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Friday, June 03, 2011

Russian Authors at Book Expo America

by Nina Murray
Russian Authors at Book Expo America

Listen to the Book Expo America podcast episode with 4 Russian writers who were finalists for the Debut Prize, the prestigious independent literary award for authors under the age of 25 writing in Russian.

I am very pleased to point out that Iryna Bogatyreva, one of the writers featured on this panel, is represented in the summer issue of Chtenia (to hit mailboxes near you very soon) with an excellent short story "Return to Ithaca". Natasha Perova, head of Glas, introduces the four writers and the Debut Prize.

Pavel Kostin is a twenty-five year old writer from Kaliningrad describes his writing as being defined by the theme of urban life, city life, and  "underdogs". His novel "Rooftop Anesthesia" was translated by Andrew Bromfield, whose work has also appeared in Chtenia.

Polina Klyukina was born and grew up in Perm, and currently lives and studies in Moscow. She said she writes about the older generation, the generation of her parents--people who lived through very dramatic events in Russian/Soviet history, including perestroika,  the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. She is interested both in portraying urban and  provincial life.

Andrei Kuzechkin's novel Mendeleev Rock was published in the same volume with Rooftop Anesthesia. He is from Nizhny Novgorod, and said he started writing novels at the university, when he was bored at lectures.  Andrei and Pavel are friends and write about similar things; while Pavel writes about urban athletes, the characters in Andrei's books are rock musicians.

Iryna Bogatyreva comes from Ulyanovsk, a city on the Volga river. She said she mostly writes about her own generation because she feels that she is part of it. Her first novel, AvtoSTOP, was about truck drivers, and the second one, Sectarians, is due to be published soon in Russia. These writers represent the next generation of Russian writers, one that, as moderator John Narins put it, defined itself neither as Soviet nor as post-Soviet and instead is connected by their interest in young people, their problems and interests (see rock-music, above).

