Sunday, November 5, 2017

The 2017 NOS(E) Award Shortlist

I think the 2017 NOS(E) Award shortlist is (has to be! must be!) the last shortlist (or at least the last major shortlist) for the season. Despite enjoying shortlists, I’m full of hope because I have plenty of books to write about and, well, there’s so much overlap in the award posts this year that the fun started to fade long ago, even if copying and pasting makes it easy to write said posts…

And so, without further ado (as they say), here’s the ten-book list, which was announced late last week. Winners will be announced next February.

  • Olga Breininger: В Советском Союзе не было аддерола (There Was No Adderal in the Soviet Union) certainly has a memorable title. Breininger’s originally from Kazakhstan but lives in Boston. The novel starts off mentioning a conference of Slavists… the book was longlisted for the Debut Prize in 2015.
  • Aleksandr Brener: Жития убиенных художников (Life Stories [as in lives, in the context of “lives of saints”] of Killed Artists) was a NatsBest finalist. According to the publisher, Hylaea, the book is composed of brief stories/chapters about Brener’s experiences in various places around the world, looking at people, meetings, attachments, impressions… NatsBest jury reviews are here.
  • Dmitrii Glukhovsky: Текст (Text) is described as a psychological thriller and criminal drama, among other things. Set in Moscow and apparently unpretentious and very present-day, both in terms of language and descriptions. One of you read it and reported enjoying it very much.
  • Vladimir Medvedev: Заххок (part 1) (part 2) (Zahhak), which I’ve already read, is my kind of book. I love the polyphony of seven characters telling about troubled times in Tadzhikistan in the early 1990s and I love how Medvedev interweaves the events in his characters’ lives, blending recent history, archetypes (I don’t think I’m stretching the word too much), and good storytelling. It’s sad and brutal in more ways than one, and it’s an excellent book. Already a finalist for the Yasnaya Polyana and Booker.
  • German Sadulaev: Иван Ауслендер (Ivan Auslender), also shortlisted for the Yasnaya Polyana Award, sounds like it’s about a middle-aged academic who gets pulled into politics and doesn’t like it… so he heads off to travel. Sadulaev is also very good at pulling current-day material into his books.
  • Aleksei Salnikov: Петровы в гриппе и вокруг него (Severely tricky title alert, despite having already read a decent chunk of the book! The Petrovs in Various States of the Flu might capture things; this is literally something like “The Petrovs in and around the flu” though I could still be completely missing the point.), which is also a Big Book finalist. I’m reading it right now: it makes me laugh out loud at times and flu symptoms are aptly portrayed, though I wonder if the novel has enough momentum to…
  • Vladimir Sorokin: Манарага (Manaraga), which I read (previous post) and enjoyed. Even if this isn’t Sorokin’s very best, it’s interesting, funny, and, yes, entertaining.
  • Stanislav Snytko: Белая кисть (White Hand (or maybe Paintbrush? or even both?)). Apparently very brief texts with the intended effect of cinematic shots.
  • Anna Tugareva: Иншалла. Чеченский дневник (God Willing. A Chechen Diary) sounds like it’s about Chechen history and identity.
  • Andrei Filimonov: Головастик и святые (known in English as Manikin and the Saints) is represented by the Elkost literary agency so I’ll leave the description to them; it’s here. This book was also a NatsBest finalist; jury reviews are here.

To read judges’ opinions of the books, visit, here. There are lots of fun details.

Disclaimers: The usual. I translated excerpts from Zahhak. The NOS Award is a program of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. The foundation also runs the Transcript grant program, which has supported many of my translations.

Up Next: Trip report on the American Literary Translators Association conference in Minneapolis and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Books: Zahhak. Anna Kozlova’s F20, about which my feelings are far more mixed. Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Tashkent Novel, which I enjoyed.

Farewell to Vladimir Makanin

I was very sad to learn that writer Vladimir Makanin died last week. I enjoyed Makanin’s stories and fiction enough that I listed him first in my “Russian Writers A to Я” post for the letter “M.” Here’s what I wrote about Makanin and his work back in that 2011 post:

I’ve read quite a few books and stories by Vladimir Makanin and found more than enough to consider him a favorite. The very first Makanin line that I read, the beginning of the story “Сюр в Пролетарском районе”(“Surrealism in a Proletarian District”), got me off to a great start: “Человека ловила огромная рука.” (“A huge hand was trying to catch a man.”) (I used the translation in 50 Writers: An Anthology of 20th Century Russian Short Stories.) The sentence fit my mood and the story caught me, too; I went on to read and love Makanin’s novellas Лаз (Escape Hatch) and Долог наш путь (The Long Road Ahead) (previous post).

