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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Love, Jokes And Thrills

The New Year for Russian publishers and booksellers starts in early September, as it does, of course, for readers, too. That is when the International Bookfair opens in Moscow in a pavilion at VDNKh, now renamed the All-Russian Exhibition Center.


Since publishers traditionally launch dozens of new titles at the fair, August is a quiet period in which to analyze the trends of the Russian bestseller lists. As usual, I will follow the accepted Russian habit of dividing the lists into three categories -- fiction, nonfiction and high-brow, or intellectualnye, books -- and devote my next two columns to this survey. Before I begin I must add that one has to interpret these lists judiciously, for it is not unheard of in Russia for publishers to buy places (or acquire them in return for a favor) for their books in these lists.


Two-thirds of all books published in Russia are novels. And the types of fiction that are increasingly dominant and successful in the market are the following:


The Home-Grown Russian Thriller. These novels take for their themes any one of the topical, hot issues affecting Russia today: from Kremlin conspiracies to the shenanigans of the Russian Mafia; from ludicrously rich New Russians to flourishing bands of contract killers; from war in Chechnya to war against terrorism and narcotics. Viktor Dotsenko and New York resident Eduard Topol, both former Soviet screenwriters, lead the field. But the pseudonymous Leo Gursky (whose real identity is a well-kept secret), Alexandra Marinina (a professor at the Interior Ministry Academy) and, of course, the accused spy Platon Obukhov are regulars on the list.


Imported Romances. In spite of considerable, recent efforts by Russian publishers to develop indigenous writers of romances, this lucrative slice of the market is still dominated overwhelmingly by big-selling romantic writers from the West.


Humor. Humorous books do well in Russia and they usually take the form of jokes or anekdoty. Traditional collections of jokes about politics are challenged on the bestseller list by editions of jokes about sex and nationality.