Penguin has scored two books on the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize shortlist, about Stalin’s metereologist and an eight-year journey across “forgotten Russia”.
Sir Nick Clegg, chair of the judges, said the £5,000 prize “has never been more important given the current tensions between Russian and the West”, as the shortlist was announced in Moscow for the first time on Friday (April 20th). Simon & Schuster UK (S&S UK), Profile Books, Harvard University Press (HUP) and Princeton University Press (PUP) are also in the running for the sixth year of the prize.
Penguin has scooped a pair of titles on the six-strong shortlist. The first, Stalin’s Meteorologist: One Man’s Untold Story of Love, Life, and Death by freelance writer Olivier Rolin, was translated from French by Ros Schwartz and follows celebrated meteorologist Alexey Wangenheim’s downfall from national hero to political prisoner. By chance, Rolin discovered an album of the letters and drawings which Wangenheim sent home to his wife, Varvara, and his four-year-old daughter, Eleonora. “Intrigued by these images, Rolin became determined to uncover Alexey’s story and his eventual horrifying fate,” a prize spokesperson said.
Penguin's second on the shortlist is an “extraordinary portrait of Russia in the Putin years”, Other Russias (Penguin), translated from the Russian by Thomas Campbell. Graphic artist and activist Victoria Lomasko spent eight years travelling around Russia talking to people such as schoolteachers, sex workers, children in juvenile prisons, and attended every major political rally in Moscow, considering "what is it like to grow up in a forgotten city?"
William Taubman’s exploration of the Soviet Union leader, Gorbachev: His Life and Times has earned a nomination for S&S UK. The “intensely personal portrait” follows Mikhail Gorbachev’s journey from “peasant boy” to “Soviet system’s gravedigger”, becoming one of the world’s most powerful men, whose nuclear disarmament helped end the Cold War.
The threat of bombs is also considered in Profile Books’ shortlisted title: Armageddon and Paranoia: The Nuclear Confrontation, which explores the impact of the Hiroshma bomb on 1945, considering “what this has done to the world”. Author and former British diplomat Rodric Braithwaite considers “what end could possibly be served by such fearsome means?”
Meanwhile Boston University assistant history professor Alexis Peri has been shortlisted for his look at the Nazi occupation of Leningrad in 1941. Cut off from the rest of Russia, the city remained blockaded for 872 days, costing almost a million civilian lives which ensured it was “one of the longest and deadliest sieges in modern history”. The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad is based on 125 unpublished and was published by HUP in January last year.
Fellow university press PUP is shortlisted for The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Berkeley history professor Yuri Slezkine which follows residents of a large Moscow apartment building where top Communist officials and their families lived before they were destroyed in Stalin’s purges. "Drawing on letters, diaries, and interviews, and featuring hundreds of rare photographs," a prize spokesperson, The House of Government "weaves together biography, literary criticism, architectural history, and fascinating new theories of revolutions, millennial prophecies, and reigns of terror".
As well as former deputy prime minister, Clegg , the judging panel includes Rosalind Blakesley, head of the department of the history of art at Cambridge University, Oleg Budnitsky, professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics along with Irish author Dervla Murphy and John Thornhill, innovation editor of the Financial Times.
The winner will be announced on 7th June at a dinner in Charterhouse, central London hosted by Pushkin House, a Russian culture in London.
Last year’s prize went to Blakesley's The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881, published by Yale.
The award was established in 2012 to “encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world”.