Later, Андеграунд, или герой нашего времени (Underground or A Hero of Our Time) (previous post) took a couple hundred pages to win me over with its portrayal of a superfluous man for the perestroika era but I ended up admiring the book. Not everything from Makanin has worked for me, though: I didn’t like the Big Book winner Асан (Asan) (previous post) much at all, the Russian Booker-winning Стол, покрытый сукном и с графином посередине (Baize-Covered Table with Decanter) didn’t grab me, and I couldn’t finish Испуг (Fear), which felt like a rehashing of Underground. Despite that, I look forward to reading more of Makanin, especially his early, medium-length stories. A number of Makanin’s works are available in translation.

There’s not much that I wrote then that I’d change now, though I do want to add that one of the reasons I started writing this blog ten years ago is that I found so little English-language material about Makanin on the Internet. Makanin left a large body of work: I have several collections that I’ve barely touched and am particularly looking forward to reading more of his early work. It felt fitting that the shelf holding his books caught my eye—thanks to his Asan—in the World Languages section of the Boston Public Library when I visited yesterday with my brother, who also thoroughly enjoyed Escape Hatch and The Long Road Ahead.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The 2017 Russian Booker Prize Shortlist: Hmm.

The Russian Booker Prize announced its 2017 shortlist last week. No real surprises here: there are three “usual [shortlist] suspects” plus several books that have been longlisted (some serially) but not shortlisted for various other awards. One of the books in that second trio is the only finalist written by a woman. I can’t say this list sends shivers of anticipation down my spine but at least not every book here was shortlisted elsewhere. (The bar seems set pretty low for excitement this award season, doesn’t it?)  The winner will be announced on December 5. And so:

Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Тайный год (The Mysterious Year) already won the Russian Prize and hit the Big Book shortlist. I’ve read a full novel’s worth of it (225+ pages of small print, large pages; that’s only about a third) but just can’t move myself to go on. The novel is an interesting construct that combines a short period in the life of Ivan the Terrible, lots of dense language with word play, and a somewhat repetitive brew of humor and brutality. On its own terms, it’s brilliant in some odd way but, sorry to say, I don’t find it very readable. I’m especially sad to write that, given my undying love for Gigolashvili’s The Devil’s Wheel (previous post).

Igor Malyshevs Номах. Искры большого пожара (Nomakh. Sparks from a Big Fire) is essentially a novel in stories that describe slices of life with someone very strongly resembling anarchist Nestor Makhno. I read the first several pieces in Nomakh but the book didn’t grab me at all: it felt, hmm, something akin to pedestrian, despite the historical subject matter.

Vladimir Medvedev’s Заххок (Zahhak) (part 1) (part 2) is the only book on the list that I’ve read and finished. And I truly enjoyed it, thanks to Medvedev’s polyphonic account of unrest in Tajikistan in the early 1990s. Like the Gigolashvili book, this novel blends brutality with bits of comic relief but it’s not repetitive, the length is reasonable, and the varied voices mean Zahhak finds ways to speak to a broader readership.

Aleksandr Melikhov’s Свидание с Квазимодо (A Date/Meeting with Quasimodo) involves a criminal psychologist. It’s on the shelf.

Aleksandra Nikolaenko’s Убить Бобрыкина. История одного убийства (To Kill Bobrykin. The Story of One Killing) sounds thoroughly mysterious, like some sort of odd inner dialogue…

Dmitrii Novikov’s Голомяное пламя (hmm, the first word is an adjectival form of “голомя,” a Pomor word that means open sea or distant sea… so maybe something like Flame Out at Sea or Flame Over the Open Sea…). This book hit so many longlists that a major shortlist had to come eventually. About the Russian North. On my shelf.

Disclaimers: The usual. I translated excerpts from Zahhak.

Up Next: Trip report on the American Literary Translators Association conference in Minneapolis and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Books: Zahhak. Anna Kozlova’s F20, about which my feelings are far more mixed. Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Tashkent Novel, which I enjoyed.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Belated Yet Again! Yasnaya Polyana Winners & Blog Birthday

Late again! Yasnaya Polyana Award winners were announced way back on October 12 so I’m painfully late this time around. Getting right down to things: Andrei Rubanov won the contemporary Russian prose award for his Патриот (The Patriot) and Oleg Ermakov was the reader’s choice winner for Песнь Тунгуса (The Tungus’s Song). In the foreign literature category, Mario Vargas Llosa, along with translator Kirill Korkonosenko, won for his El héroe discreto (The Discreet Hero).

