Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Nikolay Aseyev: Northern lights (flight)

To my friends

Our lyres have rusted
from smoldering blood,
partingly empired
our furrowed brows.

This day with a rusted-through lyre
for my friends who are far I solo:

 “Flight of those

Touch strings'
night's moon,
blues, flows,
blow into day,
distance, haze,
on frozen ice

Laughing and verbose,
laughterer and verbalist,
stands a wordscourer
on the shoulder’s distance.

Threatening friends with a happy grin
I scream to earth’s far-flung colonists:

«Look-a-here resiliently -
The winds’ steely caprice:
Stilled in the flair,
simple and linear,
sing and jitterbug,
our shining,
the North boreal,
the snow silverine,
rainbow’s breasts,
play and jests!

Touch strings'
night's moon,
blues, flows,
blow into day,
distance, haze,
on frozen ice


Moscow Of The 60s

Moscow Of The 60s: These are photographs of Moscow found in an album that belonged to Murray Howe. The photographs reflect the city the way it was in the 60s. Enjoy! A Christmas tree in the Kremlin. Central squares. Metropol Movie Theater. A Lenin … Read more...

Monday, 30 January 2012

Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre

Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre: Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre is the largest and one of the most technically advanced theaters in Russia. Its main floor features ticket offices and vestibule; on the second floor and the third floor there is a concert … Read more...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

David Burlyuk: Festive Blue

A green spirit flashed boldly like a stone
Into the lake's depth where mirrors dreamt.
Look now how brightly flared the flame
Where previously nestled the dim dark.
So heartless you in me awakened sorrow
Toward the water ghosts you'd demolished.
In that flash you wished to resist absence
Above the abyss that is a festive blue.


Russian billionaire leads a London bookshop revolution

It is a literary innovation that will delight London's influx of Russians – and intrigue the intelligence services. Waterstones will open a Russian-language "bookshop" within its flagship Piccadilly store next month. Russian-speaking assistants will be recruited for the shop, which is the personal passion of Alexander Mamut, the Russian billionaire whose A&NN Group bought the high-street bookseller last year in a £53m deal. Mr Mamut, who says he enjoys reading high-quality literature in Russian and English, has named the new store "Slova", Russian for "words". It will be housed on the ground floor mezzanine level of the Piccadilly branch and contain almost 5,000 titles. Slova is expected to become a meeting point for the more literary-minded Russians in the capital. As well as stocking the classics of Russian literature – Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov – it will showcase commercial writers such as Boris Akunin and Polina Dashkova, Russia's most successful crime author, who has sold 40 million books. The move is the next stage in Mr Mamut's plan to revitalise Waterstones under James Daunt, its new managing director, by serving local communities. Mr Daunt told The Bookseller magazine: "For Russophiles and the large, vibrant Russian community in London, we aim to make Slova an irresistible literary and cultural destination. One won't be surprised at the source of the idea, given Waterstones' ownership." Mr Mamut, an oligarch with close links to the Kremlin, holds a stake in the Russian publisher Azbooka-Atticus, whose titles Waterstones will stock in Slova. Slova will also work with Academia Rossica, the Russian culture and arts foundation based in London, arranging author events, book launches and other activities. ...

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Nikolay Petrov in Recital 1988

Largely forgotten today in the music scene, Petrov would probably be considered one of today's leading pianists. His greatest weakness was his lack of many quality performances of popular and "standard" repertoire. However, those who really know great pianist playing are familiar with Petrov's outstanding recording of the orginal version of the Liszt Paganini Etudes. Other breathtaking performances of his include one of the great virtuoso performances recorded - the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 - without orchestra. Petrov's recording makes a strong argument that his performance has more excitement and drama than any pianist with orchestra.
This recital from 1988 provides a nice glimpse of some of what made Petrov such a solid pianist and outstanding technician.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Expedition Great Northern Route. On Snowmobiles To The Center Of The USSR

Expedition Great Northern Route. On Snowmobiles To The Center Of The USSR: North. Tundra. Snow. The nearest residential area is hundreds kilometers away. Many centuries ago, ancestors of modern Khanty and Komi people used these paths carrying furs, fish and utensils. Today, we will show you an expedition on snowmobiles that tried … Read more...

