NEWSWATCH Foreign Policy Magazine: Is Russian Literature Dead? How the land of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy became a book lover’s afterthought

Bookcase file photo, adapted from image at nlm.nih.gov

[“Is Russian Literature Dead? How the land of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy became a book lover’s afterthought” – Foreign Policy Magazine – Owen Matthews – March 24, 2015]

Writing in Foreign Policy Magazine Owen Matthews addresses the lack of attention and celebrity for Russian literature created in recent decades, at least among American readers.

The last Russian novel to become a genuine American sensation was Doctor Zhivago, which was published the year before Pasternak won the 1958 Nobel Prize in literature. The most recent nonfiction book of comparable fame was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, which was published in the West in 1973. Since then, no Russian writer has enjoyed true breakout American celebrity.

In the United States, translations of Russian works lag behind other European languages.

Noble efforts to translate and promote Russia’s contemporary literature persist, but today in the United States, only about 4.6 percent of books translated into English were written in Russian, placing the language far behind French, Spanish, and German.

While some blame distribution or attitudes in the American market, other observers question the quality of modern Russian literature.

Putin biographer and journalist Masha Gessen … [says] the reason for limited international interest is that modern Russian writers aren’t producing world-class books. Russian literature ‘is not as popular because there is very little to read,’ says Gessen. Russia’s ‘general cultural rot has affected literature to an even greater extent than other cultural production.’ … Natasha Perova, whose famous Moscow publishing house, Glas, announced it was suspending work in late 2014, says … In the early 1990s, ‘everything Russian was welcome because the world had great hopes for Russia. We thought Russia would be 
reintegrating into the European context. But it gradually went back to its former practices, and people turned away from us.’

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