"And what did he say to that?" Olga Fedorivna persists, apparently still clinging to something, something that looks to her like hope. Daryna feels a small stab of annoyance: when she was young, this clinging to small things, her mother's insistence on using details to shield herself from reality (after Daryna's father's death she kept telling everyone how well he ate the day he diedâ??porrige, carrot juice...) used to drive her distraction, to wanting to slap her mother: wake up, already!... Youth has no idea yet of the effort the art of survival demandsâ??it is an incredibly vacuous age. And we're at such pains to stretch it for as long as possible. "Mom, you're like the Sheriff in "Natalka Poltavka": and what'd you say to that, and what'd she say to you?.." It's not like she could tell her how the boss went on to explain to her, as an intelligent woman, all the obvious advantages of the new course: first playing to her weaknessâ??no one could say he didn't know his personnel!â??her incurable need to be liked, the curse of the good girl with, of course, what else, big bows in her braids, that's been hanging around her neck her entire lifeâ??to have people applaud, to be praised: wow, Darynka's such a smart girl, did such a nice job reciting that poem!â??and then appealing to her ambitions, of which she also has plenty, how else, because who would ever agree, if they had no ambition, to dunk their visually-rounded phiz like a goldfish into millions of living-room aquariums twice a week: this is "Diogenes' Lantern" and I, Daryna Goshchynska, stay with us (the cosmic blackness on the other side of the studio floodlights aimed at youâ??effectively blindedâ??seems to be populated, like a giant auditorium stretching out to infinity: it seems millions of eyes are looking at you from there, and every time, even after seven years on air, it seems someone is sitting out there, very still, waiting, ready to creak their chair, cough if she strikes a false note, even though there are no chairs in the studio except the one under herselfâ??she can feel that populous held breath in the space between her and the screen, the eyes of those she speaks toâ??they hold her up as water holds a swimmer). Boss leaned hard on the new "scale"â??another ace slapped onto the table (the table in his office was now imposing, oak, fit for a game of pool)â??and the scale did impress: prime-time, impressive promotion, billboards and ads on the subway, they'll make her into a cult figure of the new generation, what the hell else does she want?.. He strutted, he was proud of himselfâ??it occured to her that it was he, in fact, who wanted to earn her praise, as would any man from a smart and beautiful woman, but still something was off: something was gnawing on him, there was a gap, a hole he wanted her to help him close... Just recently, about a month before, they were celebrating his house-warmingâ??he moved into a new apartment, a magnificent two-level next to the Opera Theater, newly renovated, it had to have set him back half-a-million bucks at least: the expansive living room with a brick fireplace, the marble-finished bathrooms like Roman thermae, and it was there, while the guests were touring the pantheonic bathrooms, to their happy laughter (pierced, time and again, like expensive upholstery with stubbed-out cigarettes, with uncontainable, hissing ahhs of envy) that the old cynic Antosha whom they'd dubbed "Occam Razor" for his fast adherence to the principle of finding the most primitive explanation for every human action and for being almost never wrong (if your cynicism is what's called the wisdom of life, Antosha, she used to say, half-kidding, then I wish to die stupidâ??and he answered with his latent alcoholic's suggestively-loony half-grin: you should be so lucky, sweetie!), it was then that Antosha grunted, quiet and short, like a spit: that's it, boss hit some big-ass pay-dirt, time to jump this rig meaning their channel which was already sinking fast, turning, like all the others, into a corporation, a front for some uncouth money-laundering enterprises, and their captain, their boss and bread-winner, their producer and co-founder, drenched in sweat, as if he'd come dressed from out of the shower, darted, like a half-back on a football field, across his cavern of a living room from one VIP to another, desperately ingratiating himself: Pyotr Nikolaich, have some sushi, you like it, don't you, Aleksei Vasil'yich, a drop of vodka? (there weren't many of them at the party, those men of Vadym's ilk, with identical occiputs sunk into soft cushions of fat that make their heads resemble pool-balls dropped straight into their shoulders, and Daryna knew almost none of themâ??there weren't many but a single type like that is enough to spoil an evening)â??and at some point, after another one of his bendings-over-backwards, the boss must have caught Daryna looking at himâ??probably sneering a bit, but no, she must've been still sympathetic, because at the time she still thought this was all for the channel's sake, that the boss was slavering the movers and shakers for their collective sake, for the cause, to keep the channel afloatâ??ate shit, bless his soul, every day so that Goshchynska could grow flowers on the air, well, flowers always grow on shit, and television is no different from a beautiful woman: does anyone, blowing her kisses through his car's window, wonder about the inner workings of her guts, about the smack of fecal matter inside her intestines, whose regularity, by the way, is directly responsible for her radiant complexionâ??except that here it wasn't fecal but financial flows that were being pumped and someone did have to insure their regularity. That's what she thought, pinching her delicate little nose, because in that gigantic tele-organism the role she was meant to play, after all, was not the colon's but that of the radiant visage, "the face of the channel," and under that understanding look of hers, extended to him over the well-fed shoulders and masticating heads, the boss as if waking up from a dream, suddenly looked triumphantly, conspiratorially, over his smoke-filled cavernous salon, literally smoothed the salon over himself just like a woman, out of the dressing room, smoothes a new skirt over her thighsâ??gathered it all in, weighed it, and offered it to her, the whole thing with himself in the middle, with the same feminine inquiring anxiety in his look: what do you think?.. As if she was the one who held the controlling interest, as if the whole show would instantly lose its meaning without her approval. She remembers it seemed really funny to her at the time, and she laughed at him from across the table (she'd had too much to drink), saluting him with her glass in a mute toast: cheers, sweetheart, here's to you!