Eleanor Wachtel travelled to Russia in 1999 to explore contemporary Russian fiction. This five-part series is called Russia in Crisis and it looks at writing since perestroika -- and after the Crash.
Series Broadcast January 10 - February 7, 1999
Author information and reading list
The works of emigre Russian writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitzen are well known in the West (better known outside Russia, infact, than they were in their own country during Soviet times). More recently, high-profile younger writers such as Tatyana Tolstoya and Andrei Makine have been getting international attention. Now, since perestroika, there is new interest in translation of work by Russian writers, both established and emerging. Some references follow (by no means a comprehensive list!).
One of the best sources of contemporary fiction and poetry in translation is the journalGlas: New Russian Writing, edited by Arch Tait and Natasha Perova, coming out of Russia and England. The eighteen issues published so far are organized around themes such as revolution; what it means to be a Jew in Russia; childhood; new women's writing; "love and fear"; "Russian grotesque"; etc. In some cases the writers' first English translations appear in Glas.
North American distribution:Ivan R. Dee,1332 N. Halsted Street, Chicago, Illinois 60622-2632 USA;tel: 312-787-6262; fax: 312-787-6269;email: email@example.com
Another useful source is The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing (1995), edited by Victor Erofeyev, who appears in our series. The winter 1998 issue of Granta, #64 (Russia: The Wild East), currently available in most literary bookstores, is also devoted to Russian literature.
Anthologies focusing on women's writing include Half a Revolution: Contemporary Fiction by Russian Women, edited by Masha Gessen (Cleis Press, Pittsburgh, 1994);Present Imperfect: Stories by Russian Women, edited by Ayesha Kagal and Natasha Perova (Westview Press, 1996); and a series edited by Helena Goscilo: Balancing Acts: Contemporary Stories by Russian Women (Bloomington, IN, 1989); The Wild Beach: An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Stories (Ardis, Ann Arbor,1992); and Lives in Transit: A Collection of Recent Russian Women's Writings (Ardis, Ann Arbor, 1993).
Recent poetry anthologies, which might be found in university libraries or bookstores,include: Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry, edited by Kent Johnson and Stephen M. Ashby (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1992); Child of Europe, edited by Michael March (Penguin Books, London, 1990); and Modern Poetry in Translation, No.10, New Series, edited by Daniel Weissbort (King's College, London, 1996), distributed in USA by Bernhard De Boer, New York. Also forthcoming: In the Grip ofStrange Thoughts: Russian Poetry in a New Era, selected and edited by Jim Kates (Zephyr Press, 1999).
A fairly recent critical study is Russian Literature 1988-1994: The End of an Era, by N. N. Schneidman (University of Toronto Press, 1995). Also Contextualizing Transition: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Writers and Critics, edited bySerafima Roll (Peter Lung Publishing, New York; 1998).
The writers and their work featured on Writers & Company were:
Program 1: Peter Aleshkovsky
Born 1957 in Moscow, Peter Aleshkovsky is an archaeologist andhistorian by training, whose highly regarded fiction draws on his many years' experience restoring monasteries in Northern Russia. His writing is both traditional inits themes and contemporary in its concerns: he explores questions of faith andmorality--issues facing the Russian Orthodox Church today--in a straightforward stylethat is rich in myth and symbolism. The conversation focused on Aleshkovsky's prize-winning novel Skunk: A Life, published in Glas 15.
Masha Gessen: Born in Russia in 1967, Masha Gessen is a leading journalist, translator and editor. Although her family emigrated to the United States in 1981, toescape state-enforced anti-Semitism, Gessen herself returned to Moscow as ajournalist in 1991 and has since established herself as contributor to both Russian andEnglish publications, including The New Republic and the New Statesman. Her book Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism is published by Verso(London, 1997). She has also edited the anthology Half a Revolution: Contemporary Fiction by Russian Women (Cleis Press, 1994), and her essay "My Grandmother, theCensor" appears in the latest issue of Granta (#64).
