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With independent bookshops in decline for the third year running – and more than 70 closing in the UK last year – surely The Russian Book Shop at Waterstones, a 1,200 sq ft boutique devoted to the heirs of Pushkin in the original Cyrillic, is the last thing we need? This space at Waterstones’ flagship Piccadilly store is an interesting move, eccentrically optimistic in the climate of falling print sales.
Waterstones’ new owner, Alexander Mamut, disagrees. He is the man behind A&NN Group, the fund that bought Waterstones’ 314 stores last year for £53 million.A former adviser to Boris Yeltsin, he is a friend of the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and media mogul Evgeny Lebedev. London’s growing population of expat Russians (an estimated 100,000 and rising), who feel so at home here that they joke of living in “Moscow-on-Thames”.Ahead of Russia’s presidential elections on March 4, there is a new impetus for a cultural renaissance as many popular Russian novelists join the anti-Putin bandwagon.The bestselling author of detective novels Boris Akunin has become a significant figure in the opposition and is a founding member of the League of Voters, public figures promoting public participation in politics.The Russian language books on sale are sourced direct from Russia with assistance from both Boris Kupriyanov, the owner of Moscow’s Falanster and Tciolovskiy bookshops, and Academia Rossica, the Russian culture and arts foundation based in London. The Russian Book Shop will also stock a large selection of books in translation.The Russian Book Shop at Waterstones will launch at a glitzy, invite-only champagne reception on Thursday – 200 guests will receive a limited-edition print inspired by the poetry of Pushkin.
The party will be catered by Russia’s Mari Vanna, a restaurant brand with international aspirations.
The New Yorker has called the Mari Vanna experience “a fairy tale”. * The Russian bookshop at Waterstones will be open to the public from March 3 Top ten books from Russia Classics A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov (translated by Natasha Randall), Penguin Classics, £9.99 Before Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and all the great novels of the 19th century came Lermontov with Pechorin, the original rogue-ish hero.
Thirty-seven titles are longlisted for the 2012 Rossica Prize for best translated work from Russian, awarded in May, with new translations of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov by Roger Clarke, Tolstoy’s A Confession by ADP Briggs, Bely’s Petersburg by John Elsworth and, one of my favourites, Bulgakov’s science-fiction story The Fatal Eggs, translated by Michael Karpelson.
The list also includes two new titles by Vasily Grossman (Everything Flows and The Road, both translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Mukovnikova), whose long-overlooked masterpiece Life and Fate was recently treated to a lavish BBC Radio 4 adaptation featuring Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant.
Others worth seeking out in translation include Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Sergei Kostin, Victor Pelevin, Dmitry Bykov or the mega-selling “king of the vampires” Sergei Lukyanenko.
This year’s American book jamboree in New York in April will feature the largest representation of Russian literature in the US with 40 authors heading over.