Last week, I blogged about the Afisha’s list of Best XXIst Century novels, now I’ll conclude that post with a summary of contemporary Russian books that ended up on that list. Some of these books or other books written by the shortlisted authors are available in translation in English and other languages and I’ll underline and hyperlink them to websites where you can download them.
- Kamlaev’s Anomaly by Sergey Samsonov
A poignant story of a renowned but troubled composer who tries to mend his broken inspiration and compose something great again, while at the same time rescue his wreck of a marriage. A truly inspirational and musical novel.
- Asan by Vladimir Makanin
This intellectual, rhetorical novel is set in war-torn Chenchnya. Asan is a mythological Chechen deity of war and trade and in this novel it is the main protagonist Zhilin, who makes money on fuel trade, which inevitably requires him to act a middle-man in military disputes between Russian and locals.
- The Librarian by Mikhail Yelizarov
Books by a third-rate Soviet author Gromov give the readers extraordinary powers, secret battles occur to own these rare books. The Librarian is a piece of vigorous, absurd prose and a bizarre portrait of Russia.
- The Wandering Time by Yuri Mamleev
Yuri Mamleev is synonymous to metaphysical and psychedelic fiction in Russia. His literary techniques are a mix of classics and post-modernism and this book is about adventures of Moscow intelligentsia in the transition period of Russian history. Well, Russia is always in transition save for occasional zastoi. The works of Mamleev are still waiting to be widely translated. For now, his cult novel Shatuny, which is sometimes called the most terrifying book of all time, is now available in English.
- Boutique Vanity by Alexandr Ilyanen
This lyrical diary’s owner talks about his walks in St Petersburg, a city of art and literature, and the surrounding area.
- Return to Egypt by Vladimir Sharov
Sharov’s latest book, in which our contemporary Kolya Gogol completes writing Dead Souls. Oh! My! God!
- Sunday In The Third Rome by Vladimir Mikushevich
A complex novel for connoisseurs of linguistics in fiction and adventures in Russian history, written by a Russian philosopher and translator. The main protagonist is a modern day philosopher-esoteric Platon Chudotvortsev (Plato the Wonder-maker) and a composite symbol of great Russian thinkers of the past.
- The Horizontal State by Dmitry Danilov
A diary of a loser-writer in the modern day Russia. It feels like a blueprint hero of our time.
- Mr Hexogen by Alexandr Prokhanov
The most scandalous Russian political novel of the new century. A must-read and a must-be-translated book. Never before Russian literature was so close to Kremlin’s politics.
- The Rooks Have Gone by Sergey Nosov
An existential comedy about life, friendship, modern art with a spirit of St Petersburg all over it.
- The House That… by Mariam Petrosyan
An orphanage for disabled children; some of them narrate this story. My favourite Russian book of the decade. I don’t envy the translators who will work on it; but if done well, this book would be talked about for ages.
- The Road Back by Andrei Dmitriev
This novella depicts a travel of a Russian woman, symbolizing mother Russia, to a Pushkin festival.
- Dondog by Antoine Volodine
Volodine is actually a French author with a Russian pen name, which counts for Russian in my books. Dondog is a story of a revolutionary returned from ‘camps’ to a grotesque Western city. Revenge is the plot; our troubled genocide-ridden past is the theme.
- The Yeltyshevs by Roman Senchin
A story of a provincial family forced to move to the countryside and survive there.
‘The Eltyshevs is Robinson Crusoe back-to-front: the palpable debasement of the human spirit that loses at every level of the life surrounding it, the bankruptcy of individualism and initiative, the capitulation of man in the face of nature… It captures the mood of the era’ Lev Danilkin
- Cranes and Dwarfs by Leonid Yuzefovich
In this novel the author of Harlequin’s Costume mints together several historical eras including the events of 1993 in Russia. A sophisticated and adventurous political satire.
- The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya
An epic portrayal of the post-WWII Russia and the legacy of Stalinism. Stories of the interwoven lives of several Soviet families. Ulitskaya is the number one chronicler of the Soviet era.
- The Gold of the Revolt by Alexei Ivanov
An entertaining, intelligent and exotic historical adventure or ethno-fantasy set in the XVII Russia. The interesting thing about Ivanov that he’s got a very broad audience and his books have rich plots and thus become true bestsellers. He’s one to watch. There’s a French translation of his other novel, The Geographer Drank His Globe Away.
- Stone Maples by Lena Eltang
A rather European novel set in Wales, a pseudo-detective story about young witches.
- The Stone Bridge by Alexandr Terekhov
‘Based on a true story, The Stone Bridge resurrects actual historical figures and brings to light official documents from NKVD case files. The book shines the spotlight on a past with which the country has never properly come to terms, and which therefore – tragically – has a poisonous effect on present-day Russia.’ Glagoslav Publications
- The Book of Water by Eduard Limonov
A highly entertaining memoirs of one of the most controversial political activist, publicist and author in modern day Russia.
- Baptised With Crosses by Eduard Kochergin
‘The memoirs of an old man who, as a boy, learnt to find his way between extortionate state control and marauding banditry, the two poles that characterize Russia to this day. A story about the awakening of artistic talent under highly unusual Russian circumstances.’ Glagoslav Publications
A complex intellectual novel about a physicist who falls in love with a homeless woman. Russian Booker Prize winner.
- Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin (to be translated into English soon)
Sorokin is of the most translated modern Russian masters; he’s famous for his highly stylised and shocking prose. This Blizzard is set in the future day Russia.
