Quick Study: Alexander Snegirev, a winner of the Debut Prize, writes short stories and novels that combine autobiography with humor and emotion.
The Snegirev File: Alexander Snegirev began publishing his stories in “thick” Russian literary journals after winning the Debut Prize for short fiction in 2005 for a collection called Elections. His novel Petroleum Venus, about an architect raising a son with Down syndrome, become a finalist for the 2009 National Bestseller Award and his Vanity, a novel about finalists for a young writers’ award, was selected as best prose of 2010 by the staff of the literary supplement of Independent Newspaper.
Psssst………: Snegirev began keeping a diary at age 10, the day after he returned from a trip to Lev Tolstoy’s estate in Yasnaya Polyana.
Snegirev’s Places: Moscow, including Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, where he studied political science.
The Word on Snegirev: Vadim Levental’, writing in the newspaper Saint Petersburg Vedomosti about all the finalists for the 2009 National Bestseller Award, called Petroleum Venus a “wonderful mischievous novel, written so spiritedly that it seems surprising that the author is a young guy, basically a beginning writer, who didn’t learn his craft in any sort of literary institute.”
Snegirev on Snegirev: When an interviewer asked Snegirev about his characters’ cynicism and other bad qualities, Snegirev said showing characters in “extreme situations—fear, danger, spiritual crisis—develops a person like chemicals develop a photograph.” Later, he added, “The writer shouldn’t teach goodness… A book should make a reader want to talk with the author, argue, agree, prove something to him, dissuade, discuss, kiss. To head outside in the middle of the night and go wherever the eye roams. To tell friends, to cry, to laugh.”
On Writing: Snegirev has said, “A writer should take risks: do what it’s better not to do. A writer should doubt: iron certainty is characteristic of idiots.” When asked in another interview if his characters are autobiographical, he said, “I write only about myself: about my feelings and perceptions, my love, my hate, my life and death. People often tell me that I write superficial texts. I get very upset. I root around in myself and in others, and look intently at the world. But perhaps my world is small, not a bottomless ocean but a sad little pond for putting out fires, turbid water that I see as the cosmos.”
Snegirev Recommends: Dostoevsky, particularly The Idiot, Crime and Punishment, and The Gambler. Venedikt Erofeev, whom he considers a sort of spiritual brother. He has also mentioned such books as Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt, as well as contemporary works including Viktor Pelevin’s Buddha’s Little Finger and The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, plus stories by Zakhar Prilepin and Oleg Zobern.
Translating Snegirev: In an interview with Publishers Weekly dated May 24, 2012, translator Arch Tate said, “I am completing a translation of Debut Prize-winner Alexander Snegirev's Petroleum Venus, a deeply felt and intricately constructed story about a 15-year-old boy with Down's syndrome, which also has a lot to say about present-day Russian morality.”