Modern genius can often be overshadowed by the pioneers. For those who paved the way tend to retain a hold on the glory that is only rationed to those who are only paying their dues to the greats. But is that really so? Are the apostles doomed to be overshadowed by the mavericks?
Overshadowed? Perhaps. But when it comes to pure talent and skill, it is undoubtedly true that every generation of artists offers its share of reputable dynamos that have the potential to cast that daunting silhouette upon future marvels.
Classic Russian writers have always been paradigms of exceptional literary prowess. The names of Tolstoy, Dostoyesvky, Turgenev, and Pushkin, draw reverence within libraries and educational establishments throughout the world – and set a standard for the written word that may perhaps seem unattainable. Therefore the pursuit of greatness for any Russian wordsmith may be a rather arduous one.
Nevertheless, there are those who take that heavy weight of expectations and use it to balance the odds in their favour – to great results. And here we have five contemporary Russian writers who did exactly that.
Born in Bashkiria but relocated to Moscow soon after, Ulitskaya’s original career path involved work in genetics. However, after quitting her job at a genetics institute in 1970, she decided to focus her attention on literature and became involved at a Jewish musical theatre in Moscow.
Now an internationally recognized author, Ulitskaya’s fiction began making its way into publication in 1980, and would go on to win her such accolades as the French Medici Prize for her novella “Sonechka” the prestigious Russian Booker Prize for “The Kukotsy Enigma”, and the Big Book award for her novel “Detective Stein, Interpreter.”
A writer of stern prose, Ulitskaya’s Jewish heritage has had a huge influence upon her writing, and her devotion to her craft continues to enrich the imagination of her readers to this day.
A nominee of the Russian Booker Prize for both poetry and his debut novel “Omon Ra”, and laureate of two Big Book awards, Pelevin’s postmodern works offer an out-of-the-ordinary look and critique of the Russian regimes of his time, and present them in stimulating and progressive form.
Whilst not much is known about Pelevin’s personal life – as the writer chooses to maintain an existence of almost complete privacy – his ability to create acute social commentary through fantasy grants him an iron clad spot on this list.
Drawing on the influences from classic Russian and European literature, Shishkin makes full use of language to achieve an extensive writing style that has earned him high praise for its complexity and cogency. His novels boast complicated webbing of timelines and settings that turn every one of his works in a visceral puzzle of metaphorical bliss.
Capable of writing both in Russian and German, Shishkin is not only a fiction writer, but also a prolific essayist, historical writer, and has even published a literary travel guide “Russian Switzerland” in 1999. (Switzerland being the author’s home since 1995). Shishkin is a true talent that not only refines the minds of his readers, but medium itself.
Unless you mention Arthur Conan-Doyle or Agatha Christie, serialized detective can often be overlooked when the conversation weaves towards serious literature. However, that hasn’t stopped Georgian-born detective master Akunin from becoming one of the most read contemporary writers in Russia.
His series of historical fiction that centres around the character of Erast Fandorin – a detective in 19th century Imperial Russia – spans 15 novels, and has sold over 15 million copies. Akunin’s immersive, Dickensian approach to thriller escapism allow him to walk that ever illusive line between genius and popularity, and thus makes him a formidable presence in the literary ranks of Russia’s cultural landscape.
The last and youngest entrant on this list – but by no means less of a force on the Russian literary frontiers – Kazan-born Guzel is a prime example of what makes Russian literature such a poignant and piercing influence when it comes to the written word.
Much in the vein of classic Russian litarary giants, Guzel’s ability to draw on her heritage has allowed her to fill the page with compelling and poignant prose that channels both emotion and thought – which is demonstrated so well in “Zuleikha”, her breakthrough novel about the Dekulakization period in Russian history (which earned her both the Big Book and the Yasnaya Polyana litarary awards. And with only two novels under her belt, she is just getting started.
So there you have it. Granted that there are many more contemporary Russian writers who are maintaining the high standard of Russian literature in this day and age – perhaps some are even yet to be discovered – but these are just a few who have stepped out from within the penumbra of the greats, and have managed to cast of mighty shadow of their own.