Fri, Jan 26, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Artistry and authority

With a stellar line-up of writers, this year's Taipei Book Fair is opening up the world of Russian literature and culture

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the 2004 English-language introduction to the work, translator Andrew Reynolds wrote, "[e]ven by the idiosyncratic standards of Russian literature, the literary debut proper of Victor Erofeyev was one of the more striking confirmations of the unofficial but popular Soviet self-definition that 'we were born to turn Kafka into real life' exemplifying … the various phenomena of … censorship, repression, tragedy and farce that in some combination … inform the relationship between state power, writer and reader in Russia."

A controversial writer and critic, Erofeyev was banned from writing until 1988 and kicked out of the Writer's Guild as soon as he took up membership. His novel Russian Beauty, inflamed Russian society because of its frankly erotic young, kind-hearted bisexual heroine who has slept with half of Moscow

Yury Poliakov became well-known because of his 1987 novel A Hundred Days to Receive Orders, a work that tackled one of Russia's prevailing taboos: the portrayal of life for conscripts in the Red Army as nasty, cruel and often short. The romantic idea of the Red Army that had existed throughout the Soviet period was shattered by Poliakov's portrayal and his subsequent censorship ensured Western audiences would become aware of his work.

But all isn't politics. To balance the subversive and dissident writings of the critics, writers in other genres have been invited to show that Russian literature goes beyond criticism of the state. Sergey Lukyanenko is a science fiction writer whose novels often exist in a fantastical world where good and evil clash. His novel Night Watch was made into a movie and was one of only a handful of films from Russia that could be considered a blockbuster. The novel was translated and published in English in July of 2006.

Although the landscapes in Lukyanenko's books are often apocalyptic, he has been dubbed a humanist writer because of his emphasis on the necessary balance of good and evil.

In the genre of children's fiction and animation, Eduard Uspensky is the writer of several humorous children's books of which his Uncle Fedya, His Dog, and His Cat, is the most well-known. Named after the story's six-year-old boy because of his serious disposition, the story exemplifies Uspensky's playful disrespect for conventions is most trenchantly shown when the boy runs away from home after his parents tell him he can't keep a talking cat named Mr. Matroskin.

Though these writers are all known and respected in their literary genres and have done much to spread Russian literature throughout the world, the organizers of this year's Taipei Book Fair must be faulted for not including on the roster female writers from Russia.

For example, Natasha Perova, one of the current editors of Glas: New Russian Writing — a journal on contemporary Russian fiction based in Moscow and the UK — would have been an excellent compliment to the current lineup, not least because she could have provided some insight on the difficulties of publishing Russian literature abroad.

Still, the organizers must be complimented for bringing over from Russia a group of writers who stand as a testament to the fine tradition of Russian literature.

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