18 March 13 | Chad W. Post

This is a guest post from Tanya Paperny, a writer, translator, event planner, and adjunct professor of journalist and composition. Her translations of Andrei Krasnyashykh have recently appeared in The Massachusetts Review and _The Literary Review. You can read more of her writing at Culturally Progressive, her personal blog.

As Chad has already written about, Mikhail Shishkin officially declined an invitation to attend this year’s BookExpo America as part of the official Russian delegation. In his public letter, he wrote:

By taking part in the book fair as part of the official delegation . . . I am simultaneously taking on the obligations of being a representative of a state whose policy I consider ruinous for the country and of an official system I reject.

Now some Russians accuse him of trying to “create a certain image for himself” or of “having no right to say anything” because he has lived in Switzerland since 1995. Of course Masha Gessen was right when she wrote in the New York Times that Shishkin’s critics are just the “old anti-dissident demagogic standbys.” Certainly they are no different from xenophobes in the U.S. who call for immigrants to “go home if you don’t like it here.”

A similar rejection was made around 2003, when poet Kirill Medvedev renounced the copyright to all his previously-published works and stopped publishing (except on his blog), focusing his energies on leftist political actions (read more on the recent English-language translation of his work here). I believe both these men were being genuine. They were not aiming for a publicity stunt but at an honest effort to change the status quo.

But the aspect that seems to be missing from these conversations is one about gender and the priviledge inherent in male writers making these types of rejections.

As Liz Clark Wessel, editor at Argos Books and Circumference, told me: “I don’t doubt the authenticity of their pronouncements; they are just very gendered.”

Were a woman writer to make a similar public statement—rejecting an opportunity or declining to publish—she likely wouldn’t cause such a stir. A woman who made the same choice might be seen as prioritizing the domestic rather than as motivated by a political consciousness. When a woman writer has children, the world assumes she’ll retreat and stop writing, anyway. She doesn’t have the privilege of choice.
Largely this is a product—in Russia as in the United States—of the notion that the big important novels of our time are being written by men. In the U.S., the books that are said to speak to a generation (often titled “The _____”) are written by Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. These are our American literary ‘towering figures.’

It’s no accident that Shishkin has twice recieved the prestigious Большая Книга prize (translates to “The Big Book”), which has been given to 25 men since 2005 and only 6 women (by my count).

Comments are disabled for this article.
Private Life
Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:

When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .

Read More >

Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >