Saturday, December 31, 2022

Closing Out 2022 With a New Translation List

I’m going to end this year on the blog the way I ended 2020 and 2021: with a list of the past year’s new translations. Rather than focus on why I’ve been reading a lot but, well, underachieving on the blogging side, I thought it best to look at something positive. It’s particularly heartening that, despite all sorts of difficulties, this year’s list of new translations is longer than last year’s list. How did we get to 48 47 46 47 48.5 49.5 over last year’s 39?

I guess my easy answer is classics: Chekhov and Mandelstam each have three titles on the list, and Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, and Sorokin (yes, Sorokin, a living classic) each have two. I’m disappointed yet again to see so few books by women on the list: there are only six written entirely by women and three written partially by women. All that said, even if – as always – I would have loved to have seen more women and more contemporary authors on the list, I’m very happily surprised to see that this many translations come out this year. I’ve heard so many stories about books with delayed publication dates as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine that I thought this year’s list would shrink far more. Another factor, one that may have worked both ways and may continue to work both ways: some books were already late because of production delays. It will be interesting to see what happens next year, when the effect of reduced Russian grants may hit harder. Then again, I already have fifteen books on the 2023 list, a pretty good start.

As for disclaimers, caveats, and other details, I’m sure I missed some books, perhaps even a lot of books. As in years past, I’ve included books of all genres and ages. Please add a comment or e-mail me with changes/errors or additions; my address is on the sidebar. NB: Though I generally list only new translations (including retranslations), I do occasionally allow a few reprints and reissues. I’ll place a link to this post on the sidebar of the blog for easy reference to the list. As I mentioned, I’m already taking names and titles for 2023, so please start sending them in. Finally, don’t forget the Self-Published Translation post, here: If you have a book to include, please add it in a comment on that page and I’ll be happy to approve it.

I haven’t felt especially festive this holiday season so no fireworks this year. May 2023 bring you health and lots of good books. May 2023 bring peace to Ukraine. And now… off to (among other things) finish my end-of-year cleaning, cook some food, eat some ice cream, and greet 2023 reading Shipnigov’s Стрим (Stream).

Here’s the 2022 list.

Aylisli, Akram: Stone Dreams: A Novel-Requiem, translated by Katherine E. Young, with a foreword by Thomas de Waal; Academic Studies Press, August 2022. This edition reissues a novella that also appears in Farewell, Aylis, published by ASP in 2018. Katherine Young’s Website has more information here about Aylisli. This reissue feels particularly timely and important given that Katherine received the 2022 Granum Foundation Translation Prize for translating Aylisli.

Babel, Isaac: Of Sunshine and Bedbugs: Essential Stories, translated by Boris Dralyuk; Pushkin Press.

Bacharevič, Alhierd: Alindarka’s Children, translated by Petra Reid and Jim Dingley; New Directions, June 2022. The New Directions listing says this: “Winner of the English Pen Award, the novel has been brilliantly rendered into English (from the Russian) and Scots (from the Belarusian): both Belarusian and Scots are on the UNESCO Atlas of Endangered Languages.” I’m not sure if Russian is a bridge language here or if Bacharevič wrote the novel in both Russian and Belarusian (he self-translated another of his novels… and when that’s the case I wouldn’t consider Russian a bridge language) but since I always allow a few exceptions, I’d include it either way because of my interest in Belarus!

Barskova, Polina: Living Pictures, translated by Catherine Ciepiela; NYRB, September 2022. Living Pictures is on the shelf; it looks very good.

Belorusets, Yevgenia: Lucky Breaks, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky; New Directions, 2022. I first learned of Lucky Breaks from this Indextrious Reader blog post.

Chekhov, Anton: A Taste of Chekhov, translated by Lydia Stone, Paul Richardson, and Constance Garnett; Russian Life/StoryWorkz.

Chekhov, Anton: Steppe, translated by Constance Garnett and Paul Richardson; Russian Life/StoryWorkz. Bilingual edition.

Chekhov, Anton: Small Fry and Other Stories, translated by Stephen Pimenoff; Alma Classics. Alma calls this book “[a] Unique collection of Chekhov’s stories, some of them never translated before into English.”

Dostoevsky, Fyodor: Crime and Punishment, translated by Roger Cockrell; Alma Classics.

Drabkin, Artem: Voices of Russian Snipers, translated by David Foreman, edited by Artem Drabkin and Andrey Ulanov, with foreword by John Walter; Greenhill Books.

