At this year’s Big Book Award, the biggest literary award in Russia, held at the Russian National Library’s Pashkov House, the winners were familiar names with proven literary credentials. The top prize of 3 million rubles (or $96,000) went to Mikhail Shishkin. His novel Letter-book (or Pismovnik in Russian) offers a unique plot in which the story unfolds through the many letters written by two star-crossed lovers. Time becomes relative over the pages, with Shakespeare, Marco Polo and Russian troops invading Beijing blurring the past and the present while the lovers seek to reconnect. Shishkin, who is based in Switzerland, won the 2000 Russian Booker Prize for The Taking of Izmail, while another of his works, Maidenhair, claimed the Big Book Prize and National Bestseller Prize in 2006 and 2005 respectively.
The second runner-up (with 1.5 million rubles in prize money) was Vladimir Sorokin for The Blizzard, which chronicles the travels and thoughts of a doctor rushing to treat people suffering from Bolivian hemorrhagic fever—a zombifying disease—and a driver through (what else?) a seemingly never-ending Russian blizzard. This novel has won the 2011 NOSE (New Prose) Literary Prize organized by the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation in January.
Dmitrii Bykov’s Ostromov, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice won the third prize and 1 million rubles. Set in Leningrad (as St Petersburg was formerly known), the plot revolves around tales of Russia’s last Freemasons in the 1920s and mixes history with magical realism. Four months ago, this novel took the 2011 National Bestseller Award. One of Bykov’s earlier works, Boris Pasternak, also won the National Bestseller Award five years ago.
Readers were also given a chance to vote online for their favorite titles. This year, the readers’ top selection was the same as the jury’s, thus giving Shishkin’s Letter-Book The Readers’ Choice Award. The second and third titles favored by readers were Bykov’s Ostromov, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Yury Buida’s Blue Blood. All three titles will be prominently displayed at Moscow’s third-largest bookstore, Moskva, in the coming weeks.
Big Book also honored Peter Mayer of Overlook Press (and former CEO of Penguin) for his contribution in promoting Russian literature and translating Russian works into English.
Held annually since 2005, the Big Book Award (or Bolshaya Kniga) is funded and supported by various organizations including the Centre for the Support of Russian Literature, The Federal Agency of Press and Mass Communication, The RAN Institute of Russian Literature and The Russian Book Union. Unlike the Russian Booker Prize (which only covers fiction), the Big Book Prize is open to prose of any genre as long as it is written in Russian.