Portrait of an unknown girl by Aleksandr Skorobogatov: looks like all’s set for Frankfurt

Aleksandr Skorobogatov, Portrait of an Unknown Girl, front cover

PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN GIRL is a captivating and tragic story about a secret teenage love, unfolding against the background of oppressed Belarus in the final decades of Soviet rule. Evoking the provocative yet sophisticated sensuality of Nabokov’s iconic ‘Lolita’ along with the refined nostalgia of ‘The Life of Arseniev’ by Ivan Bunin, ‘Portrait of an Unknown Girl’ is a powerful and beautiful coming-of-age novel.

Driven by what they see as their first love, which too quickly takes complete control over their lives, Sasha and his girlfriend, Katia, find themselves challenging the many prejudices that rule over their sleepy and callous provincial town at the edge of the Soviet empire. Fighting for love soon turns into a fight against reality itself—a difficult fix, especially if you’re just a teen.

When Katia finds out she is pregnant, she tries to conceal her pregnancy and convince herself and Sasha that everything will be fine, just as long as nobody knows. But her secret is discovered. Furtively, in order to ‘cover the shame,’ she’s being taken to hospital, where a corrupt doctor aborts her five-month-old unborn son, the child of a child.

The appearance of another girl, Nika, not only dramatically changes Sasha’s perception of himself and of the true essence of his relationship to Katia; for the first time in his life, Sasha is also painfully confronted with his own shortcomings. He is willing to face and battle them—but is it already too late for him to recognize and save the life of his one true love?

‘Portrait of an Unknown Girl’ is not only a powerful story of the beauty and the tragedy of first love, but also an uncompromising portrait of an inhumane epoch and an oppressive regime that breaks people, punishes innocence and integrity, and ruins lives.

Praise for Aleksandr Skorobogatov:

‘Skorobogatov is considered as one of the most interesting authors of post-communist Russia.’ — De Standaard der Letteren

‘Aleksandr Skorobogatov is an outstanding author.’ — Znamya

‘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

‘A great 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 great Russian tradition.’ — Le Figaro

‘It has been many years since such an original work found its way from Russia to this country. It is such a relief, after the everyday routine and moral indifference has seemed to dominate contemporary Russian literature, to be transported to other realms of human existence. It is an impressive debut that whets the reader’s appetite for more to come.’ — NRC Handelsblad

‘Unmatched, timeless mastery.’ — Athens Voice

‘In the first place, Skorobogatov wrote a beautiful, almost classic study.’ — Knack

‘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

‘Most remarkably, Skorobogatov not only broaches different subjects than his fellow writers, but he writes exceptionally well.’ — NRC Handelsblad

‘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

‘I read Sergeant Bertrand in one sitting, and after I had finished it, it continued to hold me in its grip.’ — NRC Handelsblad

‘A Russian Edgar Allan Poe story, written in a sublime and breathtaking way.’ — Lektuurgids

‘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.’ — Gierik/NVT

‘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 marvellous 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

‘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 every day 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

‘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 humour, 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

‘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


For the book / film rights to the novel, please contact COSSEE PUBLISHERS (Hall 5.0 C6) or my agent MARKUS HOFFMANN at REGAL LITERARY (NY), Hall 6.0 LitAG.