Latest Review: "Sankya" by Zakhar Prilepin

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Kseniya Melnik on Zakhar Prilepin’s Sankya, translated by Mariya Gusev and Jeff Parker, out from Dzanc Books.

In addition to being a new name in our reviewer pool, Kseniya was one of Granta’s “New Voices” series:http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/New-Voices-Kseniya-Melnik in 2010, and has written a book of short stories, forthcoming in May of this year.

Originally published in 2006, Prilepin’s novel is still very timely and relevant to current world events. Prilepin has been called “the most important writer in modern Russia, a sensitive and intelligent critic of his country’s condition,” and is someone not afraid to express his social consciousness—a trait that easily makes him one of the country’s most popular and acclaimed contemporary authors.

Here’s the beginning of Kseniya’s review:

When Sankya was published in Russia in 2006, it became a sensation. It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award (bestowed by direct descendants of Leo Tolstoy) and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller Award. Every member of the cultural elite had an opinion on it. There was even a hatchet job by the president of Russia’s largest commercial bank; the banker-cum-critic received an avalanche of responses rebuking his review. Many reviewers disagreed with the Prilepin’s political beliefs, but acknowledged that the novel is a literary masterpiece. Already widely translated in Europe, this book struck a raw nerve, to say the least. The timely English edition, featuring an excellent translation by Mariya Gusev and Jeff Parker (with Alina Ryabovolova), and a heartfelt forward by Alexey Navalny, a Russian anti-corruption activist, will introduce America to a unique talent as well as the kind of Russia very few foreigners have seen. For the soul of the country is never in the news headlines; it is in literature. Sankya succeeds brilliantly in plunging the reader into the psyche of the young people on the fringes of the success story Russia projected to the world during the Sochi Olympics.

Twenty-two-year-old Sasha Tishin—or Sankya, as his grandmother calls him—and his friends are members of the Founders, an extremist right-wing group loosely based on the now-banned National Bolsheviks. The Founders want to tear down the corrupt government, destroy Western-style capitalism, and build a better country—one based on dignity, on ideals, one close “to the soil,” something like the Soviet Union but not quite, not so bureaucratic. If that sounds vague, it’s because in the beginning the Founders don’t have a plan beyond demonstrations, which often devolve into street vandalism. The book opens with one such protest. Sasha and his friends narrowly escape the riot police, but even the possibility of jail hardly scares Sasha. He will survive it, he thinks, because he’d survived his mandatory army service, a notoriously harsh ordeal in Russia.

For the rest of the piece, go here.

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