Sunday, February 28, 2016

2016 NatsBest Nominees//Longlist

Ah, the National Bestseller Award nominees, a.k.a. the NatsBestlonglist! I always enjoy this one, with its list of nominators and books, plus commentary from Vadim Levental, the NatsBest organization committee’s secretary in charge. This year’s list contains 47 nominations, with 44 books nominated.

Without further ado, here are some of them:

Books nominated twice:
  • Alexander Ilichevsky’s Справа налево (From Right to Left), nominated by critic Nikolai Aleksandrov and writer Igor Sakhnovskii. Essays.
  • Pyotr Aleshkovsky’s Крепость (The Citadel), nominated by critics Natalya Babintseva and Maya Kucherskaya. I have this book on the shelf; I bought it after taking a look at an electronic copy that Aleshkovsky’s literary agency sent to me. Modern times and the Middle Ages merge through archaeology.
  • El’dar Sattarov’s Транзит Сайгон-Алматы (very literally Transit Saigon-Almaty), nominated by poet Vsevolod Emelin and Maksim Surkov of the bookstore Tsiolkovsky. Apparently fiction about a Vietnamese partisan.

Books I have a personal interest in for various reasons:
  • Narine Abgaryan’s С неба упали три яблока (Three Apples Fell from the Sky), nominated by literary agent Natasha Banke. I translated excerpts from the book, which I enjoyed (previous post).
  • Dmitrii Danilov’s Есть вещи поважнее футбола (There Are More Important Things Than Football/Soccer), nominated by critic Mikhail Vizel’. I’ve enjoyed Danilov’s other books and have this one on the shelf, too. It’s about soccer (inspired by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan’s Faithful), at least nominally. (I made attempts at this book and Aleshkovsky’s recently but had physical trouble reading them… this was the first step to realizing I needed new glasses.)
  • Maria Galina’s Автохтоны (part 1) (part 2) (Autochthons, I guess), nominated by literary agent Julia Goumen. I enjoyed (and translated excerpts from) Galina’s Mole Crickets (previous post).
  • Svetlana Dorosheva’s Книга, найденная в кувшинке (The Nenuphar Book), nominated by publisher Aleksandr Zhikarentsev. I translated excerpts from this illustrated book: they are undoubtedly the most beautiful excerpts (they’re funny, too) I have ever translated!
  • Leonid Yuzefovich’s Зимняя дорога (The Winter Road), nominated by critic Valeria Pustovaya. I’m not big on nonfiction but I enjoy Yuzefovich’s writing and am especially interested in the Civil War right now…
  • Alexander Snegirevs Как же ее звали?.. (What Was Her Name, Anyway?), nominated by publisher Sergei Rubis. Snegirev very kindly sent me a copy (on paper!) of the book, which I’m looking forward to reading. (I read the very shortest story while waiting for my eye appointment; any story about feeding birds gets bonus points, particularly when the print’s possible to read with old glasses.)
  • Oleg Zaionchkovsky’s Тимошина проза (I think this must be Timosha’s Prose/Writings: there’s a character in Happiness Is Possible named Timosha…), nominated by writer Sergei Shargunov. I enjoyed Zaionchkovsky’s Happiness Is Possible (previous post) and Petrovich (previous post) very much so am looking forward to more from Zaionchkovsky.

A few (somewhat) randomly chosen books:
  • Mikhail Zygar’s Вся кремлевская рать (I’ll cop out here and use the title on Zygar’s English-language Wikipedia page: All the Kremlin’s Men), nominated by critic Konstantin Mil’chin. Nonfiction by a founder of the independent TV channel Dozhd.
  • Anatolii Kim’s Гений (The Genius), nominated by critic Vladimir Bondarenko. Apparently about actor Innokentii Smoktunovskii.
  • Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Муравьиный царь (The Ant Tsar/King), nominated by publisher Yulia Kachalkina. This book’s in manuscript form and I have no idea what it’s about but even some quick Googling turns up some interesting possibilities for subtexts for the title…

Disclaimers: The usual, including things mentioned above and knowing nominators and writers on the list. Plus my translation of NatsBest’s Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina (previous post), which comes out in May from Oneworld Publications!

