Last year I wrote a "best of 2009" post for Arcade. This year I want to do something different. I want to share someone else's list. Part of it, anyway.
Recently I stumbled across VladNews.ru, a Russian-language news portal focusing on the Pacific port city of Vladivostok and its hinterland. On 17 December, it posted an amazingly long, lovingly detailed, anonymous year-in-review piece.
It goes on and on and on, including sections on literature, the internet, architecture, classical music, art, popular music, TV shows, "festival cinema," "blockbuster" films, theater, ballet, fashion, and design.
Here are the top ten literary highlights of 2010, as judged on the other side of the Pacific:
- Pelevin's Return. Viktor Pelevin has published a new story collection, "Ананасная вода для прекрасной дамы" (Pineapple Water for the Wonderful Lady). The master of post-Soviet postmodernist psychedelic prose is back and in fine form, paying more attention to characterization than previously.
- The Death of J.D. Salinger. Everyone expected a scandal -- but there wasn't one. No compromising unpublished letters made public. No catty outbursts from neighbors or relatives. The only revelation: "He turns out to have been less reclusive than we thought." Now that's the way all great writers should die.
- A New Style Emerges. Anatolii Gavrilov's "Берлинская флейта" (The Berlin Flute) and Dmitrii Danilov's "Черное и зеленое" (Black and Green), both unusually minimalist and "lacking in intonation" compared to other recent high-profile Russian novels, were finalists for the Andrei Bely Prize, and Gavrilov's won.
- Vanguardism Lives. The British writer Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder (2005) was translated into Russian. It proves that the literary avant-garde is not yet dead: new formal possibilities remain unexplored, especially the use of techniques borrowed from cinema.
- Dmitrii Volchek's Rant. In an interview with the web site OpenSpace.ru, the editor Dmitrii Volchek savaged the literary mainstream in Russia and called the literary critics who pander to it "corrupt" and the labeled presses that publish such dreck "tasteless monsters." Over thirty thousand people viewed his screed, and many left enthusiastic comments agreeing with him.
- Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel Prize. Finally, the Nobel shook off its recent tendency to give awards based purely on politics and lived up to its reputation as the "most important literary prize" in the world. Instead of celebrating writers who are "practically unknown" in Russia--for example, Doris Lessing and J.M.G. Le Clézio--the committee at last chose somebody with a verifiably world-wide reputation. "The unpleasant feeling of exclusion is replaced by a sense of belonging. For this year, anyway."
- Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Freedom was the most eagerly anticipated American novel of the last decade, indeed one of the very few works by a living American writer ever to receive more attention from the Russian media than works by his Russian peers. Unfortunately, great expectations can lead to great disappointment, as when a multi-page paraphrase of War and Peace proves so weirdly Amerocentric that it leads a character to go put an Obama bumpersticker on his hybrid car.
- Continuing Appeal of the Classics. At bookfairs new writers were ignored in the rush to buy and read new publications by early twentieth-century masters such as the poet Aleksandr Vvedenskii, the novelist Andrei Platonov, the children's author Mikhail Pishvin, and the short story writer Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.
- Gotta Dance. Two must-read books of 2010 were Tatiana Kuznetzova's "Хроники Большого балета. 1994-2009" (Chronicles of the Bolshoi Ballet 1994-2009) and "Разговоры о русском балете" (Conversations About Russian Ballet) by Vadim Gaievskii and Pavel Gershenzon.
- Revived Interest in Eastern Europe. Strong sales of Michał Witkowski's Barbara Radziwiłłówna from Jaworzna-Szczakowej (2007) attracted attention to other books originally published in Polish, including Witkowski's earlier Lovetown (2005), about queer life in Cold War-era Poland, and Mariusz Szczygieł's Gottland (2006), a nonfiction book about Czech culture and history. Also making an impression was De ce iubim femeile (Why We Love Women), a novel by the Romanian author Mircea Cărtărescu. Clearly, VladNews asserts, it's time to stop feeling resentment toward the old Soviet bloc; it's helping launch a new era in European letters.
It's curious and instructive to see a year through very different eyes. I'm now going to have to get my hands on Witkowski's Barbara Radziwiłłówna z Jaworzna-Szczakowej. Or at least practice saying the title over and over. And I can end 2010 contentedly, knowing that Franzen's Freedom is a bust in Russian, too. I still haven't been able to read more than half of it. I'd much rather get lost in one of Viktor Pelevin's "matrioshka dolls of endless nested realities."
С новым годом! / Happy New Year!