The Blessing of Language

By Kucherskaya, Maya | Russian Life, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

The Blessing of Language


Kucherskaya, Maya, Russian Life


IN EARLY JUNE, a noisy, colorful band landed in Manhattan. Thirty Russian authors, two dozen publishers, as many journalists, and half as many organizers--a large crew indeed!

The whirligig was immediately set in motion. Meetings, discussions and receptions spilled out into the furthest corners of New York: the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Library, clubs, and, of course, Javits Center, site of the BookExpo America exhibition, which was giddy with the sounds of Russian speech.

Two elderly gentlemen who were at the expo trading in children's books, after finding out I was from Russia, quickly became rather interested. "Do you like Putin? No? Well, then you must like Medved!" they exulted, hugely impressed by their own knowledge and wit.

These two would have benefited from attending the meeting with the writers Alexander Arkhangelsky and Yuri Miloslavsky, who spoke about stereotypes in perceptions of Russia.

As a matter of fact, every meeting destroyed such stereotypes. German Sadulayev, Dmitry Bykov, Sergei Kuznetsov discussed what had changed in Russian society since the demonstrations at Bolotnaya. Mikhail Shishkin, Andrei Gelasimov and Alexander Ilichevsky explained what the Russian language and writing meant to them. Zakhar Prilepin and Sergei Shergunov spoke of the Russian revolution, which in their opinion will not happen--the time has passed. Meanwhile, on the screen behind them were projected images of writers taking part in the recent protest strolls along Moscow's boulevards.

The main thing one would take away, if they attended even just a few of the meetings with Russian writers, is that Russian literature is a highly varied thing, with many genres and trends. There are exacting stylists, harsh realists, biographers, fantasy novelists, belletrists, and writers of mysteries, thrillers and "women's novels." There may be no Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, but certainly we have authors on the level of Jonathan Franzen and Cormac McCarthy. Several in fact. What are their names? That is not for me to say. Let the publishers and literary agents seek and find them on their own. …

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