So last week my cold and I went to hear Grigory Ryzhakov talk about his new book under the auspices of the Anglo-Russian culture club. While I wasn’t at my most alert or coherent I will try to record some of the interesting points that emerged.
Since Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Prize was still on people’s minds, Grigory suggested that the most likely candidates for the next Russian winner were Ludmila Ulitskaya, Viktor Pelevin and Vladimir Sorokin. The writers most likely to make an international breakthrough in the near future were Zakhar Prilepin, Maksim Kantor and Mikhail Shishkin, together with somebody else whose name I didn’t write down. There was some feeling that it was in the field of sci-fi/fantasy (Lukyanenko, Glukhovsky….Pelevin!) that contemporary Russian literature was most internationally competitive, though Grigory may not have said so in as many words.
There was some question as to whether contemporary Russian literature was just too Russia-specific to appeal to outsiders, but Grigory felt that Maksim Kantor was an international writer, while Evgeny Vodolazkin’s newly-translated Laurus was both outward-looking and positive. Grigory’s own candidate for the book most deserving of translation was Pozor i chistota by Tatyana Moskvina. Contrariwise, he had taken against Dmitri Bykov after reading his production in bulk, and there was indeed some spontaneous commentary from the audience regarding the low level of Bykov’s public lectures in London.
We had some discussion about various sources of information on contemporary Russian literature. Grigory felt that his specific contribution lay in classifying the specimens, in the manner of a true biologist. Among other things, I found out about a film called Russia’s Open Book: Writing In The Age Of Putin on YouTube.
Afterwards there was discussion and wine. Somebody put forward the idea that the average income in the UK is about £25,000, the average amount you make out of writing a book is £ 8,000, so you chug along on £ 33,000 writing a book a year instead of going down the pub until your number comes up and you turn into J K Rowling…optimism is a fine thing, especially for the young…