Monday, 23 January 2012

Nicolay Khozyainov - Chopin Etude op.10 no.1

Nikolay Khozyainov was born in Blagoveshchensk in Russia. He is studying at Moscow Conservatory under professor Mikhail Voskresensky.

Nikolay is the youngest finalist of the 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2010, awarded with distinction. Loved by public, by critics judged as 'the most mature Chopin interpreter'.

"I am sure that this pianist will soon be known all over the world. Let us hope that we will also have an opportunity to admire Khozyainov's outstanding talent here in Poland." (D. Szwarcman, Ruch Muzyczny, 25/2010).

Friday, 20 January 2012

Leningrad Philharmonic Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony

With Gennady Rozhdestvensky

Friendship in the time of terror - Nadezhda Mandelstam's unique personal tribute to poet Anna Akhmatova

Although the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) never received the highest literary honour, the Nobel Prize, the veneration she enjoyed during her lifetime as well as her ever increasing posthumous fame have made her one of the luminary figures of modern Europe. Few authors of the past century have been portrayed more often in paintings, sculptures or photographs; few bodies of poetry has been more extensively translated, interpreted, recorded and illustrated; few individuals have featured more in the letters, journals or memoirs of her contemporaries. The extensive biographical chronicles of Lydia Chukovskaya, Emma Gerstein, Mikhail Ardov and other associates have helped create a larger-than-life and almost heroic image of the poet, which has become inseparable from her work.

Anna Akhmatova herself propelled this image to mythical dimensions through the consistent self-stylisation and dramatisation of her own persona. A modern-day Cassandra, she lamented, exhorted, raged. Her view of life was characterised by an omnipresence of violence, betrayal and death. Her first husband was executed as a counterrevolutionary; her son was repeatedly sent to labour camps for political reasons; her second husband was murdered in prison; numerous friends and colleague were victims of the so-called purges.

Meanwhile, she was prohibited from publishing, forced to eke out an existence, mostly living in other people's apartments, places of asylum, emergency accommodation. The body of work that she was able to garner in the midst of her extreme suffering in life and love is a unique and varyingly orchestrated requiem. The fact that the poet was officially and publicly reviled as "half whore, half nun" in the post-war Stalinist period is certainly due to the aura and exalted image that enveloped her, and which was to be maligned at all costs - because it posed an intolerable provocation to the Soviet literary scene.

Among those who accompanied Anna Akhmatova throughout the "century of the wolves" and enjoyed her steadfast trust was Nadezhda Mandelstam. Ten years her junior, this friend - the wife and biographer of poet Ossip Mandelstam - weathered with Akhmatova the arbitrariness of power, persecution, deprivation, evacuation and also the bickering of the menage a trois. And in the process she learned that in the face of extreme circumstances, only those who refuse to to become slaves of fear are able to survive. Whoever is able to master this fear - for one's life - will maintain his individual integrity and freedom, will remain victorious, even if falling ultimately victim to oppression.

Mandelstam gained this insight from her joint experience with Anna Akhmatova, and she vividly and impressively conveys both this experience and realsation in a major memoir, which was written in her later years but was only able to be published posthumously, after the collapse of the Soviet system in 1989. Recently published in German but still not translated into English, "Erinnerungen an Anna Achmatowa" (memories of Anna Akhmatova) proves to be an utterly biased portrait of her deceased friend, which celebrates the poet as a leading artistic, moral and intellectual figure in an age of horror.

The impassioned reverence heaped upon the grande dame does not forgo elements of critique. Anna Akhmatova's virtually intimidating intelligence and presence of mind, her incorruptibility as well as her distinct authorial confidence are countered by vanity, arrogance, jealousy and, not least, a tendency towards gossip and sweeping judgements. But Mandelstam readily indulges her admired friend in all of this - and much more - in order not to diminish her glowing reputation as an icon of inner resistance.

