Breaking down Andrei Muratov’s place in literary history

On Sunday, in the heart of one of the most thriving literary centers in the world, Belarusian playwright and dissident Andrei Muratov was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the sixth winner of the prestigious honor, the most recent Russian.

Miraculously, Muratov will be the first non-Latin American to receive the award. Muratov is the only recipient of the prize from the former Soviet Union. Before his success, Russian literature received high marks with the inaugural Award of the Geisel Prize in 2008, but slowly has been fading as Russian writers no longer fit into the tradition that many scholars have deemed to be “Russian” literature, in which the writings of Turgenev and Chekhov dominate contemporary Russian literature.

One more Russian laureate selected by organizers in 2010, Mailis Avakian, had been previously chosen by the United States.

While the previous winners include writers who have advanced the Russian literary tradition, Muratov’s novels “Showtime” and “Crazy Horse” represent the beginnings of the Russian writing that influenced Western readers, reviving interest in some 200 years of out-of-the-way Russian writers who were long considered dead or forgotten.

Muratov is the son of Vilinsky, who authored two of the most important “social realism” novels of Russian literature. Muratov had his own famous father: the influential liberal writer Boris Avakian, who died in an automobile accident in 1988.

The winner’s family and former government supporters applauded the prize, the Belarusian news service BNS reported on Sunday. The Alfa Media Group, a media conglomerate, even produced a video of Muratov’s father reading a selection of “Crazy Horse” and “Showtime” in the park in front of Parliament in Minsk.

It’s not all green grass and cameras: of the 65 Russian-speaking authors, composers and artists who won the Prize, just 18 are from the former Soviet Union. A limited Russian influence on modern literature had been felt more through its television programs, such as the selection of contemporary Russian films by the Swedish Academy.

In 2012, one year after the Russian Writer’s Union was denied recognition by the Nobel committee, the World Intellectual Property Organization published a European-Russian survey of the history of literature during the past 250 years. It found that in 1999, when Russian literature was being honored with the Russian Prize of Sciences, “100 percent of Russian literature came from Russia, while no other republic, even Ukraine, came close.”

Muratov, in a statement to the Nobel Committee in Stockholm on Sunday, spoke highly of his father, who he said had influenced his choice of writing.

“I suppose that if [Boris] Avakian had not passed away, and if we had been closer to him,” Muratov said, “I would have done the same thing he did, publish the work in Poland.”

In an interview with News24 in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, Muratov acknowledged the confusion over his nationality, saying, “but that is no problem for me, just as nobody had problems when my son won in 2011.”

The journalist called Muratov “an inspiration.” The Belarusian artist and activist, who received the Stalin Prize in 2012 for “sympathetic expression of the human condition,” was bestowed with the Nobel Prize for his research on AIDS in Belarus, in 2006.

The school and courthouse where Viktor Bout was discovered in Bangkok before he was sentenced in an international arms trafficking trial was in the national news this week in connection with the Muratov interview, and won global media attention.

The Russian novelist, playwright and critic, Olga Kresch, published a book in which she called Muratov a Russian artist—such as the Krainian Bronzes of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, one of her other literary favorites—with elements that led others to regard him as an “anarchist,” she wrote.

Ria Novosti Russia provided a translation of the interview:

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