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Russian Writers on the World Book Market, Part 2
June 28, 2015 18:58

 03. Gary Shteyngart

What does he sell?

Cocktail of Soviet satire and American scatological jokes

Where is he especially successful?

In the USA and Great Britain


A number of prestigious awards

Story of Success

The American book market is mostly focused on American plots and problems, so translated books can hardly get special attention and enjoy popularity in the USA. To be a success it must be an extraordinary story concerning American life style and issues.

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and moved to the USA at the age of seven. He writes books in English and speaks perfect Russian. What is more important is that he aptly combines Russian and modern American traditions of humour. That is he takes the best of Ilf and Petrov on the one hand and South Park and Borat on the other. Gary Shteyngart’s debut, The Russian Debutante's Handbook published in 2003 took Stephen Crane Award. His second book, satiric Absurdistan, came out in 2006 to become a best-seller and one of ledgers of the year according to The New York Times and the Time magazine. The third novel by Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story (2010) won the prestigious Woodhouse Award as the funniest book of the year.

Gary Shteyngart makes good use of his Russian origin. The main characters of his books are Russian Jews living in the USA and constantly facing clashes of the American and the Russian-Soviet in their infinite quest for self-identification.

04. Nicolai Lilin

What does he sell?

Criminals’ secrets

Where is he especially successful?

In Italy


Total circulation of over 500 thousand copies worldwide

Story of Success

It may seem like a bad joke. In Italy his allegedly autobiographical novel under the title Siberian Education enjoys crazy popularity. It narrates about life of a noble ancient Siberian tribe of anarchist criminals exiled by evil Stalin from their native Siberia to Transnistria in the 1930s.

These were not ordinary thieves or bandits, but an ancient Siberian clan of noble anarchists. They live in strict accordance with their own moral code, which makes them despise any power, whatever it might be - imperial, communistic or capitalist. The scandalous book describes in detail customs and traditions of those mysterious criminals: the way they lynch traitors and cops, hold their own kin and kith and make tattoos — in a word, explosive mixture of Emir Kusturica and Nikita Mikhalkov.

Lo and behold – readers in Italy and 23 other countries become engrossed in the exploits of noble criminals, the same-name film starring John Malkovich is released, and Nicolai Lilin, a macho man with tattoos and rugged biography (war in Chechnya and Dniester prison), gives brutal interviews.

The story of his success is a reference example of how to sell the Russian subject matter. Nicolai Lilin describes severe life of hard-boiled, but noble savages. This is what citizens of this country and especially dwellers of Siberia are like from the viewpoint of many favorably disposed but not so widely read foreigners.

05. Lyudmila Ulitskaya

What does she sell?

Humanity in Russian

Where is she especially successful?

In Germany


150 thousand sold copies of the book Through Line

 Story of Success

Lyudmila Ulitskaya is popular not only in Germany, but success of her Through Line is the most stunning example. Most of her books are sold out in circulations of 20 thousand copies in France. According to the literary agency Elkost of Yulia Dobrovolskaya, “everything that Lyudmila Ulitskaya wrote is translated and goes with a bang, with tens of thousands of book copies annually sold in Hungary”.

Moreover, Lyudmila Ulitskaya is the holder of the biggest collection of international awards among Russian authors: she is the winner of Penne Prize (1997 and 2006, Italy), Medici Prize (1998, France), Simone de Beauvoir Prize (2011, France), etc.

In some sense Lyudmila Ulitskaya is an ideal Russian writer for export. She describes usual Russian life with humanistic philosophy and universal subjects, such as life and death, memory and love. Reading such texts is an element of the modern intellectual’s image. Besides, she fits into the powerful worldwide trend of interest in a female story: most of her books unfold global problems through women’s destinies.

Russian Writers on the World Book Market, Part 1


Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Writers Lyudmila Ulitskaya Nicolai Lilin   

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