Side by side the two women withstood two world wars, two revolutions, a civil war, multiple waves of terror and purges as well as an unparalleled gradual destruction of culture. That they not only managed to survive this "time of the plague" - in contrast to so many of their relatives and acquaintances - but were also able at times to experience it as a "time of celebration", Mandelstam attributes to the power of eros and art, and primarily poetry. Each new wave of force exercised by the state gave rise to a mass of sex affairs, divorces and remarriages among the Soviet population; terror produced something of an erotic paradise as an alternate world, a final refuge where one's own fantasy and choice could still prevail.

Naturally, erotic escapism did not protect anyone from state repression, and when a protagonist of a fleeting liaison was randomly arrested and sent to a camp, this impacted both women - the one as a previous lover and the other as the current flame - due to the prevailing practice of arresting those related to or close to the suspect. Mandelstam relates numerous tragic-comical monstrosities of this kind, but she emphasises individual mental resistance, which actually enabled her and people like her to occupy for themselves a space free of fear, impenetrable and hidden despite constant surveillance. In this space the possible world of poetry was able to at least momentarily assume the form of a reality and became a momentary respite from the murderous path towards the "clear future" of Soviet communism.

Apart from this, Madelstam's memories of Anna Akhmatova offer much more than simply a literary portrait. The swiftly penned text, which adheres neither to narrative logic nor chronology, is an epochal historical document with an authenticity both immediate and touching - subjective, headstrong, provocative, incredibly intelligent and composed, but nevertheless utterly devoid of illusion and even explicitly cynical at times.

Mandelstam's radical reassessment of modern Russian literature certainly borders on cynicism. The author sees the period as dominated by Ossip Mandelstam, to whom only Akhmatova and Pasternak can compare, whereas the canonised authors of symbolism and futurism - from Alexander Blok to Khlebnikov and Mayakovsky - only appear as minor figures in the history of literature or are explicitly described as sycophants, yes-men or even "cretins". As a whole, Mandelstam's memoirs read as a kind of "poethics", as an interdisciplinary introduction to the art of poetry and the art of living in a comfortless time - and much is to be learned from both.

 The article was originally published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on January 3, 2012.

The Akunin-Navalny interviews

Aleksey Navalny is the most striking political figure to have emerged in Russia in recent years. I would indeed go so far as to say that he is the only genuine politician in Russia today. He provokes a wide range of reactions – enthusiastic, hostile, critical, perplexed. 

 The evolution of my own views on Navalny is quite typical. At first I had no reservations about approving of him, because his story was so good: a young lawyer who singlehandedly, and using purely legal means, challenged a monstrously corrupt system, and forced it to back off with its tail between its legs. I was then terribly disappointed and alarmed when Navalny took part in a ‘Russian March’. Aha! So was he a nationalist? Or an unscrupulous populist? Or simply muddle-headed? In which case his ever growing popularity could make him dangerous. 

So I kept watching this young politician and thinking that we should try to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. 

We met during the preparations for a protest rally, and I suggested we have a public conversation, in the form of a written exchange, something I had tried before: three years ago I attempted to ‘get to the bottom of’ Mikhail Khodorkovsky in much the same way. 

So here is our conversation. Read it, and make up your own mind. 

I present it in three parts: the past, the future and what will put your mind at rest. 

Grigory Chkhartishvili, a.k.a Boris Akunin 

Part 1: The Bull by the Horns 

 G.Ch. Aleksey, very many people, both in my circle and in a much wider circle of people with similar views, have a rather ambivalent attitude towards you. They simply cannot fathom your political outlook and work out what to make of you, whether you are someone to ‘heartily approve of and support’ or ‘stop before it’s too late’. To put it dispassionately: what do you represent for democratically minded people – a temporary ally in the fight against a common enemy (criminal authoritarianism) or a possible long term collaborator?

The main reason for this mistrust is your allegiance to the idea of Russian nationalism, which is associated in the minds of the democratic intelligentsia with the black-hundredists of a century ago. I know that you have attempted to explain this many times, but so far without success. So let’s try once more.

Let’s start with an ‘infantile’ question. If I have understood it correctly, you believe in the idea of a ‘national Russian state’. What does this mean in the context of a federation whose population represents more than a hundred ethnicities, and where people of mixed race are almost in the majority in the larger cities? Should ethnic non-Russians and half-Russians feel like second class human beings in your Russia?