Drobyazhko, Sergey: On the Eastern Front at Seventeen: On the Eastern Front at Seventeen, translated by David Foreman, introduced by David M. Glantz; Greenhill Books.

Efron, Ariadna: No Love Without Poetry: The Memoirs of Marina Tsvetaeva’s Daughter, translated by Diane Nemec Ignashev; Northwestern University Press. 

Etkind, Efim: Barcelona Prose, translated by Helen Reeve, Joyse Man and Julia Trubikhina, with an afterword by David Bethea; Cherry Orchard Books.

Felsen, Yuri: Deceit, translated by Bryan Karetnyk; Prototype Publishing, 2022. U.S. edition from Astra House on the way in February 2023.

Furman, Dmitrii: Imitation Democracy, translated by Ian Dreiblatt; Verso, November 2022. With foreword by Keith Gessen and afterword by Tony Wood.

Gandelsman, Vladimir: A Man Only Needs a Room, translated by Anna Halberstadt, Olga Livshin, and Andrew Janco; New Meridian Arts.

Ganieva, Alisa: Offended Sensibilities, translated by Carol Apollonio; Deep Vellum, 2022. 

Glazova, Anna: For the Shrew, translated by Alex Niemi; Zephyr Press, 2022. Bilingual edition.

Gogol, Nikolai: Petersburg Tales, translated by Dora O’Brien; Alma Classics, 2022.

Gogol, Nikolai: A Place Bewitched and Other Stories, translated by Constance Garnett, edited by Natasha Randall; Picador.

Grossman, Vasily: The People Immortal, translated by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler, with an introduction and afterword by Robert Chandler and Julia Volohova, original Russian text edited by Julia Volohova; NYRB, September 2022.

Khersonsky, Boris and Ludmila: The Country Where Everyone’s Name Is Fear: Selected Poems, edited by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky, translated by Polina Barskova, Aleks Sigal, Vladislav Davidzon, Olga Livshin, Valzhyna Mort. Eugene Ostashevsky, Diane Seuss, Katherine Young, Javier Zamora; Lost Horse Press.

Korotko, Alexander: War Poems, translated by Andrew Sheppard and Olha Ilchuk; Glagoslav, 2022. A trilingual edition with English, Ukrainian, and Russian.

Krzhizhanovsky, Sigizmund: Countries That Don’t Exist: Selected Nonfiction, edited by Jacob Emery and Alexander Spektor, with translations by Anthony Anemone, Caryl Emerson, Jacob Emery, Anne O. Fisher, Elizabeth F. Geballe, Reed Johnson, Tim Langen, Alisa Ballard Lin, Muireann Maguire, Benjamin Paloff, Karen Link Rosenflanz, Alexander Spektor, and Joanne Turnbull; Columbia University Press.

Kurkov, Andrey: Diary of an Invasion, translated by Boris Dralyuk; Mountain Leopard Press. A U.S. edition, from Deep Vellum, will be available in spring 2023. This book most definitely exists but, per Boris Dralyuk himself, it is not a translated book so I’m going to strike it but keep it in the post since I’m sure it’s of interest to many!

Kuzmin, Mikhail: New Hull, translated by Simona Schneider; Ugly Duckling Presse.

Kuznetsov, Sergey: The Round Dance of Water, translated by Valeriya Yermishova; Dalkey Archive Press, 2022.

Mandelstam, Osip: Centuries Encircle Me with Fire: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, compiled, edited, and translated by Ian Probstein; Academic Studies, Press, April 2022.

Mandelstam, Osip: The Voronezh Workbooks, translated by Alistair Noon; Shearsman Books.

Mandelstam, Osip: Occasional and Joke Poems, translated by Alistair Noon; Shearsman Books.

Mashinski, Irina: Giornata, translated by Maria Bloshteyn and Boris Dralyuk; Červená Barva Press, November 2022.

Meshchaninova, Nataliya: Stories of a Life, translated by Fiona Bell; Deep Vellum.

Osipov, Maxim, Kilometer 101, translated by Boris Dralyuk, Nicolas Pasternak Slater, and Alex Fleming, edited by Boris Dralyuk; NYRB, October 2022.

Paustovsky, Konstantin: The Story of a Life, translated by Douglas Smith; Vintage Classics (UK) and New York Review Books (US, coming February 2023).

