Quick Study: Roman Senchin is known for writing realistic fiction documenting difficulties of contemporary Russian life, often setting his work in remote cities and towns.
The Senchin File: Roman Senchin is probably best known for The Yeltyshevs, a 2009 novel about the demise of a provincial family. Many readers see The Yeltyshevs—a dark novel fitting squarely into a naturalistic genre known as chernukha that inventories societal and personal ills of post-Soviet life—as Senchin’s breakout novel. The Yeltyshevs was shortlisted for the Big Book, Russian Booker, Yasnaya Polyana, and National Bestseller awards as well as the Russian Booker of the Decade but won none. A later book, The Information, chronicles a young urban man’s losses; Senchin’s previous novels include Minus, a book about small city life that has been translated into English, and Nubuck, about young entrepreneurs in St. Petersburg. Senchin has also published several collections of short stories and writes for the newspaper Literary Russia, where he is an editor.
Psssst………: Senchin says he was a bad student in high school and applied to Novosibirsk University but his essay was given a 2 (out of 5) because of poor writing… he went to Leningrad instead, where he attended construction courses at a technical school (and rock concerts) then began his army service in Karelia, where he took up an offer to go to the KGB’s cooking school in Petrozavodsk for six months, then returned to finish his army service, where his duties included bread cutting for several weeks, a job he lost because he gave extra portions of butter and sugar to older diners.
Senchin’s Places: Born in Kyzyl in what is now the Republic of Tuva… worked in agriculture in the Krasnoyarsk region… lives in Moscow, where he studied at the Literary Institute…
The Word on Senchin: Critic Lev Danilkin wrote for Afisha that Senchin’s The Yeltyshevs should be required reading in Russian schools. The Yeltyshevs, says Danilkin, “is village prose [written] the only way it could be now.” Danilkin also praises Senchin’s ability to capture the mood of the time and create characters, “Senchin has a tremendous gift for creating scenes with those nonverbal, predictable, background, supporting people who don’t have plot potential or get much attention from anyone (including, as a rule, literature), and making them into main characters.” In Izvestiia, critic Liza Novikova called Senchin’s The Information a social-existential novel and said “Senchin rather masterfully records the main character’s lexical degradation.” Novikova also notes that the book includes small roles—not quite homages, not quite parodies—for fictionalized versions of such young Russian writers as Sergei Shargunov, Zakhar Prilepin, and Alisa Ganieva.
Senchin on Senchin: Senchin told Zakhar Prilepin in an undated (but apparently from 2007) interview that he’s been many things in his life—including student, teacher, yard worker—“but the main thing was still to write. Even if nobody knew about my writing except me… Of course I wanted to try a lot of things in life, work in various jobs, but for the sake of enriching myself as a writer.”
On Writing: Senchin also told Prilepin that he began writing as a child, saying that a story he wrote as a teenager was read on the radio, after editing that transformed a teacher character into a more positive figure... Senchin told Prilepin he considered his first book, Athens Nights, his most important, saying “I wrote it exclusively for myself, or for everybody. And sometimes when I look at that book, some piece of it will surprise me and I think, ‘Did I really write that?’”
Senchin Recommends: In his talk with Prilepin, Senchin says “I think all genuine literature is existential,” going on to say he sees Lev Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilich as “the height of what can be called existentialism.” Senchin also says Leonid Andreev depicts life at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries more vividly than other writers and says Andreev was a prophet during his first decade of writing.
Photo credit: KatreneKukanova, Creative Commons