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Tag Archive: Pushkin House Prize

  1. The Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2015: Shortlist Announcement

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    Established in 1954 by a group of Russian émigrés in a house in west London, now located in Bloomsbury, Pushkin House has served for more than fifty years as a non-partisan meeting place for anyone interested in the open discussion of cultural, literary and political ideas pertaining to Russia.

    Three years ago, the centre inaugurated an annual book prize to recognize significant contributions to the canon of literature on Russia and in 2014, Catherine Merridale, professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary, University of London, and a leading Russian historian, won the prize for Red Fortress: The secret heart of Russia’s history (Penguin Books).

    This year, she is a judge, joined on stage by the Financial Times journalist Andrew Jack and Viv Groskop, the Festival’s Artistic Director (and one of the 2014 judges of the prize) to announce the shortlist.

    It’s a lively and brisk run through of the six contenders with Groskop introducing each title, reading a short extract to give a flavour of the book in question and throwing open the discussion of its merits to her colleagues on stage.

    First up is The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the battle over a forbidden book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée (Random House) which traces the story of Boris Pasternak’s novel, Dr Zhivago. Literary contraband, highly controversial for its failure to “conform to official cultural guidelines” it was smuggled out of Moscow in 1956, becoming a symbol of freedom and rebellion in the battle between East and West on its publication.

    A Polish writer with a “well-seasoned liver”, in the mould of Ryszard Kapuściński, Jacek Hugo-Bader has written Kolyma Diaries: A journey into Russia’s haunted hinterland, translated by Antonia Lloyd Jones (Portobello Books). It’s a searing account of his trip to Russia’s bleak north, along the 2,000 miles or so of the Kolyma Highway. In this most remote region the descendants of prisoners sent to the forced labour camps of the Soviet Gulag do whatever it takes to make a living: scholars forage for mushrooms, miners excavate mass graves searching for gold, drug addicts rub shoulders with runaway sportsmen. It’s a beautifully written book, Jack says, about a part of the world that has been largely forgotten.

    If Merridale’s prize-winning book captured the essence of Moscow, Catriona Kelly’s illustrated study St Petersburg: Shadows of the past (Yale University Press) does the same for its northern historic counterpart. It’s a social history, a comprehensive biography, that encompasses the city’s rubbish dumps and promenades, featuring a wide cast of characters from artists to politicians, addressing myths and truths, and exploring the impact of St Petersburg’s geographical location on its development, outlook and recent history.

    Groskop struggles to hold the weighty tome that is Stalin Volume 1: Paradoxes of power, 1878-1928 by Stephen Kotkin (Penguin Press) in one hand. Thickly descriptive, the fruit of countless hours spent combing the archives for details, the book is rigorously academic and exhaustively researched. Not a light read in any sense of the word.

    If you want to understand what’s going on in Ukraine today look no further than The Last Empire: The final days of the Soviet Union (Basic Books). Serhii Plokhii’s book on the events of 1991 when the Soviet Union began to unravel and Ukraine was never far from the diplomatic foreground could not have been published at a more auspicious time.

    And lastly, to Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The surreal heart of the new Russia by Peter Pomerantsev (Public Affairs). Pomerantsev’s background in television informs the filmic tone of the book and its urgent reportage. It’s a colourful, if frequently bleak, tale of the effects of oil wealth on Moscow over the past fifteen years: gangsters roam unhindered, über-expensive Maybachs glide down city streets, brash new architectural edifices mushroom.

    And lastly, an honorable mention of an important book on Putin’s Russia. As Merridale observes: “If you want to know how to organize an international criminal network, Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawis is the manual.” Unfortunately, the book isn’t on the official shortlist due to legal implications. How very Russian.

    The winner will be announced in May.

    Claudia Pugh Thomas


  2. Pushkin House Russian Book Prize Shortlist Announcement

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    Bath Festivals was extremely honoured to play host to the announcement of the shortlist for the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize last night. The Prize, now in its second year, runs in association with Waterstones and rewards the best non-fiction writing on Russia. The shortlist was selected by a panel chaired by Dr Rowan Williams, and revealed at a special event last night by fellow Prize judge Viv Groskop and Andrew Jack, journalist at the Financial Times and co-chairman of Pushkin House.

    The 2014 shortlisted titles are:
    – The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov (Head of Zeus)
    – A Spy in the Archives: a Memoir of Cold War Russia by Sheila Fitzpatrick (I.B. Tauris)
    – Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews (Bloomsbury)
    – Red Fortress: the Secret Heart of Russia’s History by Catherine Merridale (Allen Lane)
    – Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: a Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen (Transworld)
    – Musorgsky and His Circle: a Russian Musical Adventure by Stephen Walsh (Faber & Faber)

    Dr Rowan Williams said of the shortlist: “This is a list which vividly shows the breadth and depth of interest in Russian matters in the English-speaking world. These books deal both with ‘mainstream’ cultural and political history and also with utterly unexpected dimensions of the Russian heritage and some unforgettable individuals who have contributed to it. We’re delighted to have a shortlist for the 2014 Prize which offers such lively, diverse and expert perspectives on Russia, and it has been a great privilege to be involved in this work.”

    The winner of the 2014 Prize will be announced on Wednesday 30th April at a ceremony at Pushkin House, the premier centre for Russian culture in London, and will be awarded £5,000. The Prize was established in 2012 to encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world.