A.N. Grigory, with respect I honestly didn’t expect such questions either from you or from your democratic intellectual circle. The democratic intelligentsia surely read the papers, and if they are in the least interested in my activities then they should have some basic idea of my political opinions. They should know about my past with the liberal ‘Yabloko’ party, the ‘Democratic Alternative’ movement and current affairs in general. 

And your question isn’t infantile, it’s insulting. You work and work, and then the ‘democratic intelligentsia’ decide to ask whether you consider anyone to be a second class human being. There’s no such thing as a second class human being, and anyone who thinks there is, is a dangerous lunatic who should be re-educated, treated or isolated from human society. As a matter of principle there can be no question of discrimination against people on ethnic grounds.

By the way, I’m a ‘half-Russian’ myself – I’m half-Ukrainian – and have no desire whatsoever to feel like a second class human being.

G.Ch. In that case, what is a ‘national Russian state’? Or do you distance yourself from that slogan of the ‘Russian March’ in which you took part?

A.N. I have never used that slogan, but I certainly agree with Khodorkovsky’s interpretation of it as an alternative to attempts to recreate Russia in the likeness of a 19th century empire. In the modern world that is simply not viable.

The source of power in a national state is the nation, the citizens of a country, and not an elite whose slogans speak of taking over half the world and global domination, and use this as an excuse to fleece a population which is marching towards the Indian Ocean.

We need a state in order to provide a comfortable and decent life for the citizens of that state, to defend their interests, both individual and collective. A national state is the European way for Russia to develop - our snug and cosy, but at the same time strong and secure, little European home.

Take the main ‘nationalist’ text that I signed. It’s the manifesto of the NAROD (‘the people’ – trans) movement. And I still agree with every word of it.

G.Ch. Well, I am not prepared to agree with every word of it. For example, the idea of every citizen’s right to possess a gun seems in our situation a little over-romantic. I have questions about other parts of the Manifesto as well, but there’s nothing that couldn’t be sorted out in the course of a normal working discussion. I identified its main thesis, with which I am in full agreement: ’Our country’s unity, power and prosperity will only be enhanced if we can ensure equality before the law for all its citizens, whatever their ethnic origins, social status and place of residence.’ ‘I do not miss the Soviet Union as a nuclear superpower and a territory covering one sixth of the earth’s land mass; I have no nostalgia about that military-bureaucratic empire. However I have to admit to being an imperialist in a cultural-economic sense. I would like it very much if the attraction of our culture, the might of our economy and our enviable standard of living awoke in our neighbours a desire to join in a voluntary commonwealth and union with us.’ ...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Moving Tide of Abundance: Petersburg by Andrey Bely

In a chapter of his memoir, Speak, Memory, Nabokov tells of his nocturnal wanderings through St Petersburg. Real darkness and artificial light conspire to make foreign his surroundings. “Solitary street lamps were metamorphosed into sea creatures with prismatic spines”; “various architectural phantoms arose with silent suddenness”; “great, monolithic pillars of polished granite (polished by slaves, repolished by the moon, and rotating smoothly in the polished vacuum of the night) zoomed above us.” The whole scale is recalibrated, all perspective redrawn, but the young Nabokov laps it up, feeling “a cold thrill” and “Lilliputian awe” as he stops to contemplate “new colossal visions” rising up before him. He is thrown by these hall-of-mirrors distortions but not entirely surprised to be so—after all, he is in “the world’s most gaunt and enigmatic city.”

This was 1915 and Nabokov was not the only writer to consider the city enigmatic. One year later, Andrei Bely’s Petersburg was published, a novel which possesses stranger, more fantastic distortions. The characters in Bely’s book are too flummoxed by the city and intoxicated by its swirling yellow mists to share Nabokov’s thrill. Their dazedness hardens into fear, and the reader is thrilled (and admittedly flummoxed, too) by the fecundity of surrealness on show and the sheer exceptionality of such a book coming from such a country at such a time. Nabokov himself approved, declaring Petersburg one of the greatest novels of the 20th-century.

