Michael Shishkin

m. siskinMichael Shishkin is one of the most successful Russian authors today. He was born in 1961 in Moscow. He graduated in Linguistics and worked for awhile as a German teacher at school. After that he worked as a journalist for a literary magazine. Shishkin’s wife is Swiss, and since 1995 he has been living in Zurich working as a translator for the Federal Refugee Service. He translated his experiences from that position into the novel Maiden’s Hair (2000) for which he received the National Bestseller Prize. This book has been translated into French, Italian, Polish, Bulgarian and Chinese. The Serbian edition was published by Paideia (2006).

For his story Calligraphy Lesson (1993), published in the magazine Znamya, he was awarded the Prize for the Best Debut of the Year. The story has been published in French.

After that the novel The Seizure of Ismail (2000) received the Booker Prize for the Best Russian Novel of the Year 2000. It has been translated into French, Italian, Chinese and Serbian, in Paideia publication (2005).

For the book Russian Switzerland/A Literary- Historical Guide (2000), Shishkin received the Literary Prize of Canton Zurich. The book has been translated into German and French.

For his essay book Tracing Byron and Tolstoy in the Alps, written in German, the author was awarded the Main Literary Prize of Zurich (2002) and the French literary prize for the best foreign book of the year in 2005. The book has been translated into French.


Book reviews

I know few writers in Russia today who take what has been going on in Russia as a tragedy, not a banal tragicomedy. Michael Shishkin has managed to avoid all thal chaos: his appearances in the press haven’t been an attempt to quickly and angrily say something about his homeland which is dying, but rather they have been a kind of ’weeping by the rivers of Babylon’ (Alexander Agayev, Gazeta).

The author makes no attempt to make compromises with the times which have been turning literature into a way to forget. He tries to put together achievements of 2011‘ century Western literature and its tendency towards literary technique, and Russian literature’s focus on humans. His latest novel is a discussion about the most important thing: love taking victory over death (Dmitri Haritonov, Moskovske novosti).

What the country needs is “great literature” – “great” for the momentum of its ambition and scope. Something important and firm, something that can cork this hole in the national-cultural self-awareness, which lets out increasingly diluted air with a whistle. Maiden’s Hair by Michael Shishkin is a multi-layered, metaphorical, mythical, metaphysical novel which covers a timeframe beginning from the Civil War and ending in the contemporary Swiss Bureau for Refugees; from Artaxerxes to the Christian esotericism; from the stream of consciousness to girls’ diaries (Alexander Garos, Expert).

Maiden’s Hair is a great novel about words and language, tame and soft like clay in the hands of the master who creates a reality which is far more real and louder than realjife itself. The space between the worlds and events, reality and its transformation into something humane, forms the focus of the novel’s internal tension (Maya Kucherska, Polit.ru).

Maiden’s Hair is the least politically correct piece of work I have read lately. The topic Shishkin writes about can hardly be seen on the TV screen. Many writers speak in their books about the things a representative of a public profession cannot afford to say in an interview. Shishkin has, with his unhidden truth exposed in the novel Maiden’s Hair, exceeded all of them. He has created something that cannot be simply called a novel, but a fresco of human life (Vitali Grushko, Sanktpeterburske novosti).

The National Bestseller 2005 Prize went to Michael Shishkin… We could anathematize the jury’s decision if it wasn’t for the fact that Shishkin is an ingenious writer, undoubtedly a classic to be, who has already been incorporated into Russian literary history. That is the reason why a biased reviewer wishes to brush off all commercial and social circumstances about his triumph – and just simply be glad. They made a mistake in their judgment – thank God for that! (Nikolai Suhanov, Global.ru).

Maiden’s Hair by Michael Shishkin is real prose pleasure. This novel is not to be read – it is to be swallowed either in one big gulp or taken a little at a time, in scalding sips (Tatyana Jegereva, InOut).

Maiden’s Hair is one of those books which is a serious candidate for many literary prizes, including the Nobel. That is why the fact that Shishkin has received the National Bestseller Prize comes as no surprise. This is exactly what many other people have written about Shishkin, in turn adding epithets: a magnificent novel, huge, incredibly complex. Joyce, Nabokov, Sasha Sokolov – these are the names we keep repeating in our reviews (Vladimir Itkin, The Bookshelf).

An unusual novel. Definitely ingenious. Texts on such a high level are not written any longer because it is rude to be ingenious. It is polite to design promising projects, professionally accomplish and realize them with skill, and receive the deserved income for that. The public has grown so accustomed to such a pattern, that there is no room left for ingenuity. But Shishkin manages to avoid the patterns. Maybe that is the reason why he lives in Switzerland and doesn’t make a living by writing – he has slipped out of these parts and processes. Perhaps, more likely even, because he is an extraordinary man. So brilliant that the patterns stay at a safe distance from him (Yana Sokolova, Citaliste).

Shishkin is one of the most gifted writers on the Russian literary scene, even more so because, regardless of the fashion, he has succeeded in developing his own original style and literary conception (Ulrich Schmidt, Neue Ziiricher Zeitung).

A beautiful, powerful, fascinating book which will become a cornerstone not only in the history of Russian literature, but in the development of Russian self-awareness as well (Bahim Kenzejev., Nezavisimaja gazeta).

However, Shishkin’s work is by no means a philological novel for a narrow circle, it is not a dull read of high literature which tastes of milk gone sour. The book could, despite all their differences, become as famous as Pavić’s opus (Vladimir Berezin, Time Out).

Most critics believe that 2005 will make an entry into the history of Russian literature as the year when Michael Shishkin’s new novel Maiden’s I lair came out (Vyecheslav Ogrisko, Književna Rusija).

To draw your attention to the language of Michael Shishkin once again, for that is, what all reviewers agree about, one of the best features of his novel. The scope of his vocabulary is simply surprising, puzzling – ranging from a poison usage manual to I lie Old Church Slavic language, continuing on to highly intellectual passages which can excite any one literary aesthete. What poetic revelations there are! Surely the pages are nothing less but poetry of the highest quality. In this brief note I would like to add something about the special acoustics of Shishkin’s prose. One of the previous reviewers compared it to very fine silk: Oh, yes! It is as a rule silky and gentle, but occasionally very capricious, juicy, sticky. You will agree that a read of such richness in vocabulary is a real pleasure (Genadi Banikov, Ljubitelj knjiga).

If there was any one man in the world who could aspire to be called the sunshine of Russian literature, that would certainly be Michael Shiskin. Firstly, he is quite young – not even forty, and therefore it is early for him to be included in the living classics, even more so because that is usually followed by being laid to rest at the dump. Secondly, he is completely distanced from the literary jungle – he lives as a ’captive’ in Switzerland. Thirdly, he writes in the style of a great master, slowly – one novel in five years – and with no compromises whatsoever with market conditions. But when he writes – instant excitement, awards, reviews. Anti then back again into the shackles of creative work – until the next triumphant appearance (Galina Juzefovich, Expert).