Russia's Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin

January 9, 2014
Russia's Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin Russian poet Eugene Evtushenko is known to coin a phrase that “In Russia, a poet is more than just a poet”. From its title to its highlights, the new documentary Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin reflects on this Evtushenko’s sentiment.

In the introduction to the documentary Stephen Fry, whose appearance amazingly resembles Anton Chekhov’s, hails the great Russian literary tradition and points out that it “changed the literature, and particularly the literature of the novel, the world over.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, it’s literature stopped to be heard about. However, “just because we stopped reading,” says Fry as host of the documentary, “doesn’t mean the Russians stopped writing.”

Narrated by Juliet Stephenson with excerpt readings by Stephen Fry, Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin profiles six contemporary Russian authors: Zakhar Prilepin, Dmitry Bykov,  Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Mariam Petrosyan,  Anna Starobinets and Vladimir Sorokin.

Quotes from the film:

The strength of his will and his total lack of his common sense is the mystery of the Russian soul 
Ludmila Ulitskaya on Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin

If you are a strong writer you can be influential in Russia  
Dmitri Bykov

Authors and books featured in the film:

Contemporary authors: 
• Zakhar Prilepin. Referred to by Newsweek as “Russia’s Young Hemingway,” Prilepin is a veteran of the war in Chechenya, on which his 2005 novel, Pathologies, is based.

Sankya on Amazon

• Dmitry Bykov. His biography of Boris Pasternak won Russia’s 2006 National Bestseller and Big Book awards; he won the National Bestseller again in 2011 for Ostromov, or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Living Souls on Amazon

• Ludmila Ulitskaya. Ludmila Ulitskaya is one of Russia’s most popular and celebrated writers. Her first novella, Sonechka, was published in the literary journal Novyi mir in 1992 and nominated for the 1993 Russian Booker Prize

• Anna Starobinets. Starobinets’s short stories and novels defy the traditional horror genre by crossing over into fantasy, mysticism, and futuristic dystopia. Her short story collection, An Awkward Age, was a finalist for the Russian National Bestseller Prize in 2006 and has been translated into seven languages.

Anna Starobinets’ Sanctuary 3/9 has not been published yet but you might be interested in her other book The Living

• Mariam Petrosyan. Born in Armenia when it was part of the Soviet Union, Mariam Petrosyan started writing her only novel, The House that… as a teenager.

Mariam Petrosyan’s The House that .. sample translation into English

• Vladimir Sorokin. Described as “the Tarantino of Russian literature,” Sorokin’s books were banned during the Soviet era. One of Russia’s best-known contemporary writers, Sorokin received the Booker Prize in 2001 for Sbornik Rasskazov (Collected Stories).