The book fair

Much has changed since then. Now every writer has his or her own readership, and styles, rather than clashing or competing with each other, coexist peacefully.

There are successful realistic writers, such as Alexei Varlamov, winner of the Solzhenitsyn Prize, or Alexander Kabakov, a laureate of the Apollon Grigoryev Prize. Varlamov writes about life in the village, while Kabakov knows city life through and through.

Some writers prefer to explore dystopias. Several shocking novels about the tragic future of an imaginary, undemocratic and neo-revolutionary Russia have been published in the past few years. I am referring in particular to Olga Slavnikova and her novel 2017, Dmitry Bykov's novel ZhD and Vladimir Sorokin's Day of the Oprichnik.

Other writers are carrying on in the tradition of the Russian modernist style.

Andrei Dmitriyev, aged 50, is a distinguished author of long stories and novels staged in a city called Khnov somewhere in the provinces, where existential fears and fantastic events lurk behind the dull façade of everyday life.

Viktor Pelevin, a bestselling author, artfully uses the poetics of absurdism.

Vladimir Makanin, a 70-year old writer whom some consider a master, delicately walks the fine line between fantasy and naturalism.

Almost all writers freely change styles depending on the concept of their work. The debut book by young prose writer Maya Kucherskaya, The Modern Patericon, is a play on the genre of religious stories, while her next book, The God of Rain, is written in the style of traditional realism.

Writers have diverse political views. Zakhar Prilepin, the young author of the penetrating novel Sankya who hails from Nizhny Novgorod, in the Volga region, was a leader of the banned National Bolshevik Party.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya, on the other hand, the renowned author of many novels, writes letters in defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned head of the bankrupt oil company Yukos.

Finally, there is Vladimir Sorokin, who writes sharp-edged satires of the pro-Kremlin youth movements.

It takes a publisher and a bookseller to bring the works of writers and poets to the reader. The Soviet publishing and distribution system crumbled in the 1990s. Contemporary works were not published, and books printed in Moscow were sold in St. Petersburg and Tver but never reached the Urals, the Volga region or Siberia.

In the 1970s, books were issued in printings of 100,000 copies. In the 1990s, an average edition of contemporary prose saw 10,000, or even as few as 3,000 copies. As a result, the number of publishers ready to risk printing modern Russian writers fell dramatically. The writing profession became marginal and low-paid, and the public status of writers plummeted.

In recent years, however, the situation has started to change; the number of serious novels is growing and at times competes with the number of mass-market books. A total of 200,000 copies of the sophisticated novel Translator, by Lyudmila Ulitskaya, have so far been sold this year, and the publisher has issued a reprint because the book is still in high demand. Vasily Aksenov's recent novel Rare Lands (its main character is reminiscent of the disgraced oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky) was released with a print run of 50,000 copies. In all truth, serious writers are unable to match the authors of ephemeral prose, who offer sketches of rapidly changing everyday life. Wine merchant Sergei Minayev's novel about the sorrows of a young executive sold one million copies; Oksana Robsky's novels about wealthy women living in luxury cottages approach the same figure.

Nevertheless, the public is again returning to literature. Book fairs in Moscow are attracting young people. The Moscow Book Festival is being held for the second year in a row. It provides an opportunity for authors and fans of modern literature to converge, read and listen to poetry and lectures, and attend presentations of new books. This festival has already reached faraway regions - in 2006 it was held in Novosibirsk. Screen versions of modern novels are also being produced (although not always successfully - the film version of Alexei Slapovsky's remarkable novel The Day of Money was a flop).

5 best modern Russian books

Vladimir Makanin. A Prisoner of the Caucasus
This story of the Chechen war precedes the war itself.

Andrei Dmitriyev. Closed Book
A concise novel about the drama of Russian provincial life, its plot spanning almost a century.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya. Daniel Stein, Translator
A novel about the ideological quests of a modern Russian intellectual.

Alexei Slapovsky. The Day of Money
An adventure novel that transmits the confused atmosphere of the new Russia.

Dmitry Bykov. Pasternak
A biography of the great poet, written as a lyrical novel about the writer Bykov's love for the Nobel laureate.

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