May 01, 2013

Reflecting on Shishkin

Mikhail Shishkin’s refusal to take part in Book Expo 2013 and continue to represent “a country in which power has been seized by a corrupt, criminal regime” has thrown Russia’s literary community into a state of turmoil and placed those who shared a table with Shishkin at book fairs past – in New York (in 2012), Paris, London, Frankfurt, and Beijing – in an awkward position.

Shishkin’s fellow writers took his decision as a personal insult – he used to be just like us, received the same awards, and now he’s making it look as if we’re beneath him and support a corrupt, criminal regime. Dmitry Bykov, a true leader of the protest movement in Russia, expressed his hurt feelings in a poem that clearly hinted his own services in the struggle against the regime are every bit as worthy, but go unnoticed or unremembered. There also appeared a somewhat muddled piece by Olga Slavnikova on why she plans to continue attending book fairs.

There has been a lot of talk suggesting that Shishkin’s move was carefully calculated to create a reputation for himself as a dissident and opponent of the regime for the benefit of the Nobel Committee. You would think, “Fine!” – a Nobel Prize for Shishkin would be cause for rejoicing and take both Russian literature and Russia up a notch in the eyes of the international community. But for some reason right now nobody, including government officials, seems to feel the slightest concern for the country’s standing in the world. Instead, too many are bemoaning how easy it is to denounce Russia when you mostly live outside its borders (a point made by the eternal rebel Eduard Limonov) and accusing Shishkin of base ingratitude.

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