Saturday, 24 December 2011

Victor Pelevin's The Hall of the Singing Caryatids

In this surreal story by Victor Pelevin, young Lena is employed to stand naked for hours at a time and sing.
She and her fellow caryatids are green-painted ornaments in the malachite hall of an elite underground nightclub. To enable them to keep sufficiently still for up to two days, they are given doses of a classified serum, Mantis-B, whose unusual side-effects form the thrust of the narrative.
In true postmodern style, these drug-induced episodes are interspersed with other voices: pseudo-pretentious extracts from the magazine Counterculture; a lecture from an ideologist; and encounters with other bizarre denizens of this subterranean world, such as concept artists, girls dressed as mermaids, important clients in bathrobes and the sinister, ironic, slogan-toting Uncle Pete.
The caryatids come to life if a client wishes them to and no fantasy is too excessive. The hired ideologist tells the sex workers that enemies are trying to brainwash them with a sense of economic injustice by printing photos of oligarchs in the media and describing their freakish whims and revels.
Pelevin has perplexed and delighted readers with his polyphonic sci-fi comedy for two decades. In his first novel, Omon Ra (1992), the hero attempts to escape the Soviet nightmare by becoming a cosmonaut, only to find himself part of a farcical mock-heroic moon landing.
The Russian Film Festival in London opened in November with the UK premiere of Generation P, a film adaptation of Pelevin’s book set in the chaotic Nineties as seen through the eyes of a poet turned copywriter.
Pelevin’s most recent selection of stories, Pineapple Water for a Beautiful Lady (published last year), has been shortlisted for the Nose award for new literature.
Pelevin’s novels draw interesting parallels: Lena and Omon are victims of the systems they live under, duped by the authorities and kept literally and metaphorically in the dark. In the novel, the building of a secret entertainment complex for politicians and businessmen echoes the construction of Stalin's wartime bunker beneath Izmailovo, where a sports stadium was built above ground to conceal it.
Pelevin’s nightclub is built 1,000ft underground to double as “a bomb shelter for the national elite in case of war or terrorist 
The Hall of the Singing Caryatids was published last month in Andrew Bromfield’s English translation. It forms part of New Directions’ series of literary pearls described as “miniature masterpieces”. The story first appeared in a 2008 collection of Pelevin’s short stories, with the surreal title: P5: Farewell songs of the political pygmies of Pindostan.
Recreating this dream-like fable as a stand-alone novella possibly throws too much symbolic weight on to the story’s delicate frame. Butthis comic gem makes a perfect introduction for English-speakers to Pelevin’s multi-faceted work, as well as a welcome addition to his oeuvre for existing fans. ...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Leo Tolstoy: The Devil

A brilliant career lay before Eugene Iretnev. He had everything necessary to attain it: an admirable education at home, high honours when he graduated in law at Petersburg University, and connexions in the highest society through his recently deceased father; he had also already begun service in one of the Ministries under the protection of the minister. Moreover he had a fortune; even a large one, though insecure. His father had lived abroad and in Petersburg, allowing his sons, Eugene and Andrew (who was older than Eugene and in the Horse Guards), six thousand rubles a year each, while he himself and his wife spent a great deal. He only used to visit his estate for a couple of months in summer and did not concern himself with its direction, entrusting it all to an unscrupulous manager who also failed to attend to it, but in whom he had complete confidence. After the father’s death, when the brothers began to divide the property, so many debts were discovered that their lawyer even advised them to refuse the inheritance and retain only an estate left them by their grandmother, which was valued at a hundred thousand rubles. But a neighbouring landed-proprietor who had done business with old Irtenev, that is to say, who had promissory notes from him and had come to Petersburg on that account, said that in spite of the debts they could straighten out affairs so as to retain a large fortune (it would only be necessary to sell the forest and some outlying land, retaining the rich Semenov estate with four thousand desyatins of black earth, the sugar factory, and two hundred desyatins of water-meadows) if one devoted oneself to the management of the estate, settled there, and farmed it wisely and economically. And so, having visited the estate in spring (his father had died in Lent), Eugene looked into everything, resolved to retire from the Civil Service, settle in the country with his mother, and undertake the management with the object of preserving the main estate. He arranged with his brother, with whom he was very friendly, that he would pay him either four thousand rubles a year, or a lump sum of eighty thousand, for which Andrew would hand over to him his share of his inheritance. So he arranged matters and, having settled down with his mother in the big house, began managing the estate eagerly, yet cautiously. It is generally supposed the Conservatives are usually old people, and that those in favour of change are the young. That is not quite correct. Usually Conservatives are young people: those who want to live but who do not think about how to live, and have not time to think, and therefore take as a model for themselves a way of life that they have seen. Thus it was with Eugene. Having settled in the village, his aim and ideal was to restore the form of life that had existed, not in his father’s time — his father had been a bad manager — but in his grandfather’s. And now he tried to resurrect the general spirit of his grandfather’s life — in the house, the garden, and in the estate management — of course with changes suited to the times — everything on a large scale — good order, method, and everybody satisfied. But to do this entailed much work. It was necessary to meet the demands of the creditors and the banks, and for that purpose to sell some land and arrange renewals of credit. It was also necessary to get money to carry on (partly by farming out land, and partly by hiring labour) the immense operations on the Semenov estate, with its four hundred desyatins of ploughland and its sugar factory, and to deal with the garden so that it should not seem to be neglected or in decay. There was much work to do, but Eugene had plenty of strength - physical and mental. He was twenty-six, of medium height, strongly built, with muscles developed by gymnastics. He was fullblooded and his whole neck was very red, his teeth and lips were bright, and his hair soft and curly though not thick. His only physical defect was short-sightedness, which he had himself developed by using spectacles, so that he could not now do without a pince-nez, which had already formed a line on the bridge of his nose. Such was his physically. For his spiritual portrait it might be said that the better people knew him the better they liked him. His mother had always loved him more than anyone else, and now after her husband’s death she concentrated on him not only her whole affection but her whole life. Nor was it only his mother who so loved him. All his comrades at the high school and the university not merely liked him very much, but respected him. He had this effect on all who met him. It was impossible not to believe what he said, impossible to suspect any deception or falseness in one who had such an open, honest face and in particular such eyes. In general his personality helped him much in his affairs. A creditor who would have refused another trusted him. The clerk, the village Elder, or a peasant, who would have played a dirty trick and cheated someone else, forgot to deceive under the pleasant impression of intercourse with this kindly, agreeable, and above all candid man. It was the end of May. Eugene had somehow managed in town to get the vacant land freed from the mortgage, so as to sell it to a merchant, and had borrowed money from that same merchant to replenish his stock, that is to say, to procure horses, bulls, and carts, and in particular to begin to build a necessary farm-house. the matter had been arranged. The timber was being carted, the carpenters were already at work, and manure for the estate was being brought on eighty carts, but everything still hung by a thread. ...