Andrei Bely was born in Moscow in 1880 as Boris Nikolayevich Bugayev. He studied mathematics at Moscow University but realized his real interest lay in writing essays and poems. His work began to appear in print in 1902, poetry collections and prose “symphonies” that belonged to the burgeoning Symbolist tradition. Russian Symbolism, modeled on its French equivalent, sought to amalgamate literary genres, and its practitioners successfully fused poetry and prose into poetic prose. Despite their radical innovations, or precisely because of them, the Symbolists were considered scandalous by purists still grounded in 19th-century realism, forcing Boris Bugayev to become Andrei Bely to spare his distinguished father’s blushes. He left Russia in 1906 as the political situation worsened, settling in Munich. When he returned to his homeland he was reinvigorated and ready to utilise his pent-up reserves of literary energy. He started tentatively, his first novel, The Silver Dove (1909), being a conventional tale about a town’s religious sect and an outsider’s reaction to it. Believing the novel to be unfinished he set about writing a sequel, but during its composition it acquired new characters, a more complex plot, and grew into a thoroughly original work of art. The result was Petersburg. Bely remained prolific until his early death in 1934, producing poems, essays on culture, literature and philosophy and, in the 1920s and 1930s, a series of novels under the collective title Moscow that were never completed.

But it is Petersburg for which he is best remembered. It appeared in English in 1959 and has stayed in print ever since. This Penguin reissue features David McDuff’s masterful 1995 translation and a new introduction by Adam Thirlwell. Both offer loving praise for their subject, praise which has been slow in coming in Bely’s native land. Considered decadent by the Soviets, the novel first appeared with major cuts and was later banned for being incommensurate to the idealised standards of Socialist Realism. Bely suffered at the hands of the critics, too; the Russian Formalists, though grudgingly commending his inventiveness, essentially deemed the Symbolists en masse irrelevant to the study and advancement of literature. Bely was only properly rehabilitated in the ‘80s and is now rightly lauded as one of the last century’s great literary talents.

But Bely makes the reader work. Petersburg has frequently been compared to Ulysses, which both helps and muddies the water. It takes place in 1905, a time of war, social unrest and the constant threat of revolution. The main strand concerns Apollon Apollonovich and his son, Nikolai (two possible antecedents of Bloom and Stephen; in addition Apollonovich has been cuckolded and jilted by a wife, Anna Petrovna, who, like Molly, reappears at the end). Nikolai, a student who has got caught up in a terrorist organization bent on political change, is coerced into taking a time bomb and assassinating a senior government senator. Through Sofya Petrovna, the source of his infatuation, and furtive dealings with shadowy conspirators, both he and the reader learn that the bomb’s target is to be his father. ...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Osip Mandelstam: The Bread is Poisoned

The bread is poisoned, air is sipped up:
It’s hard to tend to open wounds!
Poor Joseph being sold to Egypt
Would feel less wretched in his bonds.
Under pitch-dark star-studded heavens
Astride the horses with eyes shut
The Bedouins make fiery ballads
Of steps recalled from daily rut.
Mundane events feed inspiration:
A quiver lost among vast sands,
A stallion bartered – the occasions
As foggy muddiness disband.
And if intense and earnest singing 
Expands one’s breast and fills the heart,
All vanish – there reign supremely 
The stars, the distance and the bard!


Friday, 13 January 2012

Russia’s best-kept literary secret - A writer’s sense of his own importance

Commenting on recent protests in Russia, award-winning novelist Mikhail Shishkin is rather pessimistic. He compares the country to “a metro train that travels from one end of a tunnel to the other – from order-dictatorship to anarchy-democracy, and back again.” 

Shishkin’s own novels transcend the narrowly political, exploring instead the underlying human narratives of history. His works are in every sense long overdue for translation, and the time is finally here: Shishkin is the only novelist to have won the Russian Booker, Big Book and National Bestseller awards, as well as a legion of other prestigious prizes, and yet his work remains almost unknown in the English-speaking world.
Shishkin has been compared to numerous great writers, including Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce. He laughs at critics’ need to find literary similarities, but admits that Chekhov has been influential, along with Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Bunin, from whom Shishkin said he learned not to compromise as an author. “If you say to yourself ‘I will write for such-and-such a readership’ – you immediately stop being a writer and become a servant,” Shishkin said in explanation.

