Literary roundup: Russian heavyweights and a Bulgarian brand

If there is one reason to prefer the boxing to the literary world it is that its heavyweight division is determined by a specific number of pounds (minimum 200, or 90.7 kg.) whereas there are no clear indicators for how heavy a writer has to be to be referred to as a heavyweight. This became apparent to me this fall when the PR kicked in for “heavyweights” such as Junot Díaz, Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Ian McEwan, J. K. Rowling, Dave Eggers and Tom Wolfe. Now some of these Muhammad Alis pack more of a punch than others, but the overuse of this adjective was truly vomit-inducing (look it up, it’s pathetic) and begs the question: If Junot Díaz and J. K. Rowling are heavyweights than what is Tolstoy? A classic heavyweight?

You don’t have to go back to Tolstoy’s era to lay claim to a more impressive and weighty novel, though his country continues to produce novelists of long and challenging books. Two of the latest of these have some recent profiles calling attention to translations of their highly acclaimed novels.

Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair was just published by Open Letter Books in a translation by Marian Schwartz and he and his novel are presented in an article on Russia Beyond the Headlines.


In the New York Review of Books there is a profile of Dmitry Bykov and his novel Living Souls (subscribers only and I can’t put the link anyway because their website appears to be down.) Like Maidenhair, though it doesn’t sound like it at all, Bykov’s novel is a heavy (438 pg.) book taking on heavy subjects.

Banging the Bulgarian literary drum

The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation (EKF) is in the spotlight at Publishing Perspectives in regard to its ongoing effort to raise Bulgaria’s literary profile. Daniel Kalder spoke to EKF director Milena Deleva about the foundation and its activities and publishing partnership with Open Letter Books that has produced Thrown Into Nature by Milen Ruskov (2011), A Short Tale of Shame by Angel Igov and in January 2013 they will release 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev. EKF also has a new partnership with UK indie publisher Istros Books, which just published Nine Rabbits by Virginia Zaharieva.



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4 Comments on “Literary roundup: Russian heavyweights and a Bulgarian brand”

  1. 17/11/2012 at 4:55 pm #

    I reviewed Living Souls ages ago. Heavy stuff indeed: http://blog.semcoop.com/2010/08/01/living-souls/

    • 17/11/2012 at 6:06 pm #

      Great review, and though the NYRB review was good in the Bykov the social critic stuff it missed a lot of what you wrote about and weirdly also referred to the title ZhD as a word for Jew without the slur part (kind of important, huh).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Literary roundup: Bykov and ‘Three Sisters’ in Berlin, Prague Writers’ Festival | literalab - 27/11/2012

    […] August was one of the giants of Russian theater. Then, on December 2, Dmitry Bykov, who I recently wrote about, will be discussing “opposition among Moscow city poets” with Tilman Spengler and then there […]

  2. Reading Russia – or writers from the place with onion domes | literalab - 12/03/2013

    […] festival guest list is impressive. Besides Bykov, the other recently translated Russian heavyweight novelist, Mikhail Shishkin (Maidenhair, 2012), is also in attendance, as is historian of medieval […]

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