Reading Russia at the London Book Fair

Russian stand at the London Book Fair 2016.

Russian stand at the London Book Fair 2016.

Alexandra Guzeva
The Russian stand at the London Book Fair was an island celebrating pure literature among a sea of publishers, industry-focused lectures and round-table discussions. Visitors could find the latest Russian contemporary fiction in the original and English translations, as well as the famous classics and books on more niche subjects like architecture.

Russian stand at the London Book Fair 2016. Source: Alexandra GuzevaRussian stand at the London Book Fair 2016. Source: Alexandra Guzeva

Star-studded delegation

The Read Russia stand has been a presence at the London Book Fair for several years. Supported by the Russian Agency for Press and Mass Communications, the Yeltsin Foundation and the Institute for Translation, it brings the leading Russian writers and hundreds of books to the annual event. Authors who have attended include Boris Akunin, Zakhar Prilepin, Eugene Vodolazkin, Alexander Terekhov and many, many more.

This year six representatives of the new Russian writing came to London. Among the contingent were Alexander Snegirev and Guzel Yakhina, the 2015 winners of Russia’s two main literary prizes: the Russian Booker and the Big Book Prize. The pair presented their novels, Vera and Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, to great interest from the public.

Andrei Gelasimov, who has already had four books translated into English, shared his memories of living in the UK. “My host served me 30 totally different desserts for breakfast in the month I stayed there. That was when I fell in love with England.”

Pictured L-R: Andrei Gelasimov, Guzel Yakhina, Alexander Snegirev, Irina Muravyova, Andrei Astvatsaturov. Source: Alexandra GuzevaPictured L-R: Andrei Gelasimov, Guzel Yakhina, Alexander Snegirev, Irina Muravyova, Andrei Astvatsaturov. Source: Alexandra Guzeva

Andrei Astvatsaturov, a writer and professor from St. Petersburg University with a tricky name for English speakers, talked about women, love and his experience of studying and then teaching American and British literature.

Irina Muravyova, a Russian writer from the United States joined such sensitive discussions as the problem of moral choice and the question of Russian writers in exile.

A meeting of poetry and politics

One of the most interesting discussions at the London Book Fair was dedicated to Varlam Shalamov. Renowned translator Robert Chandler and Professor Donald Rayfield, an expert on Russian and Georgian literature, explored Shalamov’s poetic achievements and the difficulties in translating such a complex figure. This was followed by a lively debate on how to make Russian literature more popular in the UK, as RBTH hosted a panel of experts who voiced their opinions on the influence of the political situation, the internet as a medium for independent authors and readers to connect, and whether Russian should be taught in more schools.

The Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, put aside his political duties for an evening and came to the Russian Bookshop on the fourth floor of Waterstones Piccadilly to reveal “myths about Russia” from his series of books of the same name. The minister answered all the trick questions fired at him by Alexander Kan, a journalist with the Russian BBC who was hosting the event, and kept his composure when some audience members attempted to turn the discussion away from literature and onto thorny politics.

	Pictured L-R: Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Culture Minister, Vladimir Medinsky, a translator, Head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications, Mikhail Seslavinsky. Source: Alexandra Guzeva Pictured L-R: Pictured L-R: Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, a translator, Head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications Mikhail Seslavinsky.. Source: Alexandra Guzeva

Another important event took place in the Rossotrudnichestvo Cultural Center, where the Head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications Mikhail Seslavinsky, shared his love of one of the greatest Russian poets during the presentation of his book My Friend: Osip Mandestam.

Strolling through Russian London

Oleg Tolstoy, who is descended from Leo, presented his photographic book, which features portraits of all the members of this illustrious family that he took at their biannual meeting at Yasnaya Polyana, the writer’s estate and museum.

The journalist Phoebe Taplin described walking in Tolstoy’s footsteps in Moscow, Tula and even London, before going on to discuss her walks with RBTH and our joint project: Russian walks in London. If you would like to see our interactive guide to hidden Russian gems in different areas of London, go to www.london-walks.rbth.com

If you missed out on seeing the Russian writers or are already feeling a withdrawal from Russian culture, don’t despair – SLOVO festival, a week celebrating Russian literature and culture, is underway at Waterstones Piccadilly. You can find the full program here.

Russian Participation in London Book Fair is part of the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature. Russia Beyond the Headlines is the official media partner for the initiative.

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