I’d been rooting for Vladimir Medvedev’s Zahhak in the contemporary Russian prose category so was surprised that it was The Patriot—rather than either Zahhak or The Tungus’s Song, which I haven’t read but which I’ve read good things about—that won over the jury. As I’ve mentioned before, The Patriot and Znaev, its main character, didn’t capture me at all. That said, I realize the book, which has been shortlisted for two other major prizes, hits numerous nerves with its portrayal of contemporary Russia, a place Rubanov is very good at describing with well-chosen details.

I’ve been so caught up in deadlines, getting back into routine things like feeding cats and doing laundry after travel, and overcoming the combination of jetlag and a minor but lingering cold that I completely forgot about my blog birthday! It’s been ten years since I started writing the blog and each year I could list more and more ways this blog has changed my life. I didn’t start writing it because I wanted to become a literary translator or because I wanted to learn about the book industry but, somewhat inevitably, I suppose, the blog ended up leading me to both. The fact that I love translating Russian novels and I love learning about the book industry makes the blog all the dearer to me. As does the fact that I’ve met so many blog readers during these last ten years: many of you are now colleagues and friends, another reason the blog holds meaning for me.

This year I’ll dispense with my usual statistics—they’re ever duller anyway since so many surfers, including me, surf so anonymously these days—and just say a very, very heartfelt thanks to everyone who visits the blog, no matter how infrequently. Most of all, as I turn ten, I’m happy that what I write here seems to be useful for so many of you in such varied ways. Thank you again for your visits and for your interest in contemporary Russian fiction!

Up Next: The Booker Prize shortlist is coming right up. Trip report on the American Literary Translators Association conference and the Frankfurt Book Fair—what a ten-day whirlwind journey that was! Plus two books: Medvedev’s Zahhak and Anna Kozlova’s F20.

Disclaimers and disclosures: The usual. I’ve translated excerpts from Zahhak and have translated books by two Yasnaya Polyana judges, though have not discussed this year’s results with either of them.

Image credit: nazreth, via stock.xchng, for the cupcake.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The 2017 NOS Award Longlist

The NOS Award, to which I often add a silent E, announced its twenty-book longlist (not-so) recently (anymore); the shortlist will be debated and announced on November 2. Although (all too) many of these longlisters repeat from the NatsBest, Big Book, and Yasnaya Polyana finalist lists, there are a few unfamiliar titles and authors.

First off, the repeats, who are numerous enough (nine out of twenty!) that I’ll just list them by name in one paragraph: Aleksandr Brener, Mikhail Gigolashvili, Lev Danilkin, Vladimir Medvedev, Viktor Pelevin, Andrei Rubanov, German Sadulaev, Aleksei Sal’nikov, and Andrei Filimonov. At least a few others are veterans of multiple longlists: Olga Breininger, Dmitrii Novikov, and Anna Tugareva.

Three of the remaining eight names are very familiar—Vladimir Sorokin and his Manaraga (previous post), best-seller Dmitrii Glukhovsky and his Текст (Text), and Elena Chizhova with her Китаист (The China Specialist, perhaps?)—so that leaves a grand total of five books and authors I hadn’t heard of. Descriptions of most of their books are rather vague…

  • Sana Valiulina’s Не боюсь Синей Бороды (I’m Not Afraid of Bluebeard, that translation should be correct but I’m keeping it even it isn’t!). Set in Estonia, from the 1970s to the present day. This book interests me the most of these five.
  • Aleksei Zikmund’s Битва Августа (August’s Battle?). ?? This one’s especially mysterious.
  • Viktor Ivaniv’s Конец Покемаря (The End of Pokemar) (part of it, which, alas, does not contain the mysterious Pokemar’… which has to do with napping and sleepyheadness and is partially explained here, though I suspect there may be more to the story…), a posthumous book of collected works.
  • Andrei Levkin’s Дым внутрь погоды (The Smoke Within the Weather). Also mysterious! Prose written by a Russian who lives in Latvia; the book was published in a bilingual edition.
  • Stanislav Snytko’s Белая кисть (White Hand? (or maybe Paintbrush? or even both?)). Apparently very brief texts with the intended effect of cinematic shots.

Disclaimers: The usual. The NOS Award is a program of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. The foundation also runs the Transcript grant program, which has supported many of my translations.

Up next: Medvedev’s Zahhak. Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Tashkent Novel, which I’ve been enjoying for the lovely writing. Yasnaya Polyana Award winners, which I’ll post about briefly when they’re announced since I’ll be traveling. Fall trip report about the ALTA literary translator conference and the Frankfurt Book Fair. I’d hoped to post about Zahhak before the travel but, well… I’m feeling considerable sleepyheadedness myself as I finish everything up!