According to Shishkin, the literary accolades that continue to greet his novels confirm “what was important to you is also important to someone else.”

Marian Schwartz has just finished translating the award-winning “Maidenhair,” first published in Russian in 2006. The novel draws on Shishkin’s own experience of working as an interpreter for asylum seekers in the Swiss immigration office.

“Shishkin's is a voice I not only can hear in English but also find very amenable to being transformed into English.  I'm very excited that readers here, too, are going to have the chance to hear it now,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz describes the book as “extremely ambitious and daring, but ultimately tremendously rewarding.” She admits that translating it was a challenge.

“I remember all too well how confusing it was the first time I read it. Shishkin’s array of voices is dizzying in the best kind of way,” she said

Translation of this rich and allusive novel was further complicated by extensive literary references ranging from Xenephon to Agatha Christie, as well as by neologisms and wordplay, including “an entire page that is at least half palindromes.”

Meanwhile, the prolific Andrew Bromfield is producing an English version of Shishkin’s latest novel “Pismovnik” (Letter-Book), which netted the author a second Big Book award in November 2011. Academia Rossica published an extract from it earlier in the year to coincide with the London Book Fair, at which Shishkin was one of the speakers. “Letter Book” is a love story between Vladimir (Vovka) and Alexandra (Sashka), but naturally the plot is not that simple. The reader gradually realizes that the lovers are separated not only geographically (he has gone off to war), but also historically. The resulting disjunction creates a fractured hymn to the immortal power of love. Sashka writes: “All the great books and pictures aren’t about love at all… they’re about death;” Vovka writes back: “Compared to our happiness, death seems like a mere trifle.” 

According to Bromfield, Shiskin’s fascination with universal human themes is part of what makes his work accessible to a non-Russian audience, despite the intricacy of his language.

Since 1995, Shishkin has lived mostly in Switzerland; he celebrates the tradition of émigré Russian writers and dismisses the idea that writers should be tied to their native land: “The world is changing; borders disappear. In the world of the Internet, it is already irrelevant in which part of the earth a Russian writer lives and writes.” Nevertheless, he lived for most of last year in Moscow and said that it is important to him to maintain that connection with his native land.

Novelist Mikhail Shishkin, who has won all of Russia’s major literary awards, is just now being recognized in the west as a worthy successor to Russian literary giants. He spoke to Russia Beyond the Headlines’ Phoebe Taplin about writing, politics and how living abroad affects him as a Russian writer.

Russia Beyond the Headlines: You seem to be a writer for whom linguistic concerns are crucial. Do you think this makes translating your work particularly challenging?

Mikhail Shishkin: If you've read my books, then you know that the problems of love, death, human dignity, brutality, humiliation are all no less important for me than the linguistic aspects of prose. Text is only the means. Simply, it has long been the case that you can’t say anything with the usual words; they lead nowhere. You have to pave your own unique road. Of course, some things vanish in translation – word games, rhymes – but there are things that are translatable and understandable in all languages​​, for example, the need for love. Words are glass. You need to look not at the glass, but through it to God's world. Words, like glass, exist so that light can pass through them.

RBTH: You have said that a writers language should diverge fromthe normCan you say a bit more about what you meant by this?

M.S.: Would you be interested in reading a novel constructed wholly according to the textbook of how to speak and write correctly? Imagine a play entirely built of phrases from an Anglo-Russian phrasebook for tourists? It would drive you crazy! The art of prose writing consists of irregularities. There are no rules. No one can explain why one incorrect phrase can be simply wrong, and another – in the work of Brodsky or Alexander Goldstein – becomes a great line.

RBTH: You have been compared to Nabokov, Chekhov and Joyce, among others. Are there any writers you feel have particularly influenced you?

