Saturday, December 11, 2021

Yuzefovich Wins Third Big Book Award with The Philhellene

The list of this year’s Big Book Award winners feel like a relief after the strangeness of last year’s results: this year I can understand why each and every one of the winners, in both the jury and public voting, won an award. I’m happiest for Leonid Yuzefovich, who won the top jury award for his third time – he previously won in 2009 and 2016 – for his Филлэлин (The Philhellene). I hope to post about The Philhellene moderately soon (January; I’m way behind on my posts) but for now, here’s my previous description: This novel’s characters converse through journals, letters, and mental conversations. Yuzefovich’s own back-cover description refers to the novel as being closer to “variations on historical themes than a traditional historical novel.”

Second prize went to Maya Kucherskaya’s Лесков. Прозеванный гений (Leskov. The Missed/Overlooked Genius), an extraordinarily detailed biography that’s not the sort of book I’d be likely to sit down and read straight through. It’s something even better, though, a resource. And so Kucherskaya (in book, of course, rather than in person) and I are going to read Leskov together as a winter reading project; I’ve already marked passages. Languagehat will join us, too, since he’s read and written about Leskov. Finally, Viktor Remizov won third prize for his Вечная мерзлота (Permafrost), which I’m very sorry to say did leave me cold, despite my love of historical novels and harsh climates. That said, yes, I understand readers’ appreciation for the novel and its exploration of Stalin-era themes. I may try it again in another year or two since I feel as if translating Guzel Yakhina’s Zuleikha may have skewed my perceptions of fiction about Siberian exile during the Stalin era.

Reader’s choice awards went to Narine Abgaryan for Симон (Simon), Alexei Polyarinov for Риф (The Reef), and Marina Stepnova for Сад (The Garden). I find it interesting that the jury and public reader winners are so different this year: Polyarinov’s book, for example, came in last in the tally of jury votes, which you can find online here. Most interesting in the jury voting tally: there was only a two-point difference between the top two books by Yuzefovich and Kucherskaya.

I think that covers everything on this dank, dreary December day!

Up Next: A post about recent reading involving orphans, orphanages, and alienation; Dmitry Danilov’s new novel, which I loved; and an end-of-year post with a list of (at least some of!) this year’s new translations.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: I’m a member of the Literary Academy, the Big Book’s large jury, and have translated or spent time with many of this year’s Big Book finalist authors. I’ve translated excerpts from two of this year’s finalists: Stepnova’s The Garden and Vodolazkin’s History of Island, which I’ll translate in full.


  1. You've got me eager to read Yuzefovich!

    1. He's very, very good, all his awards and honors are richly deserved! I have tremendous respect for him as a writer, historian, and person, with fond memories of the times we've met.

      I think I started my reading with Журавли и карлики, which I wrote about here:
      My petty complaint truly is pretty petty, particularly since a friend from Mongolia has only admiration for how Yuzfovich writes about Mongolia. I've also enjoyed two of his historical detective novels as well as some of his shorter works. And Казароза as well, it's really fun!