Program 2: Larissa Miller
Larissa Miller: Born in 1940, Larissa Miller is a major lyrical poet and essayist. Hermemoirs describe a surprisingly happy childhood in post-war Moscow, despite thesqualor of life in a communal apartment and the tensions of anti-Semitism. Married to anoted human rights activist and colleague of Andrei Sakharov, Miller offersobservations on the dissident community, the arts underground and her ownexperiences of repression as a writer during Soviet times. Selections from her memoirsappear in several issues of Glas, and her poems are included in some of the anthologies listed above.
Andrei Bitov: Born 1937 in Leningrad, Andrei Bitov is one of the most important writers of his generation, starting in the 1960s, with acclaimed volumes of short stories. Laterhis involvement with the literary underground made him unpopular with the Soviets, andhis major novel, Pushkin House, could not be published during the Brezhnev years. Bitov's highly original writings, including fiction and books of travel, have won manyliterary prizes and been widely published around the world, in Russian and intranslation. Some titles available in English include: Life in Windy Weather (Ardis,1986); Pushkin House (Farrar, Straus, 1987); A Captive of the Caucasus( Farrar, Straus, 1992); The Monkey Link (Farrar, Straus, 1995). A critical studyabout him is: Andrei Bitov: The Ecology of Inspiration by Ellen Chances (CambridgeUniversity Press, 1993).
Program 3: Cultural critics panel
Eleanor Wachtel met with a panel of high-profile Moscow critics,publishers and editors for a lively discussion on contemporary Russian culture. Literary critic and publisher Irina Prokhorova, publisher Alexander Ivanov and culturecolumnist Mikhail Novikov examine the weight of the Russian classics, explore literarytrends since perestroika and consider the issues facing Russian writers and otherartists in the current cultural climate.
Program 4: Victor Erofeyev
Born in 1947 in Moscow, Victor Erofeyev is one of the most controversial figures in contemporary Russian literature. His participation in the literaryunderground resulted in the banning of his work under the Soviets and the end of hisfather's diplomatic career. Always provocative, Erofeyev has sparked wide debate with both his critical writings and his postmodernist fiction, especially his frankly erotic 1990 novel, Russian Beauty (Viking). He is editor of The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing, and his essay "The Good Stalin" appeared in the winter fictionissue of The New Yorker (Dec. 28, 1998 & Jan. 4, 1999). His story collection Lifewith an Idiot is forthcoming from Viking.
Julia Latynina: Born 1966, Julia Latynina is a leading Moscow journalist specializing ineconomic issues. She draws on that experience in her surprising dual career as aprolific writer of popular fiction: in her highly successful fantasy and detective novels(none, unfortunately, available in English), she makes inventive use of economic crimestories too hot to handle as a journalist.
Program 5: Elaine Feinstein on Pushkin
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth ofAlexander Sergeevich Pushkin, undisputed father of Russian literature: "theShakespeare of Russia." In a just published biography that draws on new discoveries,Elaine Feinstein explores the highly dramatic life of this cultural icon, and especially the events that led to his death from a duel at age 37. Feinstein's study of Pushkin'sparadoxical character illuminates his originality as a poet. Pushkin is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1998.
In addition to the writers featured on our program, we would like to mention some othernames whose works are available in translation:
Victor Pelevin: One of the hottest young Russian writers, his books include: Omon Ra (New Directions, 1998); The Blue Lantern and Other Stories (New Directions, 1997); The Life of Insects (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998); and A Werewolf Problem in CentralRussia and Other Stories (New Directions, 1998).
Vladimir Makanin: The Loss: A Novella and Two Stories is published by NorthwesternUniversity Press, Evanston, Illinois, 1998.
All five tapes are available for purchase at a cost of $50.00 (or $20.00 each).
Please send cheque payable to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to:
CBC Writers & Company: P.O. Box 500, Station "A" Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6