Saturday, April 17, 2021

The 2021 NatsBest Shortlist

Well, that seemed to happen fast: The National Bestseller Award announced its six-book shortlist last week. I’m so behind on new releases that I haven’t studied up much on some of these titles. So no time like this chilly spring day to learn a bit more.

  • Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Кока (Koka) (10 points) is the only book I know much of anything about. It’s a continuation (of sorts?) of The Devil’s Wheel (previous post), which I loved so very much about ten years ago. A friend just bought Koka and I’m looking forward to hearing her thoughts. (I was going to order it a couple weeks ago myself but it sold out!)
  • Alexander Pelevin’s Покров-17 (Pokrov-17) (8 points) is set in the Kaluga area in 1993 but the action somehow connects to a World War 2 battle. Pelevin loves playing with time like this, which is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed two of his books (The Four) and (Kalinova Yama) so much. I’ve actively avoided learning more about Pokrov-17 before reading.
  • Vera Bogdanova’s Павел Чжан и прочие речные твари (Pavel Zhang and Other River Creatures) (7 points) sounds scarily intriguing, with its digital concentration camp and “total chipization.” I’ve seen lots of praise for this book and am looking forward to reading it.
  • Mrshavko Shtapich’s Плейлист волонтера (A/The Volunteer’s Playlist) (6 points) is, according to nominator Yulia Selivanova’s text, “a contradictory book” thanks to its narrator’s depiction of his own deviant behavior, which contrasts with media characterizations of idealized volunteers. Nonfiction. One NatsBest juror, Mitya Samoilov, called it a “guilty pleasure.” Juror Denis Epifantsev says it’s the best book he’s read this year and compares Shtapich to Hunter S. Thompson. (!)
  • Daniel Orlov’s Время рискованного земледелия (A/The Time of Risky Arable Farming?) (5 points) is set in today’s Russia; Andrei Astvatsaturov’s nomination note calls it a “wonderful example of contemporary realistic, social prose,” going on to note dynamic plot lines. I love the thought of dynamic plot lines and arable farming in one book.
  • Ivan Shipnigov’s Стрим (Stream) (5 points) 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.

So there you have it. These six books sound like a pretty decent lot, though (here comes my perennial gripe) I’m disappointed there aren’t more books written by women. Which means I’m going to order up a few from the longlist that sound good but didn’t make the shortlist. This seems to have become an annual ritual.

Just a reminder that the NatsBest site has an archive of reviews/opinions written by “Big Jury” members (here) and that their votes are archived as well (here). The winner will be selected on some future day at some future time. (Translation: I didn’t see a date mentioned for the ceremony.)

Up Next: The Big Book longlist. My reread of Vodolazkin’s Island. Another book to reread, which finally arrived in a printed copy.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual, with some familiar names on the nominator, author, and jury lists.


1 comment:

  1. My wonderful colleague Sibelan Forrester sent me a note that included this paragraph, which I'm pasting in here, with her permission:

    You may already know that Мршавко Штапич must be Mršavko Štapić, which means "Skinny Stick" in B/C/M/S; štapić could also be a conductor's baton or a (magic) wand. I can't imagine that anyone would ever name their kid Mršavko - *maybe* it would be a nickname, but most of those Slavic names-that-mean-something are very positive, hoping to bring the child good luck and strength or asserting that the child is loved (Milica, Milorad, Milan). Smells of a pseudonym to me.

    I did not know this but suspect it might be helpful to anyone reading the book.