The Return of the Russian Leviathan won the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2020

09 November, 2020

For the first time, the Pushkin House Prize for the best Russian Book of the year has been won by a Russian author who lives in Russia. It is the first time, too, that the Prize has been won by a book in translation. Afisha.London shares Stephen Dalziel’s, the translator’s, impressions of the The Return of the Russian Leviathan by Sergei Medvedev.

 

Medvedev is a highly astute observer of his own country. The title of the Russian original is Парк Крымского периода (Park of the Crimean Period or Crimassic Park, as the author originally planned to call the English version), which is a play on Jurassic Park and suggests Medvedev’s summary of post-Soviet Russian history. This history divides into two periods – before the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and what has happened subsequently. The book is a collection of hard-hitting and brilliantly written essays, which span this event. Medvedev sums them up with humour and divides the four sections of the book into four ‘wars’ being waged by the Kremlin: the War for Space (territory), the War for Symbols, the War for the Body and the War for Memory.

 

 

‘Space’ looks at Russia’s desire for ‘sovereignty’; even if the land in question – be it the Russian countryside or Crimea – has been ruined. It’s ‘ours’. But it’s a pyrrhic victory. ‘Symbols’ highlights the abuses of power by the elite, be it closing roads so that they can reach their dachas faster, or Igor Shuvalov flying his dogs around the world in a private jet. ‘The Body’ sees Medvedev attack Russia’s repressive and outdated attitude to homosexuality; and the way in which the state fails to protect its womenfolk from domestic abuse. And under ‘Memory’, Medvedev shows how the state has hijacked true popular reasons for celebration, such as Victory Day, by making it a ‘state’ celebration (and making a mess of that, too). With these four divisions, he carefully dissects what the modern Russian state is trying to do.

Medvedev also allows himself to illustrate points with fiction, using stories about the Golden Horde, the Decembrists and the NKVD, to show the absurdity of Russia’s ruling elite – and the danger that current policies present not only to Russia’s standing in the world but to the Russian people themselves. The award of the Pushkin House Prize (from 55 books) is a testimony to the startling picture of modern Russia that Sergei Medvedev presents. Last year the award went to Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy, which tells the story of the Chernobyl disaster, while in 2018 it was given to The War Within by Alexis Peri – a chronicle of the Leningrad blockade.

The Return of the Russian Leviathan by Sergei Medvedev (translated by Stephen Dalziel) is published by Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Buy the book on Amazon

Cover photo: Sergei Medvedev

 


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