Pavlov, Ivan: Pavlov on the Conditional Reflex: Papers, 1903-1936, translated by Olga Yokoyama; Oxford University Press. Wow.

Pilnyak, Boris: At the Doors and Other Stories, translated by Emily Laskin, Isaac Zisman, Louis Lozowick, Sofia Himmel, and John Cournos; Sublunary Editions, autumn 2022.

Pushkin, Alexander: Peter the Great’s African: Experiments in Prose, edited and with afterword by Robert Chandler, translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, and Boris Dralyuk; NYRB, April 2022.

Pushkin, Alexander: Lyrics: Volume 4 (1829–37), translated by Roger Clarke, Carleton Copeland, John Coutts, James Falen and Avril Sokolov; Alma Classics. Bilingual edition.

Schwab, Leonid: Everburning Pilot; Cicada Press. This book is described as “A bi-lingual edition of Leonid Schwab’s poetry with an introduction by Maria Stepanova. Edited by Alexander Spektor, Anton Tenser, and Sibelan Forrester.” I’m not sure who translated but since it’s bilingual, I’m listing it.

Shevelev, Mikhail: Not Russian, translated by Brian James Baer and Ellen Vayner; Europa Editions.

Sorokin, Vladimir: Telluria, translated by Max Lawton; NYRB, August 2022.

Sorokin, Vladimir: Their Four Hearts, translated by Max Lawton; Dalkey Archive Press, April 2022.

Tolstoy, Lev: Tolstoy as Philosopher: Essential Short Writings (1835-1910): An Anthology, edited, translated, and introduced by Inessa Medzhibovskaya; Academic Studies Press, October 2022.

Tsvetaeva, Marina: Head on a Gleaming Plate, translated by Christopher Whyte; Shearsman Books. Poems from 1917-1918.

Turgenev, Ivan: Fathers and Children, translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater and Maya Slater; NYRB; August 2022.

Turgenev, Ivan: Parasha and Other Poems, translated by Michael Pursglove; Alma Classics. Bilingual edition.

Various: Verses on the Vanguard from Maria Galina, Ekaterina Simonova, Ivan Sokolov, Nikita Sungatov, Alexandra Tsibulya, and Oksana Vasyakina, translated by Elina Alter, Catherine Ciepiela, Anna Halberstadt, Ainsley Morse, Kevin Platt, and Valeriya Yermishova; a bilingual edition from Deep Vellum.

Various: This Is Us Losing Count; Two Lines Press. Poets and translators are: Alla Gorbunova/Elina Alter, Ekaterina Simonova/Il’ia Karagulin, Galina Rymbu/Eugene Ostashevsky, Olga Sedakova/Martha Kelly, Nikita Sungatov/Valeriya Yermishova, Irina Kotova/Matvei Yankelevich, Aleksandra Tsibulia/Catherine Ciepiela, and Oksana Vasyakina/Elina Alter. 

Various: Amanat: Women’s Writing from Kazakhstan, stories translated from the Kazakh by Zaure Batayeva, stories translated from the Russian by Sam Brezeale, Shelley Fairweather-Vega, with a foreword by Gabriel McGuire; Gaudy Boy, July 2022.

Vodolazkin, Eugene: Brisbane, translated by Marian Schwartz; Plough, 2022.

Vysotsky, Vladimir: Selected Works, translated by John Farndon and Olga Nakston; Glagoslav, 2022. A bilingual (Russian and English) edition.

Bonus: Lost Horse Press has a Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series, which you can learn about here.

Disclaimers and Disclosures. The usual. I know some of the translators, authors, and publishers whose work is on this list.

Up Next. All those books lined up on my shelf… which I’m going to bundle into a few posts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Is Truth Better Than Fiction? 2022’s Big Book Winners

As I sit down to finally write this post, four five days late, truth really does feel stranger than fiction: all three jury prizes for this year’s Big Book Award went to works of nonfiction. Pavel Basinsky won the top prize for his Подлинная история Анны Карениной (The True Story of Anna Karenina). This is Basinsky’s second Big Book win; the first was back in 2010, for Лев Толстой: Бегство из рая (Leo Tolstoy: Flight From Paradise, in Glagoslav’s translation by Huw Davies and Scott Moss).

This year’s second jury prize went to Alexei Varlamov for Имя Розанова (The Name of Rozanov), a biography of Vasily Rozanov. Sergei Belyakov took third prize for Парижские мальчики в сталинской Москве (Parisian Boys in Stalinist Moscow), about Parisian men (including Marina Tsvetaeva’s son, Georgy Efron) and their life and times in Stalinist Moscow.

