Michail Schischkin: Venushaar

2014 Award winners

Novel, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 2011
Translated by Andreas Tretner

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Jury’s Laudation of the Laureate / Author

Mikhail Shishkin’s “Venushaar” is a novel of stupendous complexity and beguiling diversity. The guiding and central figure is the “interpreter”, an alter ego of the author, who works for the Swiss immigration authorities. The tales of violence and expulsion he hears from the mouths of Chechen and other asylum seekers mix with his own childhood memories of Moscow and his reading of Xenophon’s war report, “Anabasis”. The author boldly adds two more sub-plots: the “interpreter’s” autobiographical reminiscences of his love affair with “Isolde” and their painful separation, and the (fictitious) diary of the Russian singer Isabella Yurieva, who recounts a century of Russian history, complete with revolution, civil war and the Stalin era, from her own personal point of view. The memoirs – which the “interpreter” could have used as material for a biography – are characterized by spontaneity and the use of the first person narrative, which expands and refreshes the choir of voices in the novel. The polyphonic aspect of the novel is complemented by numerous allusions and (hidden) citations, portrayed through various manners of speaking, linguistic gestures and stylistic variations.

“Venushaar” is a novel about private, social and political upheavals, which addresses war, flight and exile, but also celebrates the magic of love and memory and stands for the power of the word, as suggested by the motto: “For it was through the word that the world was created, and it is through the word that we shall rise again”. Here, Shishkin shows that he is a wordsmith of the highest order: not only has he developed a unique form of novel, he also plays with perspectives and settings, with the most diverse verbal registers and stylistic positions, has mastered poetic, satirical, elegiac and sarcastic tones and surprises the reader with brilliant details. The novel is a chronicle of violence and a love story, an artist’s diary and an interrogation protocol, which wraps the reader in an inter-textual fabric that extends far beyond this novel’s outstanding quality and stakes its claim to a place in world literature.”

Jury’s Laudation of the Laureate / Translator

“Mikhail Shishkin‘s novel “Venushaar“ is characterized by thematic complexity and a great diversity of manners of speech, linguistic gestures and stylistic variations. It lends a voice to Chechen refugees (applying to the Swiss immigration authorities for asylum) and their “interrogators”, the “interpreter”, who repeatedly loses himself in associative memories, the Russian singer, Isabella Yurieva, who was born in 1989 and her (fictitious) diaries, in which memoirs of epochal events alternate in stark contrast with palindromic word plays. This choir of voices is joined by numerous allusions and (hidden) citations, which form a complex intertextual fabric. Andreas Tretner has masterfully succeeded in uncovering these references and relationships and reflecting the diverse linguistic registers and templates. Biblical and interrogative tones, elegiac memories of love and the jargon of violence, poetic introspection and Xenophonesque archaisms are all plastically reproduced. He rises to the special challenge posed by the brusque changes of style and rhythm, which often make a single sentence sound polyphonic. With his alert ear for the language, Andreas Tretner has subtly replicated every linguistic nuance and hence done justice to the enormous amount of detail that has gone into this unceasingly surprising novel. A masterful translation of a literary masterpiece.”