Aleksandr Skorobogatov: press and reviews on the books
PRAISE FOR COCAINE BY ALEKSANDR SKOROBOGATOV
Cutting Edge Awards 2018: ‘Best Translated Book of the Year’, winner
ELLE Belgium: ‘Author of the Month’
Literatuurplein: ‘Best Book of the Week’
Absolutely one of the most amazing books of 2017. Skorobogatov proves himself a worthy successor to surrealists such as André Breton. It’s irresistibly funny. From the dazzling opening pages, the story grabs you, and you won’t be able to put it down.
— Sonja de Jong, Noordhollands Dagblad
Cocaine is a must-read book.
— Eveline Janssens, Elle Belgium
In the manner of the Russian greats, Skorobogatov writes about inhuman pain and turns it into an absurd and burlesque theatre. This is a novel that is consistently unconventional, an experiment carried through to its radical conclusion, a novel you have to be prepared to open yourself up to. It is a celebration of the imagination. Skorobogatov is a gifted builder of sentences, as he already demonstrated with his breathtaking Portrait of an Unknown Girl. The self-mockery of the characters in Cocaine, in particular the figure of the author, is sharp as a knife. Doubt as the main engine of creativity, fully articulated. In this sense, this book goes much further than the so-called total theatre of Karl Ove Knausgård. Cocaine is, both literally and figuratively, a beautiful masked ball.
— Guus Bauer, TZUM / Literatuurplein
Skorobogatov’s startling talent as a writer leaves you speechless with admiration.
— Ellen de Jong, Baarnsche Courant
Readers who swooned over his wonderful Portrait of an Unknown Girl or raced through the pulse-pounding ‘modern classic’ Sergeant Bertrand won’t know what’s in store for them when they start reading Cocaine, the new novel by the Antwerp-based Russian writer Aleksandr Skorobogatov. Skorobogatov gloriously goes off the rails and bends every rule. Anyone who dares to board this surreal rollercoaster ride of a novel will find themselves tumbling and swaying ecstatically from screamingly funny formal experiments to hilarious political hot-button issues and pitch-dark fever dreams. Whoever manages to get off unscathed will never see the world in the same way again. Not for the faint of heart, but what a great book!
— Bent Van Looy, Culture Club Magazine
About each aspect of this novel (title, plot, style, meaning) you could easily write a paper, or a dissertation even.
— Hans van Willigenburg, ThePostOnline
With Cocaine, the author enthusiastically dives into the maelstrom of that voracious, unbridled Russian literature: a mix of a precipitous imagination, trenchant political criticism hidden behind “abstraction,” surrealism and frequently open and frank sarcasm.
In this tragihilarious novel, Skorobogatov plunges himself and his readers into the increasingly disturbed mind of an author, a figure that’s familiar and yet unknown to us: he could have just stepped out of The Brothers Karamazov, The Master and Margarita, or Gogol’s The Nose. Walking around in circles in his own mind, aided by a more or else constant intake of alcohol. And by characters that belong to the Russian equivalents of Brueghel and Bosch, dramatically clownesque, propelling themselves towards ever new precipices.
I love reading in bed, and I’m laughing out loud in bed with this silly, exuberant Russian Pallieter [the bawdy bon-vivant of a famous early 20th-century novel by Felix Timmermans], to the dismay of my bedfellow. What a treasure, literature like this, unrestrained, defiant, melancholy, in-your-face — and impossible to summarize neatly, but gloriously jolting and jarring, in search of the limits to the imagination of this exceptional writer — but you won’t find them in this book. Cocaine is a gift from Aleksandr Skorobogatov. Open it and snort away!
— René Hooyberghs, Gierik & NVT
Deliciously intricate and just as enthralling. As a reader you are constantly being misdirected, and the sheer improbability of the story exerts an irresistible pull. Cocaine is a dream like no other.
— Stefan Blommaert, VRT
Cocaine is one big joke with, as befits a good joke, sharp edges and a bitter taste. A darkly absurd novel as it has been perfected by Russian literature. Skorobogatov pulls out all the stops in Cocaine; brilliant sentences go hand in hand with unrestrained rambling. Drunkenness, murder, fighting, incest: Skorobogatov goes all the way. Fortunately, we don’t have to take anything seriously. To wit: the scene in which a beautiful Swedish woman confesses that deep down she isn’t a woman but a chair.
There’s serious drama brewing in Cocaine: it’s about the impossibility of feeling at home, the impossibility of knowing the rules and regulations. How to live? For a ‘traveler’ — a euphemism for an emigrant — there are fewer toeholds in the stream of hallucinations that reality pretends to consist of. And that’s the best experience of reading this at times brilliant and at times lurid novel: what happens to you when the ground beneath your feet gives way, when you lose your family and loved ones, when the rabbit hole is flooded by a big wave. When everything is turned on its head, can incest be love? Can the dead come back to life? Can the pain of life cease when you become someone else? Can a book be read while the writer is still writing it? Well, why not?