- Laurus by Evgenii Vodolazkin (to be translated into English soon)
‘Laurus is a fable in the form of a biography. It tells of a late 15th century village healer is powerless to help his beloved, watching her die in childbirth, die in sin – unwed and without having received communion. The protagonist, a desperate man, sets out on an exhausting journey in search of redemption. On this journey of privation and hardship in the service of the people, a journey that spans ages and countries, the hero undergoes a painful personal transformation.’ Banke, Goumen and Smirnova
- A Gloom Descends Upon The Ancient Steps by Aleksandr Chudakov
A memoir novel by a distinguished Russian philologist about people’s struggle with the Soviet state. The Russian Booker Prize of the decade.
- Mythogenic Love of the Castes by Pavel Pepperstein
An epic and surreal novel on WWII events in Russia.
- Number One by Ludmila Petrushevskaya
A metaphysical, scary fairy-tale by this world famous Russian playwright, singer songwriter and novellist. A ethnographer studies a small nation in the obscure part of Russia, then his soul re-populates a body, this time – of a criminal.
- I Am All Ears by Anton Ponizovsky
What is this mysterious Russian soul? Did Dostoevsky have any right to be a moral authority? What makes a Russian different from any other person? Is it possible to reconstruct the essence of ‘Russianness’ from multiple life stories of Russian commoners?
- Silent Souls by Denis Osokin
These stories featuring traditions of local people of the Volga region were adapted for the screen and the film was short-listed for the main prize at the Venice Film Festival. The film trailer is below.
- The Fiery Burial by Vladimir Nesterenko
A mystical thriller about a band of criminals travelling from Crimea to Moscow. The metaphysics of violence is a central theme of this author.
- Orthography by Dmitry Bykov
An alternative history novel on post-revolutionary Petrograd (St Peterburg) in 1918 and tragic adventures of intelligentsia. Bykov is an extremely prolific publicist, novellist and poet, best known for his novel Living Souls.
- The Light and The Dark by Mikhail Shishkin
‘“The Light and the Dark” is what the Russian title of the novel, “Letter-book,” promises more discreetly: a series of time-traveling letters between two lovers separated by war. The young woman, Sasha, writes from home; the man, Volodya, from the front. They discuss, somewhat wanderingly, what all lovers do: nothing and everything. Minutiae and grand philosophy collide on every page.’ Boris Fishman, NY Times Sunday Book Review
- Dancing Till Dead by Valery Popov
A terrifyingly sincere novel on the writer’s view of the world being demolished with a harsh turn of fate. When life keeps slapping him harder and harder, only humour keeps him going.
- Rumyantsev’s Square by Evgeny Voiskunovsky
The Russian XXth century – A panoramic view of Russia from the times of WWII to perestroika. This books needs to be re-discovered.
- Do Time Get Time by Andrei Rubanov
Rogue businessman turned writer – this book is an autobiographical novel set in the wild 1990s in Russia. Rubanov is a very prolific mainstream author with a good sense of plot.
- Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin
‘Sasha “Sankya” Tishin, and his friends are part of a generation stuck between eras. They don’t remember the Soviet Union, but they also don’t believe in the promise of opportunity for all in the corrupt, capitalistic new Russia. They belong to an extremist group that wants to build a better Russia by tearing down the existing one. Sasha, alternately thoughtful and naïve, violent and tender, dispassionate and romantic, hopeful and hopeless, is torn between the dying village of his youth and the soulless capital, where he and his friends stage rowdy protests and do battle with the police. When they go too far, Sasha finds himself testing the elemental force of the protest movement in Russia and in himself.’ Glagoslav Publications
- Blue Blood by Yuri Buida
A Marquez-esque novel in the genre of magical realism portraying the life of a Russian XXth century actress Valentina Karavaeva (1920-1997).
- Modern Patericon by Maya Kucherskaya
An interesting book about Russian experience of switching from the Soviet atheism to the Russian Orthodox Church tradition.
- Flaner by Nikolai Kononov
War-torn Soviet Russia of the 1930-1940s. Adventures of a Polish man, an intellectual, who falls in love with another Polish man, a military officer.
- The Devil’s Wheel by Mikhail Gigolashvili
In this multi-layered novel Gigolashvili portrays a horrific reality of Georgia (a former republic within the Soviet Union, located in the Caucasus) of the 1980s with its crime, corruption and violence.
- I Am a Chechen by German Sadulaev
This book of visceral stories about horrors of the Chechen War of the 1990s made the author instantly famous in Russia.
- The Darkness of Your Eyes by Ilya Masodov
A mocking and surreal story about a teenage vampire girl who travels to Black Moscow in order to raise Lenin from the dead. Delightful, ha ha, it’s beyond my understanding why this has not been translated yet.
Victor Pelevin is an unsurpassed Titan of political fiction in Russia. His prose can be described as psychedelic and postmodernist, metaphorical, allegorical, swarming with cultural references and religious and philosophical doctrines. At the same time, it’s often conversational and deceptively accessible. Yet, an unprepared reader would easily miss out on richly layered contextual and sub-textual meanings in Pelevin’s books. The Sacred Book of The Werewolf is above all satirical portrayal of Putin’s Russia and a little bit of a supernatural love story. If you get this, you’ll get Russia.
update: The Reader’s Mini Guide to Modern Russian Books is out now on Amazon Kindle/paperback here.