â??and Lord, how he bloomed in return, glowing as if she'd lifted a rock off his shoulders, lightened his burden!.. And she had no clue that by then the channel's fate was, must have been, already decided, Antosha, as always, had been right, and the controlling interest was being passed into someone else's hands entirelyâ??the ones that took her by the throat yesterday, using her boss's hands to do the work. The same boss's who saw her as an accomplice and continued to need her approval: you're on the right path, comrades!. Kiss my ass, asshole. It's hard to believe, isn't it, she asks mentallyâ??not of her mother (she doesn't talk to her mother in her head)â??but of Adrian, with whom she is also unlikely to share this observation because it's not the kind that you share with anyone, period, only where do they all go, these observations that no one every shares with anyone and that just gather dust in the dark corners of people brains?â??it's hard to believe how much in this life is determined, sometimes, by a single accidental phrase, a single lookâ??a conspiratorial, encouraging look across the room, just like thatâ??and someone picks it up eagerly, grabs your hand and drags you into their cabal, and lifts the lid on such a teeming subterannean nest of worms as you would much have preferred not to see, never even to know it existed. And it all started with the commonest little misunderstandingâ??you were simply misunderstood, the world if full of crossed signals, and no one really understands anyone anymore. Such scale, such opportunities, such leap in her careerâ??what is wrong with her? The boss really could not understand, and if he was pretending, then only very little. And what about her project, her unfinished film?.. He blinked when she asked about that, as if trying to remember: what film? He'd forgotten already, he had erased that file from his memoryâ??some people are lucky like that, they have the serendipitous gift of forgetting everything unnecessary. The one about the UIA or something? "You know what he said to me, Ma? About my "Lantern"? He said noone needs my heroes. That they are not the heroes that are in touch with the times." In touch with the times, how wonderfully aptâ??it slashed her like a blade. Piotr Nikolaich, Aleksei Vasiliyichâ??they've bought this time, just as they bought air-time, they thought themselves the major figures, no, the only heroes of life's drama written, they believed, especially for them and they lived their lives with this beliefâ??until the last, control shot to the head. But the boss, the boss!â??He's not one of them, he's not of their breed, he was a talented journalist once, he made that fantastic film in the early nineties, about the little Chernivtsy kids who'd gone bald, a rocket fuel spill at a nearby army base, wasn't it, the city should've really been evacuatedâ??wait, wait, but the story somehow got hushed down after that, never came up again, and, just a minute, if I recall correctly, the man who was investigating the cause of the disaster, a localâ??didn't he disappear, die quietly under unclarified circumstances? If she's not mistaken?.. It's hardâ??not to be mistaken, hard to keep it all straight in your memory, when the memory's long overburdened, the system overloaded, and your head has long ago turned into a computer box, cluttered, like with snippets of film, with frames of unidentified provenance, shots of who-knows-where and faces with names unstuck from them (this has happened a thousand times: the faceâ??you recognize, the personâ??no). And you tell yourself you're delivering information to people but all you actually do is add to the piles of snippets in their heads and so help them forget because you don't remember squat yourself, except whatever's blinking right in front of you, on whatever narrow strip is cleared of rubbish to fit the today-due-today. Shit, what if she's really in the wrong business?.. "They're the ones out of touch," Olga Fedorivna responds, bitterly, and Daryna registers a vague recognition that her mother invests these words with something private, invisible and inaccessible to her, Daryna. And then she adds, and it's also not clear about whom: "Roaches." A rickety bridge is in those words, a narrow plank thrown from one bank to the other, Daryna can sense it but has no time to listen to it, she's riding her own currentâ??and not only out of the pure momentum of an active life that never really hears those who'd dropped out of the system (because what good can they tell us, the retired, the jobless, the homeless, the bankrupted, the crumpled wrappers swept to the edge of the sidewalk where we click-clack zestfully along in our brand-new Bally heels that they'll never be able to afford?)â??she is, quite simply, overrun with indignity, great and intolerable, she's got a fresh hole gaping inside her and she's just begun to mend it, she's too busy attending to herself, like uncle Volodya with his arthritis: retold to her mother in a slightly different edition from the one for Adrian the night before, the conversation with the boss acquires new contours in her mind in the course of being retold, is being fit together, and this is the only thing that's important to her at the momentâ??to re-dub and edit yesterday's film in her memory into such form as can be turned into an asset and lived-with from now on. All she needs for this procedure is a grateful audience with supportive ooh's, but her Mom keeps falling out of character and darting off-track, still somehow failing to grasp into which moulds she's supposed to fit and to turn into iceâ??she's getting old, that's a fact: losing her flexibility, losing her quickness... But "roaches"â??there's something to it, the daughter notes on the go: mother does have a feel for words, not for nothing did she write poems when she was young, but then again, who didn't back then, in the sixtiesâ??the boss now strikes Daryna as not at all unroach-like despite the fact that he never wore mustache. It would fit him. A sort of neurotic jerking of the nose, the more conspicous the more nervous he got yesterdayâ??like he's constantly smelling something disugsting. Antosha even maintained, for a long time already, that boss had to be doing cocaine, and after last night Daryna was inclined to believe it: a man can't just live in that cloaka, he's got to do something at least about the smell.