— Maria Vlaar, De Standaard der Letteren (4 out of 5 stars)
Tripping is nothing compared to this rollercoaster ride of fevered images. A dazzling and uncompromising descent into the subconscious as only great Russian writers dare undertake it.
— Chris Ceustermans, Gierik & NVT
In a ceaseless, enjoyably crazy flow of hallucinations, this extravagant ode to artistry explores the limits of the imagination and the Russian absurdist tradition.
Experimentation is clearly central to Cocaine. All the way towards the border of sanity. This book shamelessly wants to move boundaries. My advice for how to savor this overwhelming satirical onslaught? Take a deep breath, pull out all the stops in your mind, and give yourself over to it entirely. Let yourself go, let yourself be swept along, like an uprooted tree in a tornado.
If you succeed in removing all those rusted dampers on your imagination (remember Coleridge’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief,’ and see also my earlier advice), then I guarantee boundless reading pleasure will be yours.
The writer as the conscience of society, as an unapproachable demiurge, as a safety-net and as a beacon. Skorobogatov aims high, mixes the burlesque with the tragic and gets away with it brilliantly. In this exuberant phantasmagoria with the technical ingeniousness of a Fabergé egg, nothing is what it seems and everything seems possible. Which, the way I see it, perfectly describes the literary imagination.
— Laudrent De Maertelaer, MappaLibri
The novel’s flap copy places Cocaine within the best Russian tradition. Dostoevsky is never far away and, like Nabokov, Skorobogatov engages the reader in battle. But we can also place this novel in the tradition of Vonnegut, Heller or Joyce. Like them, Skorobogatov understands that reality cannot be captured in a simple, well-rounded story. With Cocaine, has Skorobogatov delivered his own Ulysses?
When, 100 years from now, this novel will be analyzed as a product of the times in which it was written, it will show a world both fragmented and fragmentary, but also rich and multi-faceted. Snort this literary Cocaine! It is a fever dream, a maelstrom, a disconcerting but exquisite kaleidoscope.
— Karel-Willem Delrue, Cutting Edge (4 out of 5 stars)
The trip undertaken by the protagonist of Cocaine is also a journey through world literature. The formal experimentation of Cocaine is reminiscent of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Sarah, neither man nor woman, but someone who feels like a chair and is looking for someone willing to take a seat on them, could have been thought up by a latter-day Gogol, and intellectually and emotionally, the Antwerp-based Russian author Aleksandr Skorobogatov seems to be a long-lost cousin of Beckett. Because that’s what this novel is really about: an existential fear and the unbridgeable gap between the artist and the world in which he lives.
— Marnix Verplanke, Knack Focus
PRAISE FOR SERGEANT BERTRAND BY ALEKSANDR SKOROBOGATOV
Yunost: ‘Best Novel of the Year’, Russia, 1991
Overall Winner of the XXXIVth International Literary Award ‘Città di Penne – Mosca’, Italy, 2012
Medal of the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano, Italy, 2012
A grand Russian novel where the hero is a husband tortured by the demons of jealousy. With this beautiful tragic novel, Skorobogatov has carved a place for himself in the grand Russian tradition.
— Le Figaro
Sergeant Bertrand is an exceptionally fascinating and accomplished novel that skillfully intertwines reality, dream, delirium and madness.
— KnackFocus *****
It has been many years since such an original work found its way from Russia to this country. Skorobogatov writes exceptionally well. I read Sergeant Bertrand in one sitting, and after I had finished it, it continued to hold me in its grip. It is an impressive debut that whets the reader’s appetite for more to come.
— NRC Handelsblad
A short and grand novel, about an obsessive jealousy which leads to madness, in the line of Gogol’s Journal of a madman.
— Le Soir
A thrilling novel about guilt and atonement.
— De Volkskrant ****
Skorobogatov tells his tale from within the madness of his main character. What is truth and what is only taking place in the head of Nikolaj? The short, feverish chapters carry you away. Nikolaj is caught up in his jealousy and the reader is caught with him.
— i.a. Haarlems Dagblad, Leidsch Dagblad and Noordhollands Dagblad ****
Skorobogatov intertwines sexual obsession, jealousy, fear, aggression and the drive to abandonment with one another, in a work that has strong undertones of the French writer-philosopher Georges Bataille; a dark book that plays with the tempting and at the same time repulsive connection between the erotic and violence, love and hate, reality and nightmare.
Sergeant Bertrand is a breathtaking book, written in the sober prose that is necessary for writing a tale about the logic of madness.
— Dagblad van het Noorden
Timeless and worth all attention.
