This year being the centennial of Leo Tolstoy’s death, it seems unavoidable that he would figure prominently in a prestigious literary event such as Russia's 2010 Big Book Award. His life story is the subject matter and inspiration for two of the winning titles announced last Tuesday at the Russian National Library’s Pashkov House.
Leo Tolstoy: Escape from Paradise, an investigative title that focuses on Tolstoy’s mysterious decision to abandon his family estate Yasnaya Polyana and his death at a backwater train station, received the first prize. Author Pavel Basinsky, who is a cultural critic and literary magazine contributor, walked away with 3 million rubles (or $96,000) for his narrative effort that is based on archival documents. The runner-up (with prize money of 1.5 million rubles) was 2007 Russian Booker Prize winner (Matisse) and three-time nominee Alexander Ilichevsky. His novel, The Persian, follows a young Russian scientist’s return from the United States after a difficult divorce, his encounter with a childhood friend who is a falcon trainer, and their decision to form a commune in honor of futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov.
Viktor Pelevin’s novel T claimed the third prize and the Readers’ Choice Award. In it, protagonist Count T is a long-bearded nobleman who lives in Yasnaya Polyana, preaches a simple life and protects the poor. (Sounds familiar?) .Pelevin, known for satire-rich fantasy novels, is the author of The Blue Lantern (1993 Russian Booker Prize winner) and Omon Ra. Roman Sechin and Andrei Baladin come in fourth and fifth respectively. A posthumous special award was also bestowed on late 19th-century short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekov.
Established in 2005, the Big Book Prize (or Bolshaya Kniga) is the biggest literary award in Russia and CIS, with funding of 5.5 million rubles ($175,000). It 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. This year, 379 works were nominated for the award, and the 14 finalists announced at a traditional literary dinner on May 19. The public was able to access the finalists’ works, and vote for their favorite, on tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda’s web site. Unlike the Russian Booker Prize (which is all about fiction), the Big Book Prize is open to prose of any genre as long as it is written in Russian.