Literary roundup: Eugene Onegin by way of Krzhizhanovsky, and Russian novelists of the moment

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky has been receiving a lot of critical attention lately due to the NYRB’s publication of his novel The Letter-Killers Club (most recently today in the latest Quarterly Conversation) but it was another of his unpublished, unseen works that recently saw the light at Princeton University. For the 1937 centennial of Alexander Pushkin’s death, Krzhizhanovsky adapted the poet’s verse novel “Eugene Onegin” for the Moscow Chamber Theater with a score supplied by Sergei Prokofiev.

Various articles have said the play was banned though an article by John Freedman in The Moscow Times says “For various practical reasons having little to do with censorship it was abandoned before it ever reached rehearsals.” (though in another article he also writes that it was banned).

Reconstruction of the lost work was carried out by Russian scholar Caryl Emerson (see video), Prokofiev scholar Simon Morrison (who found Prokofiev’s score in an archive) and director Tim Vasen, all of whom had previously collaborated on another “lost” Pushkin-Prokofiev work in putting Vsevolod Meyerhold’s production of “Boris Gudonov” on stage.

Russian Debut writers

Moving from the troubled past of Russian literature to its troubled present (in terms of subject matter, not talent) there are a couple of articles in Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBH) that cover the country’s new literary generation. Debut award winner from 2009 Alisa Ganieva is interviewed on her novel Salam, Dalgat, which is set in her native Dagestan. Ganieva is currently on a trip to the US with a number of other Debut prize winners.

When asked if there is a writing scene in Dagestan Ganieva replies: “Unfortunately, there is no one writing about modern life.” She also says that when she returns to visit from Moscow people in Dagestan watch what they say with her because they “are afraid that I will use something they say in my books.”

Her favorite writers at the moment: Isaac Babel, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan….

A 21st century Tolstoy

“Prilepin is the biggest event in today’s Russian literature; his language reminds us of Tolstoy,” – Tatyana Tolstaya

Another article on RBH is about Zakhar Prilepin, the author of Vosmerka (or 8), which “is the most anticipated Russian book of 2012.” Prilepin’s novel Sin was voted one of the most important Russian books of the past decade. Prilepin is a two-time Chechen War veteran and former policeman who left because of low pay and anger at the ill-gotten wealth he saw all around him.

Critics, including novelist Tatyana Tolstaya, have compared Prilepin’s writing to Tolstoy, and the writer says that Tolstoy is his idol. Prilepin may also resemble Tolstoy in his political non-conformism, though as head of Nizhny Novgorod’s National Bolshevik party his activism manifests itself somewhat differently than Tolstoy’s beliefs would.

Photos – 1) Nebozvon (Skybell) by Aristarkh Vasilievich Lentulov, 2) Portrait of Anna Akhmatova, who died 46 years ago today, by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

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