7 June 2010, 16:31

Literary bestseller prize goes to artist

Literary bestseller prize goes to artist
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The Russian literary prize “The National Bestseller” for 2010 has been awarded to the famous stage-set designer Edward Kochergin for his autobiographical book   “Baptized with Crosses”. Six authors competed for this prestigious award at the last stage. Preliminary results were not in Kochergin’s favour at all.

The Russian literary prize “The National Bestseller” for 2010 has been awarded to the famous stage-set designer Edward Kochergin for his autobiographical book  “Baptized with Crosses”.

Six authors competed for this prestigious award at the last stage. Preliminary results were not in Kochergin’s favour at all. The large committee selecting the best books for the final stage was more inclined to choose Roman Senchin’s epic novel “The Eltishevs”. How did the metamorphosis come about? The chairman of “The National Bestseller” fund Vadim Levental explained it to “The Voice of Russia”:

"Indeed, after the large committee votes we can usually see who the leader is. But in the end the small committee starts voting from scratch, so everyone has equal chances. And the idea of the prize is to discover a book which has the potential to become an intellectual bestseller and to bring it out into the light for the reader."

Some members of the Committee belong to the younger generation, for example, the scandalous film director Valeria Gai Germanika. What does the Committee offer the readers? The Committee Chairman, writer Andrey Gelasimov, also a representative of the younger generation of cultural workers, commented on his colleagues’ choice to “The Voice of Russia”:

“Academician Edward Kochergin, a titled master, who has created legendary performances together with theatrical producers on the stages of the leading Russian and foreign theatres, has an equally good command of the word and of the brush. A veteran of modern culture and art, who was the artistic director of the Bolshoi Drama Theatre in St. Petersburg for a long time, has written memoirs of his difficult childhood. It is a very powerful document from a historical standpoint. It is the absolute truth written by a talented and wise man who has lived a long life."

Edward Kochergin’s childhood was not just difficult, it was horrendous. He was born in 1937, at the peak of Stalin’s repressions. He was separated from his parents as a small child. They were arrested under the false charges of being foreign spies. The boy was sent to Siberia to an orphanage for the children of “enemies’ of the nation”.  Some time later he escaped from the orphanage. It took him 6 years to reach St. Petersburg. He returned to his native city and, as if by a miracle, found his mother who had spent ten years in prison. The boy had survived only because he could make tattoos and bend wire in the shape of Soviet leaders’ profiles.

No doubt, for a person with imagination, this period of his life yields plenty of facts for more than one book. Kochergin’s first book “An Angel’s Doll” described a whole stratum of life in St. Petersburg after the Second World War filled with criminals and cripples, drunkards and street lunatics . It was a peculiar reality captured by the artist’s sharp eye. Before Kochergin no one had described it. “An Angel’s Doll” was translated into several languages and became the literary basis for a performance in the Bolshoi Drama Theatre.

His second book awarded “The National Bestseller” prize is also documentary-like. Its title “Baptized with Crosses” is the old pass-word of hardened thieves serving their term in “Crosses”, the notorious St. Petersburg prison. During Stalin’s time political prisoners were kept in the same cells with thieves. It happened to Kochergin’s parents as well.

In spite of the appalling realities described in the novel, the author’s literary style is exquisite, experts say, and Kochergin reveals himself in his book as an amazing optimist and lover of life.

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