Quick Study: Andrei Astvatsaturov writes autobiographical prose that explores his past and his city, Leningrad-St. Petersburg, with a humor that his publisher compares with Woody Allen’s.
The Astvatsaturov File: In his day job, Astvatsaturov is an academic specializing in Henry Miller and T.S. Eliot: he teaches in the history of foreign literature department at Saint Petersburg State University and heads up the literature program at Smolny College, an institution founded by SPSU and Bard College. Astvatsaturov’s debut book, People in the Nude, was shortlisted for the 2010 National Bestseller and NOS awards, and his second book, Skunkamera, was shortlisted for NOS, where it won the reader’s choice prize.
Psssst….........: Astvatsaturov was a nominee for GQ writer of the year for 2010. He has also hosted a show, “Writer’s House,” on a St. Petersburg TV station.
Astvatsaturov’s Places: Leningrad (born) and St. Petersburg (current residence). Russia. Astvatsaturov said in 2009 that he will never move away. (He also said he was embarrassed to admit he first visited Moscow at the age of 35.)
The Word on Astvatsaturov: In a review of Skunkamera, critic Galina Yuzefovich writes that the success of Astvatsaturov’s work lies in a certain something that draws his varied stories together with charm: that something is “the figure of the author-storyteller. This intellectual and loser in glasses, the perpetual victim of street thugs, is ridiculous, moneyless, and pathetic, stimulating in the reader both empathy and (particularly) sincere affection.”
Astvatsaturov on Astvatsaturov: Astvatsaturov has called his People in the Nude an “ironic self-portrait.” He thinks his readers are primarily 18-40 years of age. He also told Russian Newsweek that he thinks “readers today probably like stories about losers like me,” saying he, like his character, isn’t particularly lucky.
On Writing: When asked in an interview about how he writes, Astvatsaturov said that Russian authors tend to try to make their texts “intelligent and deep” by announcing their intentions and giving their characters monologues or making “serious philosophical digressions,” a la Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But, he says, “in the American tradition, to which I belong, writers try to root their ideas in the events themselves. I think I say very nonbanal philosophical things using funny stories and even anecdotes.” Astvatsaturov sees himself as following the lineage of such American writers as Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, Salinger, and Vonnegut, as well as the Russian tradition of Sergei Dovlatov.
Astvatsaturov Recommends: In a brief 2011 videoclip, Astvatsaturov recommended Russian writers Dmitry Bykov (including his biography Pasternak), Leonid Yuzefovich, Andrei Gelasimov, Zakhar Prilepin’s social novels Sankya and Pathology, and German Sadulaev’s A.D. and The Tablet.