The past decade has seen a literary renaissance in
In it Tolstaya imagines that books are banned and mutant humans live in huts, eating mice. She is one of many authors grappling with
Many new novels explore images of what it means to be Russian. A totemic literary monument ('the pushkin' ) becomes a central symbol in The Slynx while in
Sorokin's modern-medieval secret police (an oprichnik was a member of Ivan the Terrible's 16th century secret police) rape and burn all day and relax with psychedelic pornography and nostalgic songs. This savage and satirical account of a security officer's 24 hours in 2028 is reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece, One Day in the Life of
Olga Slavnikova's award-winning 2017 (
2017 has the experimental flair that is characteristic of a Russian
Ulitskaya calls her novel 'the biography of an amazing person', explaining how she invented many of the letters and articles in the book to create something that was 'half documentary and half art'. Her fascination with blurred boundaries and shifting registers is innovative, but her themes are timeless: how to be true to ourselves, how to survive brutality, challenge hypocrisy and have compassion.
Where Tolstoy wrote about Napoleonic battles in War and Peace , the narrator of Andrei Gelasimov's Thirst (AmazonCrossing, 2011) is a veteran of the brutal wars in the North Caucasus. Gelasimov is famous for his spare prose and realism. His disfigured hero goes on a confused quest with fellow soldiers.
Contemporary writers revelling in everyday dialogue include Zakhar Prilepin. His emotional Sin (Glagoslav, 2012) draws on his own experiences as a bouncer, journalist and soldier. Sin is not a novel in the conventional sense, but a connected series of short stories, skipping from married happiness back to teenage encounters with sex and death, and then forward again to adult scenes of vodka-drinking or gravedigging. Like Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago, Prilepin includes a sequence of lyrical poems by his narrator.
For readers used to the enforcedly pacey narratives of more commercial, western literature, Prilepin's atmospheric vignettes might seem strange. They are reminiscent of Chekhov's short stories, in which the evocation of place and feeling sometimes take precedence over plot. There is a sense throughout these picaresque episodes of waiting for the story to begin until, facing death in Chechnya, we realise that it could be almost over.
German Sadulaev's flawed, but important I am a Chechen (
Sadulaev's self-conscious postmodernism, mixing different styles and chronologies, is typical of current trends in Russian literature. The leaked judges' debate for one literary prize -- the relatively new NOS Literary Prize, founded by billionaire tycoon, Mikhail Prokhorov -- gives an insight into intellectual priorities. The prize promotes 'modernity and originality ... the creation of new meanings'; in fact, the organisers say they are seeking no less than a new 'mental and metaphorical map of the world'.
Such high-brow aims form an interesting contrast with last year's debate over the Booker Prize in
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