Readers’ choice voters were more generous to fiction. Guzel Yakhina’s Эшелон на Самарканд (Train to Samarkand), set during the Civil War, won first prize. Basinsky’s True Story won second prize. And readers finished their troika with another novel: Anna Matveeva’s Каждые сто лет (Every Hundred Years).

I’ll conclude by saying that, yes, the three nonfiction awards mystify me more than a bit, even considering comments I’ve read on social media, theorizing about jurors’ voting habits during wartime. Of course my post about this year’s finalists (it’s here!) had me “scratching my head” about the shortlist back in June of this annus horribilis…

P.S. Here, from Big Book, is the rundown of jury voting. As you can see, the numbers are very, very close.

Disclaimers and disclosures: The usual. I translated Yakhina’s Zuleikha. I resigned from the Big Book Award’s Literary Academy (jury) earlier this year.

Up Next: A pile of books that I’m going to bundle into a series of posts. A list of 2022’s new translations; I’m suspecting numbers will be down considerably this year because of the war.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Hey, Dima! Congratulations on Your Awards for Hey, Sasha!

I’m days late and many dollars short here but very happy to write that Dmitry Danilov won two awards this fall for his novel Саша, привет! (Hey, Sasha!). He won Prose of the Year about two weeks ago and just yesterday he won the Yasnaya Polyana Award, too. Before I go on about Sasha, I should note that Islam Khanipaev won the YP reader’s choice award for his Типа я, which I’ve called Like Me; the book got an impressive 46.3% of the vote.

I read Hey, Sasha! an embarrassingly long time ago. It was so long ago (last year…) that I don’t remember when Danilov sent me the text. Or even which device I read it on. What I do remember, on conscious and subconscious levels, is the reading itself. Everything of Danilov’s that I’ve read – Description of a City, Horizontal Position, and “Black and Green” – speaks to me in similar ways by (to borrow a phrase from his Description) getting into my livers. What’s most remarkable about the fact that Danilov’s prose reaches my livers is that his writing initially looks so simple, almost rudimentary. But he uses that apparent simplicity to great effect, constructing texts that have a surprisingly emotional, almost moving effect. As I wrote in my post about Description of a City, “Danilov has been called a new realist but his realism is a very particular and peculiar realism. His realism is abstract and almost transcendent, a realism with a lot of остранение, defamiliarization.”

With Hey, Sasha!, Danilov adds a huge dose of absurdity to the usual elements of his realism. The short plot summary is that a man, Sergei, a university instructor, commits a moral crime by having consensual sex with a woman under twenty-one. Perpetrators of moral and economic crimes (but not violent crimes) are subject to capital punishment so he’s sentenced to death. He’s imprisoned in a hotel-like place in central Moscow and forced each day to face the possibility that he’ll be shot during a walk down a certain hallway. After that walk, he’s allowed to go out to a park. The hotel-like facility is described as “three-star” and meals are brought to him. Sergei lectures his students over Zoom, though they seem to raise their virtual hands more to ask about their instructor’s situation than to discuss the literature they’re reading. Meanwhile, his wife and the young woman have forgiven him. (His wife, by the way, also teaches literature and deals caustically with students’ curiosity about her husband, ultimately finishing a lecture on the Serapion Brothers by telling her students to read Wikipedia.) Everybody’s forgiven Sergei but the state.

My favorite scenes in this novel – the novel, by the way, reads like a wily blend of a script and a conventional novel – involve religion. Our (anti?)hero receives brief visits from a lama, a rabbi, a priest, and an mullah. None of them really feel they have much to offer to Sergei and they all pretty much urge him to waive his right to have them visit. They speak in rather similar terms, though I particularly liked the rabbi for discussing soccer. And, really, what could the two of them talk about other than sports? As Sergei says, he’s essentially already a dead man. We’ll all die, whether we’re shot in that metaphorical hallway or hit by a chance meteor or stricken by some uncontrollable disease. There’s always something. The point is that no matter who we are, we get up in the morning and walk down some version of that hallway, knowing we might be finished. But we work hard at forgetting, so we can live…