— Nederlands Dagbad
Sergeant Bertrand is a sober, subtle and at the same time raw and overwhelming novel that deserves to be read.
Skorobogatov is considered as one of the most interesting authors of post-communist Russia.
— De Standaard der Letteren
Aleksandr Skorobogatov is being praised in Moscow and in the West as an absolute discovery.
— De Morgen
Every now and then, albeit very rarely indeed, a novel or story by a totally unknown author gives a glimpse of unexpected genius. The surprise is so great, in fact, that you are compelled to read the work a second time, but now with the clear insight of the initiate. The novel Sergeant Bertrand by the Russian writer Aleksandr Skorobogatov is one of these rare, truly impressive achievements.
— Gazet van Antwerpen
Unmatched, timeless mastery.
— Athens Voice
In the first place, Skorobogatov wrote a beautiful, almost classic study.
Bij de lectuur ervan moest ik soms terugdenken aan het verhaal Dagboek van een krankzinnige van Nikolaj Gogol. Mooi toch hoe in beide gevallen het verhaal even delirisch ontspoort, met of zonder religieuze achtergrond. Gogol dus en misschien zelfs in sommige laconiek wreed aardige details een zweem van De geverfde vogel van Jerzy Kosinski.
— De Morgen
Astounding literary debut.
— Gonzo Circus
The previous year, ‘Sergeant Bertrand’ received an important award, and the author became a rising star at the literary firmament.
— Gazet van Antwerpen
When you start reading Sergeant Bertrand you understand why it won this prize. It is a fascinating story that immediately grabs you by the throat (and quite honestly, by other parts of your anatomy) and doesn’t let go. The style is very laconic and pointillistic without the clutter of unnecessary details. As in minimalist music, the recurring elements heighten the reader’s apprehension. And this makes the story extremely forceful. The author manages to captivate his reader with a story that is both malicious and voyeuristic. The reader almost becomes an accessory to the fatal ending.
— Het Laatste Nieuws
What he shows with this story is that decades of censorship and social-realistic literature are not sufficient to definitively exterminate individual strength of mind. There is still hope for the Russians.
— Algemeen Dagblad
A novel that reads as a terrifying vision and mystifies you as a David Lynch film. Great literature, great author.
— Focus Knack
This is absolutely unique in Russian literature in general, and especially so in recent years.
— Het Laatste Nieuws
A Russian Edgar Allan Poe story, written in a sublime and breathtaking way.
This story would make an incredible film with an atmosphere worthy of a Polanski.
— Het Laatste Nieuws
This novel is in all respects one of the most astonishing books I have read.
Of Russian origin, Aleksandr Skorobogatov has written what could become a modern Horla.
— Page des Libraires
This fascinating internal monologue evokes the absurd of the best Eastern European writers. A dark masterpiece of the absurd.
— Femina Magazine
When we talk about wife abuse, we think straightaway about Afghanistan, Thailand, Somalia. But what about Russian women? Just Google “Russian women” and you will find that, like their Asian or African sisters, women from Russia and Eastern European countries in general are considered as docile objects to be manipulated. In his first novel translated into French, Aleksandr Skorobogatov describes the everyday life of Vera, who is married to a pathologically jealous alcoholic. The author describes the destructive feeling reinforced by alcohol with heart rending realism and brutality. (…) But behind this story of jealousy and a submissive woman lurks a critique of the Soviet era. (…) A rather detached novel, with poignant characters, that shows a small part of the Soviet reality rarely mentioned.
— Le Nouvel Observateur
Aleksandr Skorobogatov has set up a subtle immersion in his hero’s deliriums, leaving the reader a few short breaths of air from time to time. Just to touch the fragile frontier between the reality that escapes Nikolai and the images that he creates that shout out they are true. The narrative goes through the hero’s and the narrator’s hands, muddling their voices.
— Matricule des Anges
You read Skorobogatov in one befuddled breath.
— Nieuw Vlaams Tijdschrift
In short, Mr. Skorobogatov is a stellar talent, one to keep an eye out for.
— Het Laatste Nieuws
It would be a lot easier if his name was simply Smith or so, but this is unfortunately not the case:
Aleksandr Skorobogatov is a name to remember.
— Gazet van Antwerpen
PRAISE FOR PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN GIRL BY ALEKSANDR SKOROBOGATOV
‘Best Book of the Year 2015’ by Literatuurplein (The Netherlands)
‘Best Book of the Year 2015’ by TZUM (The Netherlands)
Aleksandr Skorobogatov has written a novel about the tragic first love between two teenagers in the Soviet Union of the seventies. He describes the thrill of that first time in a blistering way.
Your first great love never leaves you. Russian writers, masters of melancholy, often know how to beautifully give voice to it. Aleksandr Skorobogatov is a contemporary chronicler of that great feeling in his fifth novel Portrait of an unknown girl.
