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…