Friday, 2 December 2011

Alexander Pushkin: The Memorial

Beyond compare the monument I have erected,
And to this spirit column well-worn the people's path,—
Its head defiant will out-soar that famous pillar
  The Emperor Alexander hath!
I shall not vanish wholly,—No! but young forever
My spirit will live on, within my lyre will ring,
And men within this world shall hold me in remembrance
  While yet one Singer lives to sing.
My glory shall in future fly through distant Russia,
Each race in its own tongue shall name me far and wide,
The Slav, the Finn, the Kalmyk, all shall know me—
  The Tungoose in his reindeer hide.
Among my people I shall be long loved and cherished,
Because their noblest instincts I have e'er inflamed,
In evil hours I lit their hearts with fires of freedom,
  And never for their pleasures blamed.
O Muse, pursue the calling of thy Gods forever!
Strive not for the garland, nor look upon the pain—
Unmoved support the voice of scorn or of laudation,
  And argument with Fools disdain!

Russian Booker of the Decade Finds its Winner

The Russian Booker Prize of the Decade, a prestigious literary award, has been given to a Russian writer Aleksander Chudakov, posthumously. The award ceremony took place on December 1, in the "Golden Ring" hotel. The professional jury consisted of 33 members announced the book Haze Sets upon the Old Steps by Aleksander Chudakov as the Russian Book of the Decade. Aleksander Pavlovich Chudakov is a philologist, most famous for his researches of Anton Chekhov's creativity. He was also a publisher and an editor of Yury Tynyanov's works. Chudakov published his first autobiographic novel in 2000, in "Znamya" ("Banner") literary journal. He died in 2005. The "Students' Booker of the Decade" was given to Tatyana Tolstaya for her scandalous novel Kys'. The laureate was chosen by the students of Russian Universities. About 60 books pretended to be given the main prize. The jury picked the short-list of five finalists, which included Oleg Pavlov and his Funeral Rites in Karaganda, or, A Tale of Recent Times, the winner of the award in 2002, Zakhar Prilepin and his Sankya, the finalist of 2006’s award, Roman Senchin and his The Eltyshevs, the finalist of 2009’s award, Ludmila Ulitskaya and her Daniel Stein, Interpreter, finalist of 2007’s prize, and Aleksandr Chudakov with his Haze Sets upon the Old Steps, 2001’s finalist. The Russian Booker of the Decade laureate is to be given a money prize which is about $20,000. That sum was presented to Chudakov's widow Marietta Chudakova, who is also a prominent Russian publicist, philologist and a public figure.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Vadim Repin and Gergiev: Sibelius - Violin Concerto (Mov.1.1)

Boris Godunov is back / "Борис Годунов" снова на сцене БТ

Revival of the 1948 classic production

"Big Book-2011" Was Chosen Yesterday

Laureates of the prestigious "Big Book-2011" literary award were announced on November 29, in Moscow.

Mikhail Shishkin 

The first prize was given to Mikhail Shishkin for his book "Pismovnik". The second award was given to Vladimir Sorokin for "Metel" ("The Snowstorm") and Dmitry Bykov was named the third winner for his novel "Ostromov ili Uchenik Charodeya" ("Ostromov or the Wizard's Pupil"). All the three winners will be presented with cash awards. Award's fund is estimated at 5,5, million roubles, and 3 millions of that sum is supposed to be given to the first award's laureate. On November 23, a laureate of the "Big Book" people's choice online voting was also announced. Readers chose Mikhail Shishik with his "Pismopvnik", the choice which later was supported by the professional jury. The short-list of the award consisted of ten finalists. The full list of them you can see here (in Russian). Besides the main contest, the "Big Book" jury annually gives a special honourable award "For Honour and Dignity" to Russian prominent writers. This year the award was given to Fazil Iskander. The award "For the Contribution to Literature" was given to Peter Mayer - an English-American publisher and the ex-head of the Penguin publishing house, which had issued many books of Russian writers in English translation. ...