Nobel Awards In Russian Literature

NobelThe contenders for this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, which eventually went to South African Joseph Maxwell Coetzee, included five Russians, three poets and two prose writers, whose names will now be considered for the world's most prestigious literary award next year.

Prose authors Andrei Bitov and Timur Zulfikarov are among the five hundred names up for deliberation next year, as are poets Bella Akhmadulina and Gennadi Aighi. A recent addition is Konstantin Kedrov, who is known for his outstanding philosophical verse that combines both the traditions of Russian Futurism and the Symbolism of Alexander Blok.

Indeed, all the five Russians prefer not to dwell on mundane problems of everyday life.

The captivating Bella Akhmadulina writes about unrequited love, purity and solitude. Her poetic voice is as cold and clear as a brook bubbling in the snowy wilderness. For many years she was as popular as a pop star and her stadium recitals often reduced audiences to tears. Wrapped in black furs, with Tartar blood running in her veins, Akhmadullina's verse pierced the heart like a dagger. Today she is no longer so popular, as new times have brought with them songs, and her refined work is lost on many people. The denim generation has no use for brocade.

Will Akhmadulina win the Nobel Prize? It is hard to say. At any rate, Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva, two great Russian poetesses, never did, though they would have been worthy winners.

Russia's poets have enjoyed more success in Sweden.

Ivan Bunin was a first Russian to win the prize in 1933. One of his country's foremost poets, he sang the melancholy beauty of the Russian vistas. His love verses, brimming with passionate yet exquisite eroticism, were no less superb.

Boris Pasternak came next in 1958. In one of life's ironies, the poet of genius received his Nobel Prize for his only prose work, Doctor Zhivago.

Joseph Brodsky, the latest Russian Nobel Prize winner, who took the award in 1987, wrote poetry that resembled Venice, a place he loved very much, as his verse was literally flooded with emotion.

Today, the extravagant and energetic poet Gennadi Aighi still has a good chance of winning the prize next year. Tuneful yet bristling with latter-day booming rhythm, his verse is unique in Russian poetry. He is more of language-maker than poet. If God had given the animal kingdom the gift of poetry, Aighi's poems might have come from a lone wolf's pen.

Timur Zulfikarov, another Russian Nobel nominee, is similar to him in a way, as he also invents his own language for his prose. However, Zulfikarov's floral prose is the shadow of a peach tree in blossom on the gossamer mosaic pattern of an Oriental palace floor, while Persian miniatures echo in his books.

Neither is a household name with Russian readers. It takes a sophisticated mind to appreciate them. The best wines are kept in a cellar for years to get their inimitable aroma and colour. Obscurity can have the same effect for writers.

Andrei Bitov, another Russian nominee for the world's highest literary award, belongs to the cream of St. Petersburg's intellectuals. Highbrow aesthete and Pushkin connoisseur, he titled his best book, The Pushkin House. Written in the Soviet years, the novel was in bold contrast to the Socialist Realist mainstream. Unsurprisingly, the censors banned it, and the huge book was secretly passed from hand to hand in manuscript form. A profound yet graceful portrayal of Russian intellectuals' tormenting quest, The Pushkin House in its own way continued Doctor Zhivago, a confession and social panorama in one.

The five Russian nominees -- Bella Akhmadulina, Gennadi Aighi, Timur Zulfikarov, Andrei Bitov and Konstantin Kedrov -- are worthy successors to Russia's previous five Noble Prize winners -Ivan Bunin, Mikhail Sholokhov, Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky.

Anatoli Korolev, RIAN