A "wonderfully diverse" set of book have been shortlisted for the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize, spanning palaces and prisons, painting and politics, Petersburg and the provinces.
The six-strong list includes books from large publishers Penguin Random House (PRH), HarperCollins and Orion as well as Yale University Press, indie Pushkin Press and American press Farrar, Straus and Giroux, covering subjects such as history, reportage, art, ballet as well as translated memoir from Russian humourist Teffi.
The award, now in its fifth year, supports the best non-fiction writing in English on the Russian-speaking world. Ones of its funders said balanced writing about the country was more important than ever “in this current climate of confusion and misunderstanding”.
The 2017 shortlisted titles are: The House of the Dead by Daniel Beer (PRH imprint Allen Lane), The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881 by Rosalind Blakesley (Yale University Press), Putin Country. A Journey into the Real Russia by Anne Garrels (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Bolshoi Confidential by Simon Morrison (HarperCollins), The Romanovs. 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Orion) and Memories - From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi with translation by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and Irina Steinberg (Pushkin Press).
Simon Franklin, professor of Slavonic Studies at Cambridge University and chair of the judges, said: “There was a really impressive range of entrants, full of original research, illuminating insights, thoughtful argument and engaging exposition, which made it difficult to pick just six. It is a wonderfully diverse selection, spanning palaces and prisons, painting and politics, Petersburg and the provinces. Any would be a worthy winner.”
The panel of judges also includes: Anne Applebaum, visiting professor at the London School of Economics and Washington Post columnist, Petr Aven, supervisory board member of Alfa Group Consortium, Charlotte Hobson, author, journalist and translator and Dominic Lieven, senior research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and winner of the 2016 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize.
Douglas Smith, who won the inaugural award in 2013 and now helps fund the prize with his wife Stephanie, said: “In this current climate of confusion and misunderstanding, honest, dispassionate, and well-informed writing on Russia is more important than ever. Stephanie and I are thrilled by the quality of this year’s shortlist and are pleased to be able to continue to support the Pushkin House Book Prize.”
Marc Polonsky, trustee of cultural heritage charity The Polonsky Foundation, the prize’s other funder, added: “The high calibre and broad range of the shortlist demonstrate the riches of Russian culture and the quality of contemporary writing about it. A difficult decision for the Pushkin House Prize judges.”
The coordinator of the book prize, Andrew Jack, also a Financial Times journalist said: “In the fifth year of the prize and the 100th year of the Russian revolution, this is a wonderfully powerful, informative and entertaining selection of works about Russia spanning the widest variety of themes and styles so far.”
The winner of the prize will be announced on 7th June at a dinner hosted by Pushkin House, the UK's oldest independent Russian cultural centre which is based in Bloomsbury, and will receive £5,000.
The award was established in 2012 to encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world.