Skorobogatov describes it in long meandering sentences, a stylistic hallmark of his earlier books as well. For everything in this beautiful novel revolves around being in love, around physical desire, around enjoying each other’s beauty, around the first time they have sex when the parents aren’t at home. And so richly is it described that Skorobogatov carries you away and enchants you with his beautiful language.
— Michel Krielaars, NRC Handelsblad ****
Portrait of an Unknown Girl seems to continue seamlessly a Russian literary tradition in which great feelings are allowed to roam freely. Think of Turgenev’s First Love or a story by Ivan Bunin. Skorobogatov evokes such feelings in an exceptional fashion. His novel is witty where it needs to be, sensual where it wants to be, and subtle about the ‘precarious, sweet mixture of feelings that you want to rend asunder, but want to sustain even more.’
From the first page you’re aware that a refined stylist is wielding his pen. Quickly, you find yourself immersed knee-deep in this novel, which is full of melancholic, poised images and passionate sentences. Along the way, Skorobogatov skillfully conjures up the atmosphere of the crumbling Soviet empire in a far-off corner of Belarus ruled by alcoholism, boredom and petty fights. Skorobogatov’s richly varied prose adds a gentle glow to the whole. Portrait of an Unknown Girl is a real discovery.
— Dirk Leyman, De Morgen ****
Aleksandr Skorobogatov is in every respect an heir to the Russian storytelling tradition. What writers like Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, and Gogol did over a century ago, he now does in a modern guise: giving shape to the Russian soul in lyrical language, in a story about love and revenge, opportunism and honor. The play with language takes primacy for Skorobogatov, and it’s a game he has mastered to perfection.
– Noord Hollands Dagblad
An epic composed with such subtlety that it deserves to be called a work of genius.
– Guus Bauer, Literatuurplein
Skorobogatov turns out to be our own Belgian-Russian master storyteller.
— Feeling Magazine, 4 out of 4 stars
This novel, written in grand and restrained style, is exquisite.
— NBD Biblion
A book that captivated me from the beginning. I firmly believe that in Skorobogatov we encounter a great writer.
— Merwede Radio
PRAISE FOR EARTH WITHOUT WATER BY ALEKSANDR SKOROBOGATOV
It has been a long, very long time since I have read a novel that I could only tear myself away from after having turned the last page. Strong, sharp, dramatic and… bitter. A great book!
— Literaturnaya Rossia
Here is yet another in the string of successes from the ‘non-commercial’ series by Olma-Press, without any doubt ‘Category A literature’. I put the word ‘non-commercial’ between bashful inverted commas, because it contains the connotation of ‘not easy to read, not absorbing’. But Earth without Water is compelling, and sweeps you along like a whirlpool — somewhat in contradiction to the title.
— Ezhenedelny zhurnal
To say that Earth without Water can be read as a thriller does injustice to Aleksandr Skorobogatov’s work. Yes, this book sweeps you along from the first page to the last. Yes, it is well written, with a lot of irony and black humor, but it is also a story with many layers and a subtly hidden message. It is a hallucinatory image of today’s Russia, but the motives, passions and cowardice of the personages are universal.
— De Standaard der Letteren
In my opinion the best novel of last year was published in the series ‘Original’ of publishing house ‘Olma’. The leader I refer to is Earth without Water by Aleksandr Skorobogatov. Aleksandr Skorobogatov’s novel deals with the traditional themes of Russian literature, and in my opinion, he does it with the same refinement as his predecessors, thanks to whom Russian literature is considered great.
— Druzhba narodov
It is impossible to summarize Earth without Water without crucial losses. The plot is either serious action-noir, or action-noir with undertones of parody — a sort of Tarantinesque twist — or it is a myth. Its tone is elegiac and detached, as if the narrator just happens to find himself in the place where he had spent his childhood, while smoking and staring at the clouds. The genre of Earth without Water is indefinable. You can only read the novel without preconceived prejudice and predispositions. The impression is overwhelmingly strong.
— Novy Mir
Earth without Water by Aleksandr Skorobogatov is a ferociously absorbing novel.
— Druzhba narodov
Aleksandr Skorobogatov is an outstanding author.
PRAISE FOR AUDIENCE WITH THE SOVEREIGN BY ALEKSANDR SKOROBOGATOV
Audience with the Sovereign confirms his extraordinary talent, which already emerged from his debut, the novel Sergeant Bertrand. It is one of the most wonderful literary works of recent times.
— Gazet van Antwerpen
A marvelous piece of work that combines the Great Russian traditions with the achievements of the modern European novel.
— Vrijzinnige lezer
Aleksandr Skorobogatov continues, in a modern and convincing way, the great literary tradition of the 19th century orthodox Russia of Dostoyevsky and Gogol.
— Gazet van Antwerpen