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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Emigre Vladimov Wins Booker With War Story

Novelist Georgy Vladimov has long dreamed of returning home to Moscow, the city he was forced to leave by Soviet authorities in 1983, and he did so triumphantly Monday night.


Fresh from the relative obscurity of his home in Germany, Vladimov, 64, collected this year's Booker Russian novel prize and $12,500 for his novel, "A General and His Army," in a ceremony at the House of Architects.


In his acceptance speech, Vladimov -- the first emigr? to win the prize, now in its fourth year -- said a strange confluence of fiction and fact led him to believe that victory might be his.


"When I found out that this ceremony was set for Dec. 4" -- the date in 1941 when the central events in the novel actually took place -- "it seemed to me that the jury members were under the influence of some strange power, and that the stars were aligned to my benefit."


Vladimov beat out Yevgeny Fyodorov and Oleg Pavlov as Russia's novelist of the year for "A General," published in issues four and five of the thick journal Znamya in 1994. The runners-up collected $1,000 a piece for their efforts, Pavlov's "An Official Tale" and Fyodorov's "The Odyssey."


Literary critic Stanislav Rassadin, the chairman of this year's jury, said it was "senseless" to try to explain exactly how the choice was made.


"The jury was made up of five very different people who had no stake in the outcome; all of us were drawn to this novel. To look for specific criteria leads us nowhere. The taste, which might simply be a gift from God, of these five people unanimously coincided."


Some critics have charged in the past that the Booker juries, usually comprised of established literary figures, have used the prize to award older writers for their achievement over a long career in letters, without particular emphasis on the novel in question. Bulat Okudzhava's Booker Prize victory in 1994 was widely explained in this way.


The 1995 competition proved to be no exception. The short-listed troika pitted two members of the shestdesyatniki ('60s) generation, Vladimov and Fyodorov, against 25-year-old Pavlov.


"The war interests only those Russians who fought in it, and there are still many of them," said Konstanin Kedrov, a poet and critic for Izvestia, who, in his 40s, stands between the elders and the rising young writers. "This event was more nostalgic than anything else, in the writing of the novel and the awarding of the prize. You could feel this in the hall. The people of this generation have not reached the end of their suffering, nor have they expressed it in full."


Few begrudged Vladimov his success Monday, however. "A General" addresses a side of Russian army life during the Great Patriotic War that rarely figured in the reams of Soviet "secretarial literature" on this most enduring of themes. He takes an unblinking look at the distrust and denunciation that pervaded the Soviet military under the "Smersh" -- or "Death to Spies" -- program.


This year's short-listed novels shared several basic features that link them to the mainstream of Russian postwar literature, their subject matter most of all. In addition to Vladimov's World War II novel, Fyodorov and Pavlov write of life in Soviet prison camps, a theme brought to the fore by Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novella "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," published in 1962.


But although Vladimov followed the grand tradition, his approach to the war theme was fresh and unique, said Samuel Lurye, editor of the St. Petersburg journal Postscriptum.


"Vladimov was not in the war and he looked at it differently than any writer before him. As it turned out, he was right, both factually, politically and psychologically -- there was a Soviet mechanism even at the heart of the war."


Also Monday, two small journals -- Rodnik, published in Riga and Idiot from Vitebsk in Belarus -- split the "Little Booker" prize, given this year for the Russian-language journal published in any of the countries in the former Soviet Union, save Russia, which has done the most to promote Russian literature.