In October 2018, adults went for modern prose and as for children they it seems preferred fairy tales by not only Russian writers but foreign ones too.
What adults selected: Alexei Ivanov’s “Foul Weather” and books by Guzel Yakhina
Alexei Ivanov’s “Foul Weather
The 2015 novel “Foul Weather” written by Alexei Ivanov, an author and screenwriter from the Urals, tops the list. The novel’s plot is set in 2008 in a fictional city in the Urals that resembles Ekaterinburg. Gherman Nevolin, the main protagonist, seems rather unsophisticated at first glance, and he resembles Sluzhkin from what seems to be Ivanov’s most famous novel: “TheGeographer Drank His Globe Away.” But a more detailed examination reveals his much more subtle personality.
The novel begins with Nevolin, a money collector, robbing himself in broad daylight. He scoops up 140 million roubles. What does he need the money for, and why did he decide to commit this crime? The 600-page long book offers an insight into Nevolin’s life, beginning with the war in Afghanistan and ending inside the money collector’s car. We can see the 1990s unfold in a provincial city, with an ordinary person acting as a real hero.
“My Children” and “Zuleikha Opens her Eyes” by Guzel Yakhina
Two novels by Guzel Yakhina still remain popular. Published three years ago, her book “Zuleikha opens her Eyes” tells the story of a woman from a remote Tatar village who was exiled to Siberia in 1930. And her “My Children,” a surreal fairy tale, focuses on the life of the people in the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic shortly before their deportation in 1941.
The main protagonist of “My Children,” a school teacher named Jacob Bach, is a widower raising his little daughter and an adopted boy. Jacob invents magic stories, based on traditional German fairy tales, for his children. According to Guzel Yakhina, only those with a profound knowledge of myths and legends can detect some allusions to them in the novel’s plot.
Translated into 30 languages, the novel “Zuleikha opens her Eyes” received the Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards. There are also plans to make film adaptations of both novels. Yegor Anashkin is already filming a television series starring Chulpan Khamatova as Zuleikha. In turn, Alexei Uchitel, famous for such masterpieces as “His Wife’s Diary” and “Matilda,” wants to shoot a film based on the book “My Children.”
Other popular books, selected in October, include “Woman’s Wind” by Dina Rubina, “Aviator” and “Lavr” by Yevgeny Vodolazkin, “Three Apples Fell from the Sky” by Narine Abgaryan, “The Ghost of Kant” by Tatiana Ustinova, “Origin” by Dan Brown and “The Patriot” by Andrei Rubanov.
Children’s pick: “Old Khottabych,” and “The Blue Arrow”
Lazar Lagin’s “Old Khottabych,” an epic fairy tale about a kind-hearted genie with a magic beard who eradicates his feudal habits in the company of Volka the Young Pioneer, was first published in 1938. First, it was printed in the Pionerskaya Pravda newspaper and later in Pioneer magazine. That same year, the story was published as a separate book with illustrations by Konstantin Rotov.
While working on this story, Lagin drew his inspiration from “The Brass Bottle” by English writer Thomas Anstey Guthrie who wrote his comic novels under the F. Anstey. According to its plot, angry King Solomon placed a genie in a bottle, with a modern young architect, rather than a boy, eventually setting him free.
In 1953, Lagin had to write another version of his popular book, with due account for the changed international situation. In 1955, he added seven more chapters to it. In the new book, Old Khottabych fights his old world (from where he has arrived in the Soviet Union), as well as imperialists, the United States and post-colonial Indian authorities. Lagin also wrote a screenplay for the film “Old Khottabych,” based on the book’s final version and starring Nikolai Volkov as the main protagonist.
“Smart Dog Sonya” by Andrei Usachov
And this book is based on a film, rather than the other way round. In 1991, Andrei Usachov started writing screenplays for animated cartoons starring Sonya the dog who learns to read, to behave in polite company and to learn more about the outside world. A book dealing with Sonya’s adventures came off the press in 1996. Apart from the screen adventures of the “pretty white doggie” who spends day after day looking dejectedly out of the window, the book includes stories about how Sonya learned to read, talk, sniff flowers and how she even turned into a tree.
After “Smart Dog Sonya,” Usachov wrote 11 books of poetry and 16 fairy tale collections. In 2017, another book about Sonya the dog was published, sending the doggie into the fantastic world of television commercials and other more advanced pastimes.
“The Blue Arrow” by Gianni Rodari
During the month of October, those keen little readers decided to create a festive mood in the run-up to New Year and Christmas celebrations and opted for “The Blue Arrow” by Gianni Rodari that ranks among the best 20thcentury fairy tales. Countless generations of children held their breath while reading this heart-touching story about an old lady Befana who owns a toy shop. Her wares escape from the shop window, only to become gifts for the poor boy Francesco whose mother cannot afford to buy him the Blue Arrow electric train.
Italian writer Gianni Rodari, best remembered for his “The Adventures of the Little Onion,” wrote this autobiographical fairy tale in 1964. Just like Francesco, Rodari often dreamed about toys, an unaffordable luxury in his younger days. His father died when the boy was only ten years old, and Rodari’s mother raised her three children all alone. She barely earned enough to feed them, and the future writer had to study in a religious seminary. Needless to say, he had no time to think of anything to do with pleasure.
But Rodari spent hours at the seminary’s massive library, developing a love for reading and writing. Most of all, he was interested in serious writers, including Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Vladimir Lenin and Lev Trotsky. And fairy tales came second.
In 1970, Rodari received the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award.
In October, local children also preferred “Deniska’s Tales” by Viktor Dragunsky, “The Wizard of the Emerald City” by Alexander Volkov, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Adventures of Neznaika and his Friends” by Nikolai Nosov, “The Country of Unlearned Lessons” by Liya Geraskina, “The Little Humpback Horse” by Pyotr Yershov and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain.