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booker winner beats the odds

Published: December 11, 2003 (Issue # 927)



  • "White On Black" draws on Gonzales Gallego's childhood experiences.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

A Russian resident of Madrid was named winner of the 2003 Open Russia Booker Prize last week for his novel, "White on Black," published by St. Petersburg-based Limbus Press.

Paralyzed from birth, Ruben David Gonzales Gallego did not attend the ceremony last Thursday, but the $15,000 award guarantees him the publicity of Russia's most prestigious literary honor. Grandson of a general secretary of the Spanish Communist Party, Gallego grew up in a series of Soviet homes for the permanently disabled - a harrowing experience scrupulously detailed in the pages of his novel.

St. Petersburg poet and critic Tatyana Voltskaya called Gonzales Gallego's victory a rare combination of talent and remarkable life experience.

"Of course, someone might be tempted to say that the writer won primarily owing to exploitation of his sorrowful childhood and his being disabled," she said.

"But 'White on Black' is a piece of genuine art, when the writer is not playing with words for the sake of form or experiment."

The award ceremony came two months after the shortlist of six finalists was announced. Founded in 1991 by the prestigious British Booker Prize, the Russian Booker was hailed as the first independent literary award since 1917. Worldwide attention zeroed in on the winners, who have included Bulat Okudzhava, Ludmila Ulitskaya and, last year, Oleg Pavlov.

However, with the proliferation of literary prizes, many readers now look elsewhere for Russia's literary avant-garde. In 1997, the prize lost its British backing when it was taken over by a branch of the Smirnoff vodka company. In 2002, it was turned over to the Open Russia Foundation, a fund of Yukos shareholders headed by jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Of the six novels that made it to this year's shortlist, only two - Gonzales Gallego's novel and Leonid Yuzefovich's "Kazaroza" - initially appeared as books. The others - Yelena Chizhova's "Monastery," Afanasy Mamedov's "Frau Shram," Leonid Zorin's "Jupiter" and Natalia Galkina's "Villa Renault" - were printed in journals, a vestige of the Soviet literary industry that has not fared well since publishing took off in the 1990s.

Established in St. Petersburg 15 years ago, Limbus Press became Russia's first private publishing house after the downfall of the Soviet Union.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Dec. 18


Improve your English and knowledge of British culture during today’s FORM lesson at the British Book Center. These free English lessons with a native speaker elaborate not only on grammar particulars but cultural topics as well. Today’s event will discuss the BBC Two documentary “Victorian Farm Christmas.”



Friday, Dec. 19


Test your mastery of parlor games during Game Evening at the British Book Center. Learn how to play a variety of classic, mentally challenging games and use your newly acquired skills to crush weaker opponents. The event beings at 5 p.m.



Saturday, Dec. 20


The city’s Babushkina Park on Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony will be invaded by dozens of rocking-and-rolling Santa Clauses during today’s Santa Claus Parade. Not only will they parade through the park but there will also be competitions amongst the festively-clad participants and a musical master class. There will also be a prize for the best-dressed Santa Claus.


Stock up your record collection during the Vinyl Christmas Sale at the KL10TCH bar on Konyushennaya ploschad today. Spend the afternoon perusing the records for sale while listening the classic, clean sound of records spinning out hits from a variety of musical genres and time periods.



Sunday, Dec. 21


TheZenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the club’s website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.


Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts made from a plethora of sweet treats. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.



Monday, Dec. 22


Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.



Tuesday, Dec. 23


Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBA’s and Capital Legal Service’s event “Arctic Expedition” this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers’ ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email office@spiba.ru by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.



To have your event included in All About Town, email tot@sptimes.ru



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