Great expectations and the hunt for bestsellers in October

Svetlana Alexievich, Eugene Vodolazkin, Vladimir Sorokin – they are the October heroes on Russian literary scene. Source: PhotoXpress

Svetlana Alexievich, Eugene Vodolazkin, Vladimir Sorokin – they are the October heroes on Russian literary scene. Source: PhotoXpress

RBTH Read Russia launches its monthly round-up column. We intend to help you make heads and tails (and tales) of the literary events, market results and prizes.

In Russia, autumn has long been considered the season for literature. Probably Alexander Pushkin, the beloved Russian poet, started it all: He glorified the season in verse and claimed it was his best inspiration.

It may be no coincidence then that mid-Autumn appears to be the busiest time for the publishing business. The literary agents have been to Frankfurt to sell the book rights; publishers are in a rush to display the best they have in time for the Moscow International Book Fair High-Quality Non-Fiction held annually in late November; and the industry has begun to obsess over the best of the literary awards.

And so it seems a crucial time for RBTH Read Russia to launch its monthly round-up  column. We intend to help you make heads and tails (and tales) of the literary events, market results and prizes.

Few writers have been talked about this month as much as Svetlana Alexievich. The Belorussian author writes in Russian and explores themes rooted in Soviet times that are still highly charged, such as the most tragic and painful moments in Soviet history–like World War II, Chernobyl and the war in Afghanistan. In her most recent book, “Second Hand Time,” the author explores the idea of Homo Sovieticus, or the Soviet mentality Russians of a certain age have yet to overcome. She weaves true stories and observations and creates bold literature from non-fiction eyewitness accounts. This year Alexievich has been awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and was rumored to be a possibly candidate for the Nobel Prize.

Keeping our eyes on the prizes

Eugene Vodolazkin. Source: Press photo

In October, Russian Booker and the New Literature Award NOS, both significant literary prizes, announced their short lists, while the notable Yasnaya Polyana award chose its laureates. In Russia there’s one book that appeared on short lists of all the four major literary awards (The Big Book, The National Bestseller, The Russian Booker and The NOS) and also won the Yasnaya Polyana award: The book, “Laurus,” was written by Eugene Vodolazkin, who has been nicknamed Russia’s Umberto Eco. Vodolazkin indeed has something in common with the famous Italian novelist: he is also a scholar, specializing in the Middle Ages (Russian culture of the Middle Ages to be exact). He writes as a postmodernist, yet his books are pageturners that explore profound philosophical problems.

The main protagonist of “Laurus” is a Medieval doctor gradually turning into a Saint, and the novel follows his progress from his human fall to a heavenly rise. The language of the novel is rich, offering a unique meditation on time. European and American readers will soon have a chance to peruse the novel themselves: according to BGS literary agency, the rights for the book have already been sold in seven languages, including English (Oneworld Publications).

'Telluria' by Vladimir Sorokin, 2013, Corpus publishing house

The most discussed book on Russian bookshelves and bedside tables in October was “Telluria,” the new novel by Vladimir Sorokin. The book also focuses on the Middle Ages – not the epoch that already history but the one that is to come, according to the acclaimed author. It took the novel just three days to become a bestseller in Moscow bookstores.

Notable foreign books are now published in Russia in a timely fashion, close to or on top of the first publication date. No sooner had Russian fans enjoyed getting Umberto Eco’s “The Book of Legendary Lands,” than The Jane Austen project debuted in Russia with Joanna’s Trollope “Sense & Sensibility.” Observers and critics will have to see if any of these books manage to beat Erica James “50 Shades of Grey,’ which became the year’s bestseller according to the largest online-retailer Ozon.ru and the Runet Award launched by this store.

This is just a glimpse of what’s Russian literary life was like in October. Stay tuned and – read Russia!

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