M.S.: It’s funny that critics have to compare an author to someone or other. It’s interesting. Who did Pushkin get compared with? Or Tolstoy? With age the past itself changes, and the literary influences. Previously I would have answered the question about who influenced me, thus: Sasha Sokolov, Max Frisch, Nabokov. But now it seems to me that Tolstoy, Chekhov, [Ivan] Bunin exerted the most important influences on me. Bunin taught me not to compromise, and to go on believing in myself. Chekhov passed on his sense of humanity – that there can’t be any wholly negative characters in your text. And from Tolstoy I learned not to be afraid of being naïve.

RBTH: Which contemporary writers do you find interesting?

M.S.: Definitely, Alexander Goldstein. Sadly, this writer died a few years ago. Literary critics will all one day call us his contemporaries. Russian authors write beautiful texts: Vladimir Sharov’s "Rehearsals," Dmitry Ragozin’s "Battlefield,” Maya Kucherskaya’s "Modern Paterik."

RBTH: What are your views on the recent protests in Russia? Do you have forecasts, fears, hopes for your homeland?

M.S.: My country’s problem, unfortunately, is not that the last elections were irregular, but that even if they had held without any kind of violations, United Russia would still have won anyway. The chief value in Russia, as always, is stability. And I fear we may yet look back on this period with a touch of nostalgia – “those were the days, but we didn’t appreciate them.” Gogol compared Russia with a troika, and so it seemed to generations of Russian readers, that we rush off somewhere or other in this troika. And now, Gogol would compare Russia with a metro train, which travels from one end of a tunnel to the other - from order-dictatorship to anarchy-democracy, and back again. This is its route. And you don’t go anywhere else on this train. But human happiness and unhappiness does not depend on geography and the degree of development of democratic institutions.

To call people to the barricades in Russia is beautiful, but senseless. We lived through all this already in the early '90s. All revolutions take place in the same way - the best people rise up to fight for honor and dignity, and they die. On their corpses, thieves and bandits come to power, and everything comes full circle. The same thing happened during the Orange Revolution in Kiev. The same thing is happening right before our eyes in the Arab world.

Apparently, in Russia a new generation has grown up who want to experience the barricades. Alright. They will experience them. And they will be disappointed.

RBTH: You have mentioned before that living abroad has helpedyou understand Russia more clearlyYou have pointed out that Gogol wrote the quintessentially Russian “Dead Souls” partly in Switzerland. Can you say more about this process? Do you miss Russia? How did you feel returning to collect your prize last month?

M.S.: Leaving Russia, where the language is alive and changing all the time, was very important for me. Language there is changing so fast that it can be compared to a speeding train. What today seems fresh and fashionable will already be rotten by tomorrow. A writer can ride this train, as fare-dodger or as driver, but if you live in another country, the train leaves you behind. And there’s no point running along the rails – you’ll never catch up anyway. Leaving Russia helped me understand that I did not need to run after the departing train, but to create my own language, which will be fresh and alive forever, even after I am gone.

The world is changing; borders disappear. In the world of the Internet, it is already irrelevant in which part of the earth a Russian writer lives and writes. I live in Switzerland and wrote all my major books there. The stereotypical idea of a Russian writer who is dying of homesickness and cannot write poetry outside his native tongue, was invented, of course, not by writers, but by rulers. Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bunin, Nabokov wrote their best works about Russia, while they were abroad. And if the image of the writer-emigrant, fortunately, is history, the tradition of writing in Russian in any part of the globe will nonetheless continue to grow. After all, your native land is the place where you were born, but you can and should live and write everywhere.

I am often in Russia; all last year I lived in Moscow. It’s important for me to keep that connection – to travel to meetings with my readers in provincial towns. And of course, it’s important for me that I am the only author whose books have won all the most prestigious Russian literary prizes. The prize is important because it is a sign of confirmation that you did the right thing when you wrote, by refusing to compromise with the reader. If you say to yourself: “I will write for such-and-such a readership,” you immediately stop being a writer and become a servant. This lack of compromise is vital to work. When you put that last full stop, you are in danger of being left alone with just your uncompromising ideal reader, but winning a prize means that what was important to you is also important to someone else. ...