Sunday, December 10, 2017

Aleksandra Nikolaenko Wins the 2017 Russian Booker

Just when I was feeling like a slacker for not having posted about the 2017 Russian Booker Prize winner, I noticed that the Russian Booker site hasn’t posted any news about this year’s results, either. Hmm.

In any case, Aleksandra Nikolaenko won the prize for her Убить Бобрыкина. История одного убийства (To Kill Bobrykin. The Story of One Killing), which I described on my shortlist post as sounding thoroughly mysterious, like some sort of odd inner dialogue. It pains me that I’m not as excited about the book itself as I’d like to be after reading descriptions and comments: the general sense that the language is poetic and interesting is a big plus but I’ve also read that the book is repetitive and derivative, huge minuses since I value structure and, well, freshness so much. Of course I’ll give it a go, just as I’ll try the Melikhov and Novikov books, both of which are on my shelf. What makes me happy about Nikolaenko’s win is that Bobrykin is apparently her first published book and she’s the second woman to win a major literary award this year, following Anna Kozlova, who won the NatsBest for F20 (previous post). (I guess it’s obvious that this year’s absurdly woman-less 2017 Big Book shortlist still rankles me, isn’t it?)

Paradoxical though it may look, I’d been rooting for Vladimir Medvedev’s Zahhak, the only book on the Booker shortlist that I’ve read in full. It may not be fair to root for a book after not reading all of its competitors—though I read a small part of Malyshev’s Nomakh but simply couldn’t go on and read a large chunk (enough to be a short-to-moderate novel!) of Gigolashvili’s tome The Mysterious Year before the repetition did me in—but Zahhak is a very, very good book. I’m sure I’m more than a little biased after translating excerpts, an experience that always accentuates a good novel’s strengths, particularly when it’s a polyphonic text. Zahhak seems especially deserving of recognition because this award year felt rather short on my favorite kind of books: enjoyable and compelling literary novels with strong form, style, and content. On the bright side, I hauled home some very promising-looking (recent) books from Frankfurt and Saint Petersburg.

Also on the bright side: Zahhak won the Student Booker, which, by the way, already posted its results, here. The Student Booker’s shortlist differs from the regular Booker’s, too, so is worth a look.

Up Next: Big Book Award winners. Sukhbat Aflatuni’s lovely Tashkent Novel; Vladimir Medvedev’s polyphonic Zahhak; and Yulia Yakovleva’s thoroughly entertaining Tinker, Tailor (Вдруг охотник выбегает), an atmospheric detective novel that really plays on its setting in Leningrad.

Disclaimers: The usual. Translating Zahhak excerpts.

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