Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Sorokin’

День опричника (Den’ oprichnika) Vladimir Sorokin

September 1, 2011


OK so if you concentrate hard you can work out the year is 2027 and Russia is hiding behind a wall and has even returned to the days of Ivan the Terrible and his oprichnina (secret police? private army?)  We follow one day in the life of Andrei Komyaga, who is second-in-command of the new oprichnina of the new Sovereign who has restored Russia’s pride by getting rid of things like foreign travel and a choice of goods in the shops.  An excessive choice in any shops.  You can choose from two sorts of anything in traditional Russian kiosks.  Apart from there only being one type of cheese.  Also the Sovereign has at least partly banned swearing and drunkenness, which is rather a change from the times of Ivan IV.

In general, I found the thing rather good-natured by Sorokin’s standards.  It’s difficult to alienate the reader’s sympathy in a first-person narrative, and apart from gang-raping the disgraced nobleman’s wife at the beginning (and I suppose hallucinating about raping an American woman while transformed into a conjoint dragon with the rest of his band) he didn’t do much I disapproved of.  Corruption…court intrigue…carrying on court intrigue with the help of dark forces and a crippled clairvoyante…SA-style homosexual orgies with the help of improved Chinese penises…killing formerly important people no longer desired by the Sovereign…all in a day’s work really.

The Sovereign seemed remarkably mild in many ways for a Russian leader of any stamp, never mind a new Ivan IV.  I rather enjoyed the fake-Old-Russian language  with its simple declarative sentences and merisms in place of stilted abstractions, and there were even some sightings of the vocative case!

But the dystopian future portrayed here was like Heaven by comparison with the ‘realistic’ present in Yuri Buyda’s latest offering, and I think Sorokin does the same kind of thing rather better in Goluboe salo where there is some genuine bitterness and shock value, not to mention extensive swearing and drunkenness, and a much better hook to hang his beloved parodies and pastiches on.

This was another example of the typical Sorokin Chinese takeaway:  you consume it avidly–he is a very good writer at putting the words on the page so that you want to know what happens next–and then you wonder: Was that all?

Contemporary Russian novels for translation

July 21, 2011
Title To be avoided at all costs Perhaps Strongly recommend Not read/don’t know Rating
Goluboe salo (SOROKIN) 0 1 3 0 2.25
Norma (SOROKIN) 0 1 3 0 2.25
Psalom (Fridrikh GORENSHTEIN) 0 1 2 1 2
30-aya lyubov’ Mariny (Vladimir SOROKIN) 0 1 2 0 2
Pokhoronite menya za plintusom (Pavel SANAEV) 1 1 3 0 1.6
Banan ( Mikhail IVANOV) 0 1 1 1 1.5
Stepnaya kniga (Oleg PAVLOV) 0 1 1 1 1.5

Survey results

The table above shows the most popular books from Question 1 of my surveyA publisher wishes to publish in English Russian fiction from the last 40 years. He would like to publish something worthwhile, and also not lose money. Which of the following would you recommend?

As can be seen, Question 1 elicited 5 answers.

This multiple choice question named 19 different works of 15 different authors.  These were derived from original discussions with the publisher, a query on SEELANGS here, and my own knowledge.  I posted a link to the survey on SEELANGS here  and RUSSIAN-STUDIES here and also sent it around some of my own contacts.

Question 2 was:  If there are any books or authors not listed in Q1 you would like to suggest, please give details below. Thank you!

There were 8 answers to this question, naming a variety of authors and works.  Vladimir Sorokin was the only writer to be named more than once (twice in fact);  there was also a further nomination for Fridrikh Gorenshtein.

There was one expression of support for the publisher in response to Question 3:  Please give any other comments on this survey or the subject-matter below. Thank you!


Clearly Sorokin and Gorenshtein are the favourites here.  That applies to both Q1 and Q2.   It was interesting to see that some well-known writers such as Olga Slavnikova and Dmitri Bykov attracted very little support.  As at December 2015, this lack of enthusiasm for Bykov seems quite widespread.

About Vladimir Sorokin

Sorokin would certainly be the practical recommendation.  At the technical level of putting the right words in the right order so you want to read more he’s a very very good writer.  A couple of his books have been translated into English, and a lot have been translated into French and German so it’s easy to find out something about him.  One could look at Den’ oprichnika (Der Tag des Opritschniks/Journée d’un Opritchnik) or Goluboe salo (Le lard bleu/Der himmelblaue Speck) as being the most immediately appealing perhaps–there’s lots of useful stuff on  [Oops!  The first of these has just been published in English, and no-one picked me up on it…]  Sorokin certainly suffered some problems with the authorities on account of the second of these, and also with an opera he did the libretto for, so there’s publicity material as well.

About Fridrikh Gorenshtein

You can see my views of that wonderful book Psalom (together with something about Gorenshtein in general) here, and also read about some of the issues to do with publishing him in English here.

Personally, I think you might need to be a US publisher of Jewish material with some kind of captive market to bring it off.  Or a US publisher of heavyweight literary fiction, but those possibilities seem to have been prejudiced by the unfortunate experience with Poputchiki.

Finally, anyone who knows what ‘original’ of Psalm 88 Gorenshtein had in mind is invited to let me know!

For the record

The remaining books listed in Q1 were (in descending order of popularity): Latunnaya luna (Asar EPPEL’), Pervoe vtoroye prishestvie (Aleksei SLAPOVSKY); Eltyshevy (Roman SENCHIN), Malaya Glusha (Mariya GALINA), Pers (Aleksandr ILICHEVSKY); Tsvetochniy krest (Elena KOLYADINA); Schast’e vozmozhno (Oleg ZAIONCHKOVSKY), Kroshki Tsakhes (Elena CHIZHOVA), Lyogkaya golova (Ol’ga SLAVNIKOVA); Evakuator (Dmitri BYKOV), Orfografiya (Dmitri BYKOV), Spisannye (Dmitri BYKOV).  I’ve posted something about Kroshki Tsakhes here.

If anyone is interested in the complete results of the survey, feel free to write to me.  I think that Academia Rossica would also like me to mention their translation grants !