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Bykov wins national literary prize

Published: June 16, 2006 (Issue # 1178)


The National Bestseller Award — the only respected nationwide literary prize that has its award ceremony in St. Petersburg — this year went to Dmitry Bykov’s expertly written biography of the poet and novelist Boris Pasternak.

The award was founded in 2001. Over the contest’s brief history, its winners and finalists have included some of the country’s bestselling and most controversial writers, including Viktor Pelevin, Vladimir Sorokin, Alexander Prokhanov, Pavel Krusanov and Irina Denezhkina.

Bykov, who had been unsuccessfully nominated for the prize four times before, did not attend the award ceremony at the Astoria hotel on last Friday. The writer was on a trip to Paris, and left a soft toy of a bullfrog to serve as a stand-in. The toy, which wittly resembles the author, was introduced to the audience by Bykov’s nominator, local critic Nikita Yeliseyev.

At this year’s ceremony politics was in the air. Controversial writer and National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov presided over the six-member Small Jury (that happened to include his girlfriend, the actress Yekaterina Volkova), and politics featured prominently in critics’ speeches, almost to the exclusion of literary commentary.

The Small Jury makes the final verdict, while the Grand Jury, comprised of 19 writers, journalists, critics, publishers and cultural luminaries, chooses the six finalists from several dozen candidates.

As the ceremony’s co-presenter, journalist Artyom Troitsky put it, “in the first years of the prize’s history, historic novels and glam fiction dominated the offers but today the shortlist features three books about politics, a book about jail, a book about the hard life of a poet under the Soviet regime and only one book that makes an enjoyable read.”

Troitsky attributes this trend to the lethargic state of Russia’s current political life, leading to politics seeking refuge in literature. “When politics is in comatose condition, more and more people open up to the written form as a substitution for political standoffs, battles and controversy,” he said.

Activists from pro-Kremlin youth movements gathered outside the Astoria to protest against Limonov’s presence on the jury, holding posters bearing offensive, aggressive and threatening slogans such as “Limonov, bastard, Petrograd will punish you.”

Very few events involving National Bolsheviks have been fortunate enough to escape a violent clash among protestors, so there was a certain anticipation in the air.

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