Russian Literature Week, London

academia rossicaFollowing on from the success of the ‘Books From Russia’ stand at the 2009 London Book Fair, Academia Rossica has announced the dates for the 2010 Russian Literature Week: 19th – 25th April.

Last year’s festival included the promotion of works by 6 of the best contemporary Russian writers: Vladimir Makanin, Dmitry Bykov, Mikhail Shishkin, Olga Slavnikova, Alexander Terekhov and Alexander Arkhangelsky.  A selection of seminars given by these authors and a number of literary prizes also took place and the annual Rossica Translation Prize was awarded.

Make sure you are free for this unique and wonderful event!

To find out more about the event visit the group on Facebook

To find out more about Academia Rossica visit their website

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Celebrate Anton Chekhov’s 150th Birthday

Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov

This year Russian literature lovers will celebrate the 150th birthday of the renowned Anton Chekhov.  From 18 – 23 January 2010, Michael Pennington, one of Britain’s finest actors, and leading Chekhov specialist, Rosamund Bartlett, will host a series of shows dedicated to the work of this fascinating writer at the Hampstead Theatre  in London.

Renowned writers and directors have chosen their favourite Chekhov stories and plays, and will be discussing them alongside readings and performances by eminent actors. Michael Pennington will also perform his acclaimed one-man show about Anton Chekhov himself.  A different show will take place each day and some performances will be accompanied by audience discussions about the great man’s work.

The events will raise money to restore the White Dacha – the house in Yalta where Chekhov wrote Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard which recently lost its state funding despite being in in serious state of disrepair.

Performance Schedule

Monday 18 January, 7.30pm
Chekhov’s Vaudevilles: Michael Frayn (with David Horovitch, Miriam Margolyes and Steve McNeil)

Tuesday 19 January, 7.30pm
Chekhov’s Women: Lynne Truss on In the Cart and The Darling (with Rosamund Pike)

Wednesday 20 January, 7.30pm
Chekhov’s Major Plays: Richard Eyre (with Tom Burke, Lisa Dillon, Michael Pennington and Harriet Walter)

Read more…

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Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov


Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company.  Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper.  He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life.  But when he opens the newspaper to find his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror.  He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.

This novel is witty, dark and draws you into the life which you imagine the supposed Russian mafia are likely to lead.  Kurkov is a fantastic writer and this novel is just one of his great successes.  In fact, this book proves that great Russian literature continues to evolve even after a lull after the fall of Communism in 1991.  Although absurd, the one character the reader empathises with turns out not to be Viktor, but Misha, the penguin who Viktor claims to love, claims to want better for, but in fact, when he becomes involved with dubious characters, his sympathy turns out to be somewhat questionable.

It is a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read and certainly not to be missed if one is particularly enthusiastic about modern Russian literature.

Death and the Penguin by Andrew Kurkov, £6.99

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The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway


I am always wary of anything that has become a hit, all too often they are quite incredibly over-rated.I am even more wary of novels based around historical events, particularly recent ones, because they can give a false portrayal.For an historian this is incredibly frustrating.However, Galloway, writes convincingly and, as his afterword explains, did a great deal of research in able to publish this novel.Although I would not call it enjoyable as such, I would describe it as a must-read.

The novel is based around three characters whose lives intertwine, albeit loosely, because of the Cellist of Sarajevo whose character is based upon Vedran Smailovic.Vedran Smailovic became renowned for playing Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor at the site where many were killed when a mortar attack hit while they queued for bread.

The three key characters typify sections of Sarajevo’s society during the siege. There is Arrow, who has sacrificed her identity but attempts to maintain her moral stance despite acting as a sniper for the resistance. She is desperate to not become as evil as those ruining one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. However, as events progress, her choices lead her down a path she would have rather avoided. Her struggle to remember her past being intensifies and final re-acceptance of her true self ends the novel dramatically.

Dragan, is an example of many men in Bosnia who helped their wives and children get out before the siege became too bad but believing it would not last long or intensify. However, he is left, lonely and scared and attempts to shy away from the familiar.

Yet, in contrast to Arrow and Dragan who try to forget the past in order to reconcile and learn to live with the current situation, Kenan and his wife cling to any familiarity possible, even if it is just a minute of electricity, a small amount of clean water or a shared joke. Dragan awaits the day he is killed or drafted into the army but tries to hide his fears from his family and maintain a strong fatherly figure.

Each, for a different reason, are drawn to the cellist and his daily, outdoor, risky concert, who and which become a symbol, for some of hope, for some of compassion, for some of the past.

The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996:

The siege was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, stretched from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996. The UN estimates that approximately ten thousand people were killed and fifty-six thousand wounded. On 22nd July 1993 an incredible 3777 shells hit the city.Last year, news of Bosnian Serb Army leader, Karadzic’s arrest and trial hit the headlines but unfortunately, General Mladic remains at large, despite attending football matched regularly and publishing a book of poetry.

Sarajevo is a beautiful city, surrounded by the hills in which Tito hid many of his weaponry.Slovenia and Croatia having already sought emancipation from the United Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Hercegovina attempted to gain independence.However, the fear of a an independent, strong and armed Bosnia led the Serbs to attain the weaponry and position themselves in ideal locations to shell key cities such as Sarajevo and Mostar.Although a great deal of reconstruction has taken place, in both Sarajevo and Mostar much destruction can still be seen, no more poignant than the ruined Sarajevo Library.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is available nationwide priced at £7.99

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