Russian books and stories, or Tolstoy in a winter landscape

The 25th Moscow International Book Fair wrapped up today and if the scant English-language news coverage is any indication, either this particular event is somewhat backward looking or else the Iron Curtain has redescended across the Continent recently without my noticing. Here are some of the headlines relating to the fair:

“Books by Fidel Castro on Exhibit at Moscow’s Book Fair,” “500 Iranian books to go on display at Moscow International Book,” “Union State to present publishing projects at Moscow International” (referring to the Union State between Belarus and Russia), “Moscow Int’l Book Fair to present ‘Good stories for good children’ (a wholesome Iranian book).

France is the guest of honor, which is awkward in a way because the hosts are also using the occasion to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Borodino, which the French may be slightly less enthusiastic about.

It’s a shame because there seem to have been a lot of interesting authors and events at the fair. Hopefully, someone more interested in literature than Lukashenko will have something to report.

Writing Russian romances

Russia Beyond the Headlines has an article on western novelists’ and historians’ ongoing fascination and literary use of the turbulence, tragedy and exoticism of Russian history and culture in “A land of stories.” Incidentally, they illustrate the article with a great photo of two men reading Lolita, a very American novel written in English that you could say displays an opposite but parallel tendency of a European (in this case, Russian) novelist using American culture for his novel.



I haven’t read the novels mentioned here but from the extracts I read and their descriptions I can’t say I’m inspired to rush out and get these tales of “human resilience and the power of art,” as Debra Dean’s bestseller “The Madonnas of Leningrad” is described here. This is what I believe the aforementioned author of Lolita would describe as Poshlust (though maybe good old-fashioned kitsch works just as well). And there’s something suspicious with the uniformity of the covers: tragic Russian story – a silhouette in a picturesque winter landscape of course.

Photo – Lev Tolstoy in a picturesque winter landscape, unintentionally pioneering as ever and little knowing what his innocent walk would give rise to.

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2 Comments on “Russian books and stories, or Tolstoy in a winter landscape”

  1. lizoksbookshelf
    13/09/2012 at 6:24 pm #

    I spent the afternoon of Wednesday, September 5 at the Moscow book fair… and find it very difficult to describe the experience or the book fair itself. That’s probably largely because I spent the majority of my time at the AST booth chatting with colleagues but it’s also because a fair number of the exhibitors at MIBF publish highly specialized books. For example, I visited the booth of The Educational and Instructional Center for Railway Transportation because I’m working on a translation that involves railroad terminology. I noticed Russian Orthodox publishers, too, but none of the political books you mention… then again, I was looking for contemporary Russian fiction!

    • 13/09/2012 at 11:49 pm #

      I was just surprised by what showed up as the news coverage – Cuba, Belarus, Iran, Belarus, Belarus, Iran. It was strange. Even though France was the guest of honor there didn’t seem to be a single French-language news story online through the end of the festival. I saw some of the contemporary writers on the program but the festival and media writing about it just haven’t bothered to mention them.

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