Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Glas Spotlights Booker Authors

While the Russian Booker Prize has gained in prestige and credibility each year since its inception in 1992, it remains something of an anomaly. The Booker has helped fill the vacuum of official recognition for writers that followed the fall of the Writers' Union, but this recognition originates, after all, outside the Russian literary process.


The prize is anomalous from the British side as well. Every December senior officials from Booker -- the British agribusiness giant which sponsors the prize -- troop out to Moscow for the awards ceremony. Inevitably their views on the works in competition are limited, since they cannot read a word until the books are published in translation.


The Moscow-based journal Glas is rectifying the situation. Last year they began to commission and publish translated excerpts from the novels short-listed for the Russian Booker Prize, offering the anglophone audience here and abroad a glimpse of what all the fuss -- recall the Anti-Booker Prize maliciously instituted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta last year, to mention just one instance -- is about.


Glas No. 10, just out, provides the second installment of Booker writers. It features a long extract from novelist Bulat Okudzhava's 1994 prize-winning novel "The Show Is Over."


Also included are extracts from all of the short-listed works of that year. There is a short story called "Don Domino" from Yury Buida's collection "The Prussian Bride." Mikhail Levitin's tribute to theater director Igor Terentiyev "Total Impropriety" is briefly featured, alongside excerpts from Igor Dolinyak's "The Third World," Alexei Slapovsky's "The First Second Coming," and Peter Aleshkovsky's "The Life of Ferret."


Yet while these six texts form the core of this issue, the strongest piece comes from the first Russian Booker Prize winner, Mark Kharitonov. "Ahasuerus" is a short story connected to his novel, "Lines of Fate or Milashevich's Trunk," which won the Booker in 1992.


"Ahasuerus" revolves around the relationship between an actor, Zlukhtin, and a withered old bibliophile, Vladimir Modestovich. The old man's wife died during the war when she was evacuated, while he stayed behind to look after his library. Now approaching death, Zlukhtin comes to realize that in preferring his books, he lost not only his wife, but also his son, who scarcely ever visits him.


The joy of this story derives from its literary qualities and Kharitonov's mastery of the form, which is splendidly translated by Glas co-editor Arch Tait. Russian literature has recently inclined towards more realistic prose (represented in this issue by Okudzhava and Nikolai Klimontovich's second-rate story, "Soft Jazz," among others), which has its charms. But Kharitonov reminds us what is lost when writers cease to address not only their subject, but also their medium.


Take a minor example of Kharitonov's craft. As Vladimir Modestovich stands on his roof during a bombing raid, the author develops the aphorism "don't spit into the wind" in a bold literalization of language.


"Throwing back his beard, he spat heavenward like a jester in an access of glee. A hissing and a thunderous roar distorted the vault above his head, which cracked, punctures showing through it like newly discovered stars, from which the tears in his eyes drew cruciform rays -- and then something opened up, something gave; he was whipped up into the air, tossed head over heals in emptiness."


Of the Booker entries, the highlight is the cunningly edited excerpt from Alexei Slapovsky's novel "The First Second Coming." The novel tells the story of Peter Salabonov, a 30-year-old from the provincial town of Polynsk who comes reluctantly to believe, to his great surprise, that he is the second incarnation of Jesus Christ.


Slapovsky's gift is his keen, insightful imagination and sharp wit, which has elicited comparisons with Nikolai Gogol. In this excerpt we find Peter, now almost fully convinced that he is Christ, beginning to gather his disciples. The humor of the piece emerges as first a cowering, tippling priest and then his crass deacon are confronted by Peter's "revelation," and asked to take the (huge) leap of faith of following a foul-mouthed character with a reputation for healing.


Glas No. 10 also presents three writers unconnected with the Booker, the best of whom is Asar Eppel. His short story "Red Caviar Sandwiches" is a marvel of vivid, descriptive prose.


One virtuoso moment involves the description of an outdoor privy behind the student barracks where the narrator brings his beautiful girlfriend for their first liaison. "And now, the cold is upon us. Everything that has been absorbed begins to freeze, form layers. By late December, crossing the ice crust to a hole is out of the question. There is less and less room for maneuver ... The walls (inside only, so far) are caked with tall ice crusts the color of whey, rising up out of the floor like stalagmites, interspersed with fossilized brown clumps. The hoarfrosts on the boards, the yellow newspapers frozen in the ice, the yellow crystals forming under the roof: nothing deters our people -- where else can they go?"





Glas ($10) can be ordered from the Moscow-based editor, Natalya Perova. Tel. 441-9157.