That’s all familiar material – Hey, Sasha! reminds in many ways of Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, as one article or social media post (which I now can’t find!) reminded me yesterday – but, as always, Danilov inhabits it and makes it his own both. His stripped-down language and humor are perfect for a tell-it-like-it-is story of this sort. And then there are the Orwellian absurdities of society and the world these days. And isolation that almost reminds of lockdowns, complete with Zoom meetings, though most of us don’t have three-star hotel services that included meals. Best of all is that Hey, Sasha! got into my livers so thoroughly that I barely had to look at the text to remind myself of details, even all these many months after reading the book. I did forget Sergei’s name but I didn’t forget Danilov’s jokes or how the novel keeps flowing along. I also didn’t forget the most important thing: the feeling of mental claustrophobia I always get when I read successful fiction that addresses absurdity, death, and societal norms. I’m sure that feeling of claustrophobia arises largely because art, meaning literature in these cases, so resembles what we consider real life, particularly when depicting various forms of imprisonment, as Danilov, Nabokov, and so many others do.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Plus Danilov is a friend.

Up Next: My next attempt to chip away at my backlog…

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Yasnaya Polyana Award Finalists for 2022

Well, I’m back, with a very belated post about the Yasnaya Polyana Award shortlist! I suppose it’s fitting that my last post, which is almost two months old, is about the Yasnaya Polyana Award longlist…

Weeks (weeks!), have passed since this year’s YP finalists were announced, so I’ll get right to the list:

  • Anastasia Astafyeva’s Для особого случая (maybe something like For a Special Case?) is a collection of short stories. Her surname is familiar because writer Viktor Astafyev is her father. The title story of the collection is here… I’m still meaning to read it and resolve the question of the title!
  • Sergei Belyakov’s Парижские мальчики в сталинской Москве (Parisian Boys in Stalinist Moscow) is apparently exactly what it purports to be: nonfiction about Parisian men (including Marina Tsvetaeva’s son, Georgy Yefron) and their life and times in Stalinist Moscow. This book is a Big Book finalist, too.
  • Dmitry Danilov’s Саша, привет! (Hey, Sasha!) (text) is the only book on the list that I’ve read in full. Danilov is a friend and a perennial favorite writer, and Hey, Sasha! is one of my favorite Danilov books. Hey, Sasha! concerns a man who’s committed a moral crime and is being punished in an odd way. Everything about the book hit me just right: form, content, and absurdity. And it just keeps feeling truer and truer… Sasha is also a Big Book finalist.
  • Kanta Ibragimov’s Маршал (The Marshal but not really…) takes place over nearly five or six decades, examining the deportation of Chechens to Central Asia and their subsequent return to Chechnya… as well as one figure’s (frequent?) dancing of the lezginka, which he calls the “marshal,” which (according to a reader’s review on LitRes) means “freedom” in Chechen. (In googling, I find “marsho” for “freedom” but maybe there’s some nuance to this, a different ending/suffix for the name of the dance?) It sounds like this book is nonfiction. (I find the publisher’s description a bit confusing!)
  • Anna Matveeva’s Каждые сто лет (Every Hundred Years) is told by two women in two different centuries; both keep diaries. And of course they will somehow meet.
  • Islam Khanipaev’s Типа я (Like, Me, perhaps?) was a NOSE Award finalist in 2021 and NatsBest finalist in 2022: it’s another diary, this time written by an eight-year-old boy.
  • Finally, Ivan Shipingóv’s Stream (Стрим) sounds like a polyphonic, “verbatim” book about life among young (Russian) adults. Given that Shipingov is a screenwriter, this may be a book where the verbatim approach actually works. Stream has been waiting in my book cart for all too long – more than a year? – though I can still honestly say I’m looking forward to reading it.

The winners will be announced on September 16. I’m hoping to post about some books before then… This has been my Year of Unexpected Events and the most recent installment, several weeks ago, included major surgery for one of our cats. Fortunately it finally feels like things are starting to return to some semblance of normal (or maybe “normal”?) at our house. I learned all sorts of interesting things from this episode of Diary of a Cat Mom. Top revelation: Cellar crickets, Edwina’s favorite prey and snack, are now forbidden because they can carry nasty parasites that wreak havoc on a cat’s stomach! It was also interesting to hear from Edwina’s surgeon that Edwina won’t miss her spleen. For now, I’m crossing my fingers for quieter times so I can start some new projects, catch up on my reading (so many books! like Stream!), and take on some of the household and office chores that were postponed while I was caring for Edwina. I hope you, too, are enjoying the end of the summer.