Up Next: Aleksandr Grigorenko’s Mebet, which has been a nice companion during a very busy spell (not always with proper glasses!), as I’ve been finishing up Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which will be coming this fall, also from Oneworld.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ganieva’s Bride and Groom: Happy Valentine’s Day?

Alisa Ganieva’s Жених и невеста—which will be known as Bride and Groom for Carol Apollonio’s English translation for Deep Vellum Publishing—feels like a perfect novel to blog about this Valentine’s Day. For one thing, it takes place in summery Dagestan, where the stuffy steppe warmth sounds like the perfect antidote to waking up to frozen pipes in subzero Fahrenheit temperatures. For another, well, given that title, this is a book about, among other things, love and marriage. At least sort of.

So. Patya, a young woman who works in Moscow, returns to her native town. Marat, a young man, does the same thing. They don’t know each other. Marriage is on their family members’ minds. Marat’s parents have even preemptively reserved a hall for his wedding reception, which gives him a deadline of August 31. Will he find a bride—arranged by his parents or on his own?—before the deadline? Meanwhile, Patya’s told by all sorts of Greek-chorus-like aunties that she’s only a year or so away from being an old maid so she’d better take pity on her parents and find a husband fast.

The miracle of Bride and Groom, which was a 2015 Russian Booker finalist and won the Booker’s award for translation into English, is that it shows so much in under 300 pages. Patya tells her story in the first-person; Marat’s is told in the third. Of course they end up meeting. The town has a prison; one famous inmate’s presence there is the talk of the town. There are (obviously!) lots of parallel and intersecting family dramas. There are also cultural and religious debates and confrontations, one of which results in the death of one of Marat’s childhood acquaintances. There’s patriotism, complete with ribbons of Saint George. Amulets coexist with cell phones.

I think what makes everything fit together is that Ganieva’s so good at observing Dagestan through her characters, an ability she uses to great effect in her Salam, Dalgat! (previous post), too. She manages to convey the texture of a very unfamiliar (to me, anyway) place and atmosphere, making wholly unfamiliar situations speak to me through everyday details that fit her characters rather than offering exposition that sounds like it came from an encyclopedia. Marat’s mother, who’s put together a list of possible brides, pronounces one, Sabrina, unfit for Marat because she wouldn’t serve tea. (Ah, gender roles! There’s a lot about that here…) Patya taught me how to use a regular clothes iron and ironing board for styling hair. (I almost wish I had hair worth trying that out on…) There’s a disastrous engagement party that feels like a harbinger. (There’s a taste here.) And characters have behavioral and verbal tics: Patya’s doctrinaire suitor Timur, for example, says the word “cамое” constantly, a lot like “like” or “you know” are used in English. Timur, who’s a youth leader, is comically awful, thinking he’s going to sweep Patya off her proverbial feet after some long-distance emailing; he knows how to teach her how to live properly. Evolution, among other things, would be tossed out her intellectual window.

And then there’s the food. Khinkal is going to get a try in some form—note that this piece mentions a connection between khinkal and marriage—and then there’s chudu, a dish that seems almost like pancake-based quesadillas with all sorts of stuffings. I think I’m getting hungry.

It’s tough to end a tragicomic novel like Bride and Groom, with its many layers of plot elements—not to mention the deadline: you only have until August 31, Marat!—so I think Ganieva did the right thing by opting for an inconclusive, mysterious ending with an element of what I might call magical/mystical/metaphysical realism. Somehow, it feels fitting for her characters and their setting. So, happy Valentine’s Day, everyone?

Up next: Aleksandr Grigorenko’s Mebet, which is set in the taiga, where it’s probably even colder than it is here. After that? I don’t know but I have a wonderful pile of new books waiting for me and it includes Alexander Snegirev’s Vera, which won the 2015 Booker and might come first…

Disclaimers: The usual, which includes having thoroughly enjoyed seeing Alisa Ganieva, Carol Apollonio, and Deep Vellum publisher Will Evans in various places over the years. Of course I’m thrilled for all of them that Bride and Groom has found so much success. Not to mention very relieved that I enjoyed it!