Friday, December 6, 2013

Russia's Open Book

I was utterly excited to learn about the New PBS Documentary RUSSIA'S OPEN BOOK. I hope you'll share my excitement when you get to know about this project too.

For Western readers, Russian literature is mostly its classics – Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, or Tolstoyevsky, as some people ironically refer to them. Needless to say this is a very narrow perception of the Russian literature. There are many bright contemporary writers in Russia whose names are utterly unknown to the wide public, and whose works are still waiting to be discovered. My desire to share my reviews on recently published Russian novels usually withers away, because the names of the writers are mostly unknown, and the novels haven't been translated yet.

You can imagine how happy I was to read about the Russia's Open Book – a co-production of Intelligent Television and Wilton Films. Broadway World wrote:

"Hosted by actor, author, and activist Stephen Fry (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Jeeves and Wooster, The Hobbit), RUSSIA'S OPEN BOOK celebrates contemporary Russian authors who are carrying on one of the world's great literary traditions - yet doing so on their own terms. Each author is interviewed extensively in the film, with contributions from their literary critics, publishers, and peers. Excerpts from the authors' recent works are brought to life by vivid animated sequences created exclusively for the film and voiced-over with dramatic readings in English by Fry, who currently stars in the new Broadway production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night"

From the trailer on YouTube, I've learned who are the authors, to whom Mr. Fry talked. Here they are:

Zakhar Prilepin (Захар Прилепин) – born 1975 in Ryazanskaya oblast. In 1990s he “worked as a laborer, a security guard, served as a squad leader in the riot police, took part in the fighting in Chechnya in 1996 and 1999”. He is a very contradictory person, and his political views (a supporter of national-bolshevism) may be somewhat extreme, but he is no doubt a very talented writer.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya (Людмила Улицкая) – a novelist and short-story writer. Being an activist, she “is actively involved in philanthropic projects”. She often writes piercing stories on social issues in the modern Russia and promotes ideas of religious and social tolerance. Though some readers think her texts are somewhat dry (an unexpected characteristic for the female writer), she works with details very thoroughly. By those details she reproduce the unique atmosphere that keeps you reading on and on.

Mariam Petrosyan (Мариам Петросян) – unfortunately, I know very few about her, and didn't have a chance to read her most famous novel “The House, in which...” (Дом, в котором...). I've added her books to my to-read list.

Dmitry Bykov (Дмитрий Быков) – He is a virtuoso of writing. He writes as naturally as he breathes. His novels are always long, and his prose is wordy, yet as delicate as laces. He works as a teacher in one of the schools in Moscow, and, honestly, I envy the kids that have a chance to listen to him. His lectures about the Russian literature are amazing. He is exceptionally good in Russia's history of early Soviet epoch.

Anna Starobinets (Анна Старобинец) – a horror fiction writer. I haven't read her works yet, so, I just added her to my to-read list too.

Vladimir Sorokin (Владимир Сорокин) – His biting, sarcastic novels were banned in the Soviet Union. He managed to be so irritating that in 2002, there was a protest against his book Blue Bacon Fat. His recent dystopian novels of the Oprichnik cycle are, in my humble opinion, a very accurate and merciless diagnostics of the modern Russian society.

Hopefully, the documentary will be available soon. I can't wait for it!

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about the modern Russian writers, you can also read Life Stories, a unique collection of original works by 19 leading Russian writers.