Up Next: Danilov’s Hey, Sasha! And a slew of other books…

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Plus knowing several of the YP jurors, including Otroshenko and Vodolazkin, both of whom I have translated. Danilov is a friend.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Déjà Vu All Over Again: The 2022 Yasnaya Polyana Longlist

Another week, another award list. And another award list – this time it’s the Yasnaya Polyana longlist – that repeats many of the nominees found on previous award lists. But I shrug my shoulders (yet again!) since, well, awards and juries do what they do. Which is fine.

And so. This list contains thirty-seven books that fit many of the usual patterns. Thirteen of the titles (just over one third) were written by women. Twelve of them were published by Elena Shubina’s imprint at AST. Six of the thirty-seven books – by Belyakov, Danilov, Yermakov, Mamedov, Matveeva, and Sinitskaya – are on the 2022 Big Book shortlist. One – Shipingóv’s Stream (Стрим) – was shortlisted for the 2021 NatsBest and NOSE awards. Islam Khanipaev’s Типа я (Like, Me, perhaps?) was a 2021 NOSE finalist and a 2022 NatsBest finalist, though, alas, that NatsBest prize will never be awarded. And Yevgenia Nekrasova won the regional (“wanderer”) NOSE award for Кожа (Skin). I’m sure there are other repeaters that I could mention.

There are lots of other familiar names on the list: Alexander Ilichevsky, Andrei Volos, Alexander Snegirev, and Alla Gorbunova… But there are also a few names I’d never heard. And since the new-to-me writers (and publishers, too) are what I enjoy most about longlists, I’ll mention a few that arouse my curiosity:

  • Sakhib Shikhmirzaeva’s В ритме гоор (In the Goor Rhythm? “goor” is an Avar dance) sounds like a family saga set in Dagestan. Shikhmirzaeva mentions in an interview that Vladislav Otroshenko, a YP juror and one of my authors, admired the book early on.
  • Denis Sobelyov’s Воскрешение (Resurrection) sounds like an epic of a historical novel (928 pages!), looking at a brother and sister during the 1980s and 1990s (plus perhaps family history?) with settings all around the world.
  • Anastasia Astafyeva’s Для особого случая (maybe something like For a Special Case?) is a collection of short stories. Her surname is familiar because writer Viktor Astafyev is her father. The title story of the collection is here… may I’ll read it and resolve the question of the title!
  • Artem Lyakhovich’s Логово Змиево (The Zmiev Lair or somesuch, since Zmiev is apparently a toponym) sounds like a fantasy novel about a pianist who’s so caught up in his own world that he doesn’t notice a coup. Lyakhovich is a Ukrainian writer (primarily of children’s books – he’s won three Kniguru awards) and, yes, a pianist, too.

On that happy note, I’ll remind you that you can find this list of books on the Yasnaya Polyana site (with links to descriptions that are far better than mine!), here.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. Two of “my” authors are jurors for this award. I know some of the authors on the list.

Up Next: Yes, I will get to the books I’ve read! (I’d planned to start on that today… but then came this list.) Maybe I’ll start with the two on this list that I’ve read in full: Danilov’s Hey, Sasha! and Bogdanova’s Season of Poisoned Fruits. Both are very good.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The 2022 Big Book Award’s Short Finalist List

The Big Book Award released its list of finalists last week: ten books made the list. The list is a bit short for a Big Book finalist list, which maxes out at fifteen, according to rules and regulations. The list leaves me scratching my head a bit more than Big Book lists from recent years past. I’m very happy for the authors and publishers who made the list – the books by Danilov, Mamedov, and Sinitskaya particularly appeal to me – but I’m very sorry it doesn’t include a few more new author names or small publishers. I’m especially sorry that (yes, here I go again!) only three of the ten books were written by women.

Of course it’s an annual ritual to complain about award lists and winners, particularly for the Big Book since, well, it’s so big and publicized. But this year’s list feels sadder and safer than most, particularly because so many of the finalists are repeaters and five finalist slots went unused. Vera Bogdanova’s Season of Poisoned Fruits, which I think is very, very good, deserved recognition and I thought Natalia Repina’s Lev: A Life (previous post) was very good, too. Bogdanova’s Season and Tatyana Zamirovskaya’s Смерти.net (her literary agency calls it The Deadnet), which I have not yet read, have both been mentioned in a few of the social media posts I’ve seen that ask, “How could they not have included…?” In any case, rather than complain even more about a list that I can’t change, I’ll just add the Mamedov and Sinitskaya books to my personal wish list.

