that many candidates weren’t published by what I’d consider traditional publishing houses. I’m disappointed that only seven of the twenty books were written by women but, to end on a positive note (and get on with the book list!), quite a few of the books sound interesting.

  • Ksenia Burzhskaya’s Мой белый (My [Beloved Color] White, perhaps since white covers the whole spectrum?) is in my book cart and sounds hard to pin down quickly other than to say it’s about a high school girl, happiness, and all kinds of love. This publisher description tells more.
  • Oksana Vasyakina’s Рана (The Wound) is one of two books on the list that I’ve already read. Vasyakina’s account of traveling with her mother’s ashes, while considering her relationship with her mother, her own sexuality, and her own writing, is touching and almost suspenseful. Rightfully a Big Book finalist.
  • Maksim Gureev’s Синдром Капгра (The Capgras Syndrome) sounds interesting simply for the fact of its title. I don’t even want to know more; I just want to try it. Rarely do I get to link to medical information but here we go.
  • Sergei Zakharov’s И восстанет мгла (And the Gloom Rises? I have no idea what to do with this title) sounds like a novel about the eighties in the USSR, looking at individuals and society. (The title also makes me wonder if it’s playing on Alexander Chudakov’s Ложится мгла на старые ступени, which the Elkost literary agency lists as A Gloom Descends Upon the Ancient Steps. Different decades but even so…)
  • Kirill Kutalov’s Антитела (Antibodies) apparently fits its title: there’s an epidemic, albeit in an alternative future where Russia is ruled by a bot.
  • Tatyana Leontyeva’s Суп без фрикаделек (Soup Without Meatballs) is a short story collection.
  • Lera Manovich’s Прощай, Анна К. (Farewell, Anna K.) is also a short story collection.
  • I’m now reading Olga Medvedkova’s Три персонажа в поисках любви и бессмертия (Three Characters/Personages in Search of Love and Immortality) and am still learning about the first personage, a very young medieval princess who seems to be just waiting to bust out of her sheltered life.
  • Evgenia Nekrasova’s Кожа (Skin) is written in serial form; it’s about two women: a Black slave and a white serf.
  • Dmitry Petrov’s Мутный (Murky?) sounds especially mysterious because I’m getting a lot of interference on searches but: something about (moral) choices in life, family, and other big questions.
  • I have Valery Pecheikin’s Злой мальчик (Mean/Nasty/Evil Boy – cover art is a snake) in my book cart but haven’t yet read it. It’s slender, with large print and brief vignettes/stories, and it looks very readable, like I’ll enjoy it… but I think I’ve been (subconsciously) saving it for when I really need something easy to read in very small chunks. Pecheikin works at Gogol Center.
  • Alexei Polyarinov’s Риф (The Reef) is the second book on this list that I’ve read in full; it’s also a Big Book finalist. Polyarinov offers up three plot lines that come together as he tells of a cult.
  • Ketevan Sapovich’s Письма маме. Истории большого города (Letters to Mama. Stories from the Big City) appears to be letters the author wrote to her mother after losing both her parents within one week.
  • The protagonist of Vladimir Sedov’s Зеленое пальто (The Green Coat) goes through life with a green coat in a book that focuses on the 1990s, including, apparently, its adventurous side. [Description edited thanks to much-appreciated intervention!]
  • In its briefest description, Artyom Serebryakov’s Фистула (Fistula) sounds like a novel about “forbidden love” between siblings but a more detailed account on Прочтение discusses literary heritage, which sounds far more complex.
  • Andrei Tomilov’s Тайга далекая (The Distant Taiga) is a collection of short stories.
  • Islam Khanipaev’s Типа я (The first-person narrator constantly uses “типа,” which is like “like,” so maybe Like, Me or something similar, though this title makes my head ache!) is the diary of an eight-year-old boy trying to figure out the world.
  • Ivan Shipnigov’s Стрим. (Stream) was a 2021 NatsBest finalist, so I’ll recycle that description: [Stream] sounds like a polyphonic, “verbatim” book about life among young (Russian) adults. Given that Shipnigov is a screenwriter, this may be a book where the verbatim approach actually works.
  • I included Roman Shmarakov’s Алкиной (Alcinous, I think) in my Big Book longlist post so will recycle that description, too. The book is set in the fourth century, in the late Roman Empire. Although it’s apparently often described as a “philological novel,” Artyom Roganov’s review for Gorky Media says it’s more. (And even cites humor! We enjoy humor!)
  • Vladimir Shpakov’s Пленники амальгамы (Prisoners of Amalgam… it opens mentioning a mirror) is another one that sounds mysterious, with nightmares becoming reality.
Up Next: The Dyachenkos’ Ritual, which I was going to post about last weekend before we went to retrieve this pile of (very heavy oak, not all of which is pictured) wood that will soon be stacked in a fourth round pile. Vasyakina’s The Wound, Polyarinov’s The Reef, and a forthcoming novel by Dmitry Danilov. And the Dyachenko’s sequel to Vita Nostra (previous post), which I enjoyed so much last summer. That “Fun With Genres” post that includes the Dyachenkos also covers Evgeny Vodolazkin’s Island, a 2021 Big Book finalist I’ve been meaning to write about again.


Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. I received PDF’s of The Wound and The Reef from Big Book and a PDF of Three Personages from the author’s literary agency but have been doing my reading with print books I purchased. My print copy of the Pecheikin book, though, came from Inspiria.