Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 34

Moscow is in the grip of one of its famous literary scandals. The winner of this year’s "Anti-Booker Prize," Sergei Gadlevsky, has ostentatiously rejected the prize. Gadlevsky is a well-known modernist poet who never published a line in the USSR under the Communist regime (though he did publish his poems abroad). He complains that he was humiliated by being made to go cap in hand for his prize money (supposedly worth $12,000 plus or minus $1). The sponsors — the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta — retort that the real reason Gadlevsky has rejected the prize money is that it was paid in rubles, not dollars, and that income tax was deducted at source, leaving the equivalent of $8,000. They rubbed salt in the wound by telling Gadlevsky, "Even Chubais has to pay his taxes." (Kommersant-daily, February 4; Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 12)

The uproar is symptomatic of Russia’s initiation into the ways of the western world. The "Anti-Booker" was established in reaction against the "Russian Booker Prize," set up five years ago by the British food distribution company that sponsors the most prestigious event of Britain’s literary calendar, the annual Booker Prize for fiction. The sponsors of the "Anti-Booker" objected that the "Russian Booker" was funded by a western firm and that the first recipients were members of the "generation of 1960-ers" such as Bulat Okudzhava, Vladimir Makanin and Georgi Vladimov. This provoked ill feeling among the younger generation of Russian writers, who think the "Sixtiers" have basked in the limelight long enough and that it is time their own literary achievements were recognized. But the founders of the "Russian Booker" are satisfied. They say it has already realized their ambitions by revitalizing Russia’s formerly moribund publishing industry: book shops are experiencing a new lease on life and Russian publishers feel confident enough to have begun to commission first novels by unknown authors.

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