And so…

  • Pavel Basinsky’s Подлинная история Анны Карениной (The True Story of Anna Karenina) is, as I wrote on the NatsBest end-of-season post, apparently just what it purports to be.
  • Sergei Belyakov’s Парижские мальчики в сталинской Москве (Parisian Boys in Stalinist Moscow) is also apparently just what it purports to be: nonfiction about Parisian men (including Marina Tsvetaeva’s son, Georgy Yefron) and their life and times in Stalinist Moscow.
  • Alexei Varlamov’s Имя Розанова (The Name of Rozanov) is a biography of Vasily Rozanov.
  • Dmitry Danilov’s Саша, привет! (Hey, Sasha!) (text) is the only book on the list that I’ve read in full. Danilov is a friend and a perennial favorite author, and Саша, привет! is one of my favorite Danilov books. Hey, Sasha! concerns a man who’s committed a moral crime and is being punished in an odd way. Everything about the book hit me just right: form, content, and absurdity. And it just keeps feeling truer and truer…
  • Oleg Yermakov’s Родник Олафа (The Olaf Spring or Olaf’s Spring? (in the sense of a source of water)) (the beginning) is the first novel of a trilogy set in the distant past (the description mentions “ancient” Russia), apparently encompassing a journey (literal and figurative, I suspect) and childrearing as a boy, his father, and friends go to sell oak lumber (and fur?).
  • Ruslan Kozlov’s Stabat Mater (chapters) is set in a world where a pandemic kills only children.
  • It’s enough for me to know that Afanasy Mamedov’s Пароход Бабелон (The Steamship Babelon) (excerpt) is set in Baku in 1936. And that it blends genres. I thoroughly enjoyed Mamedov’s Frau Scar (previous post) so am looking forward to this one.
  • Anna Matveevas Каждые сто лет. Роман с дневником (Every Hundred Years. A Novel with a Diary) sounds like it blends two temporal and geographical settings in stories told by two women.
  • Sofia Sinitskaya’s Хроника Горбатого (I’m still guessing The Hunchback’s Chronicle here…) seems to combine history and fiction; it’s apparently set in Vyborg, a place I’ve ridden through on trains once or twice.
  • Guzel Yakhina’s Эшелон на Самарканд (Train to Samarkand) is summed up very well on the Elkost literary agency’s Web site, here.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: I’m taking time off (a year or two or three or forever, I haven’t yet decided) from serving on the Big Book Award’s jury. I know several of the authors on the list. And I’ve translated samples of Vera Bogdanova’s work as well as a Guzel Yakhina’s novel Zuleikha.

Up Next: The afore-mentioned Sasha, Privet!, Kirill Ryabov’s 777, Julia Kisina’s Bubush, Vera Bogdanova’s Season of Poisoned Fruits… and a couple others. There’s quite a pile here on the bookshelf…

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The 2022 Big Book Longlist

The Big Book Award’s 2022 longlist was released about two weeks ago but I’m still sluggish so here we (finally) are! This year’s list truly is long: 48 books. I’ve read three in full, have one in the cart, and am very interested in a bunch more. Only four authors are totally unknown to me, which is a bit of a disappointment since I’m always looking for new authors to read. Even more of a disappointment is that not even quite a third of the longlisted titles are written by women.

The shortlist should be announced by mid-June. For now, here’s a sliver of the longlist.

I’ll start with three books I read and enjoyed very much:

  • Vera Bogdanova’s Сезон отравленных плодов (The Season of Poisoned Fruits) explores the lives of three characters – three cousins whose parents hover in the background – as well as societal norms and events (notably terrorism) that formed their (millennial) generation. I particularly liked Bogdanova’s use of a dacha setting. I’ll be posting about this book soon.
  • A dacha settlement also figures prominently in Natalia Repina’s Жизнеописание Льва (Lev: A Life) (previous post), which was shortlisted for the 2021 Yasnaya Polyana Award.
  • Dmitry Danilov is a friend and a perennial favorite author. His Саша, привет! (I still hear this title more as Hey, Sasha! than Hi, Sasha!) concerns a man who’s committed a moral crime and is being punished in an odd way. Everything about Hey, Sasha! hit me just right: form, content, and absurdity. And it just keeps feeling truer and truer…
  • I’ll note that there’s one book on the list that I blogged about but didn’t finish: Timur Valitov’s Угловая комната (The Corner Room) (previous post). To keep the chain going: that post also describes a book by Sasha Filipenko who’s on the 2022 Big Book longlist for Кремулятор (The Cremulator), a novel that’s available online here and here.

What else? How about two slightly familiar titles that sound promising?

  • I have Ivan Shipnigֶóv’s Стрим (Stream), a 2021 NatsBest finalist, in the book cart. It sounds like a promising polyphonic novel.
  • Sofia Sinitskaya’s Хроника горбатого (The Hunchback’s Chronicle) combines history and fiction. Languagehat reported in a comment to my 2022 NatsBest shortlist post that “apparently the novel features the descendants of the crusader Thomas the Hunchback and the pagan weaver Ursula, for what that’s worth.”

Among the unknowns are:

  • Sergei Dmitrenko’s Салтыков (Щедрин) (Saltykov (Shchedrin)), a biography of none other than Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, whose absolutely crushing The Golovlyov Family I’d recommend to just about anyone.
  • All I need to know about Katerina Kozhevina’s Лучшие люди города (The City’s Best People, in the sense of “elite” though I’m not sure what would fit the novel’s tone) is that the geographical setting is Sakhalin Island, a favorite place, and the temporal setting is vague.

Finally, here’s something a bit unusual that I hope comes into being:

  • The book listed as “Manuscript No. 296” is На небе никого (There’s Nobody in the Sky, I guess?), which you can read about on this crowdfunding page. It’s described as “a book about people at war” and it combines photographs from Artur Bondar’s collection with texts by Ksenia Buksha that are based on diaries and recollections. I hope it receives funding.

There are plenty of other books on the list that sound promising, including several that I’ve read in part (some await my return…) but I’ll leave further explorations to you!

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. I served on the Big Book jury for seven seasons; I left the Literary Academy this year, though, something I’d been contemplating for a year or two. On another note, the Big Book longlist isn’t the award’s only news: Georgy Urushadze, who headed up the organization that ran the award and is also the person who invited me to join the jury, recently left his job. I’m very grateful to him for the opportunity to become part of Big Book.

Up Next: I truly do plan to write more about books I’ve read! I’ve promised posts about several, among them Danilov’s Sasha, Kirill Ryabov’s 777, and Bogdanova’s Season… and there are a few more. I swear I’ll get to them soon.



Saturday, April 16, 2022

National Bestseller Award Ends 2022 Season With Sort of a Shortlist

In an unusual but – considering the times – unsurprising turn of events, the National Bestseller Award announced a six-book shortlist on April 11, adding that no prize will be awarded this year. Vladislav Tolstov’s commentary on the shortlist (which he says, in my paraphrase, is not so much a shortlist as final ratings of books that attracted jurors’ attention) ends with uncertainty about the future of NatsBest.

Have written (and attempted to digest) that, I think I’ll just stick to what we know, which is that the six books I’ll list below tallied the most points when NatsBest’s “big jury” voted. I’ll also remind readers that the NatsBest site archives jury members’ reviews.

Here’s the not-a-shortlist for 2022:

  • Kirill Ryabov’s Фашисты (Fascists) is a collection of short stories. (7 points) 
  • Sofia Sinitskaya’s Хроника Горбатого (The Hunchback’s Chronicle?) sounds like it combines history and fiction; it’s apparently set in Vyborg, a place I’ve ridden through on trains once or twice. (7 points)
  • 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. It was a NOS(E) Award shortlister last season. (7 points)
  • Pavel Basinsky’s Подлинная история Анны Карениной (The Real Story of Anna Karenina) is apparently just what it purports to be. (6 points)
  • Yulia Kisina’s Бубуш (Bubush) is an abstract, metaphysical sort of book… (6 points)
  • Sergei Avilov’s Капибару любят все (Everybody Loves a/the Capybara, I guess?) involves a forty-year old man who goes to the Barents Sea with a woman. It sounds like there may not be any capybaras in the book. No wonder it totaled… (5 points) rather than 50!


Up Next: Well, yes, I think I’m back, at least sort of. I have been reading, albeit not at my usual pace and generally preferring novels that are heavy on plot since this year’s been a tough one from the very first week and never quite seems to get much easier. In any case, I do hope to at least write a roundup post soon! 

Disclosures and Disclaimers: The usual. And knowing a few people involved with some of these books.