From the winner of the Solzhenitsyn Prize 2012 and the Russian Booker Prize 2002
The Matiushin Case is one of the darkest and most powerful works of fiction to appear in Russian in the last twenty years. Deriving, like Captain of the Steppe (And Other Stories, 2013), from the author’s own traumatic experience as a conscript in the last years of the Soviet Union, it follows the experience of Matiushin, a young, sensitive, disoriented man, damaged first by violence in his family then by the brutality of army life in Central Asia. Indebted to the different traditions of ‘labour camp prose’ pioneered by Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov, the novel is, however, much more than an expose of societal ills, shocking enough though these are. Its literary achievement lies elsewhere: in the way that the horrific realities of conscript life are steeped in the unique mood of dreaminess and timelessness created by the setting and by Pavlov’s prose-style and in the unique type of tension that this mood creates. Matiushin’s ‘crime and punishment’ emerge from this tension with compelling inevitability; the victim turns killer. The hell that Oleg Pavlov describes is physical and societal, but above all psychological, and, as such, no less universal than that described by Dante or Dostoevsky.
Oleg Pavlov is one of the most highly regarded Russian writers alive today. He has won the Russian Booker Prize (2002) and Solzhenitsyn Prize (2012) among many other awards. Born in Moscow in 1970, Pavlov spent his military service as a prison guard in Kazakhstan. Many of the incidents portrayed in his fiction were inspired by his experiences there; he recalls how he found himself reading about Karabas, the very camp he had worked at, in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. He later became Solzhenitsyn’s assistant and was inspired to continue the great writer’s work. Pavlov’s writing is firmly in the tradition of the great Russian novelists Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn.
He was only 24 years old when his first novel, Captain of the Steppe, was published, receiving praise not only from critics but from the jury of the Russian Booker Prize, which shortlisted the novel for the 1995 award. Pavlov went on to win the Prize in 2002 with his next book, The Matiushin Case (English translation published in 2014 by And Other Stories). The Matiushin Case was the second novel in what would become the thematic trilogy set in the last days of the Soviet empire: Tales from the Last Days. All three works in the trilogy are stand-alone novels. The third book, Requiem for a Soldier, was published by And Other Stories in 2015.
- Oleg Pavlov is the author of Captain of the Steppe (And Other Stories, 2013), shortlisted for the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger 2012
- The Matiushin Case is the second volume in the Russian Booker winning trilogy, Tales from the Last Days.
- The Matiushin Case makes it on to Bookstrust‘s Best of 2014 translated fiction list.
Praise for Oleg Pavlov
- ‘Pavlov imbues his world with a very particular flavour: the mixture of tragedy, absurdity and black comedy that runs in the veins of Russian literature as far back as the work of Nikolai Gogol … Pavlov fashions a disquieting and comic elegy.’ Marcel Theroux
- ‘Captain of the Steppe combines a traditional Russian faith in the humanising power of literature with a boisterous energy and imagination. Pavlov wrote two further army novels which, along with Captain of the Steppe, have become known as the Tales of the Last Days trilogy, and we can be grateful that both are due for publication by And Other Stories.’ Michael Nicholson, Times Literary Supplement
- ‘Pavlov skillfully navigates the razor-thin gap between dark comedy and tragedy’ Words without Borders
- ‘A comedy as dark and bitter as ersatz coffee.’ Daily Mail
- ‘An extraordinary portraitist, with a nose for trenchant, black humour, Oleg Pavlov delves into the shadowy outer edges of existence.’ France Culture
- ‘Poetry, sensuality, humour, metaphoric genius’ Philippe Delaroche, L’Express Culture avec Lire
Praise for The Matiushin Case
- ‘This lucid translation of Pavlov’s powerful quasi-autobiographical novel confronts the horror of Russian history … a timeless quest for existential meaning and deals with the horror of Russian history through the microcosm of an individual’s journey into hell.’ Phoebe Taplin, The Guardian
- ‘Pavlov is revered by some as a philosophical genius whose books capture the essence of Russia and dismissed by others as a drunken grumbler. His powerfully intimate, quasi-autobiographical 1997 novel The Matiushin Case, now in English, charts the experiences of an impressionable conscript gradually dehumanised by army life.’ Phoebe Taplin, The Guardian
- ‘Russian Booker Prize winner Pavlov (Captain of the Steppe) plunges readers into the grim realities of Soviet military life in the early 1980s . . . Bromfield, well-known for his translations of contemporary Russian literature, ably renders Pavlov’s prose with extremes of lyricism and banality. Pavlov pulls off a harrowing tale about institutional cruelty and the perversions of character that it produces.’ Publishers Weekly
- ‘Written in a bare, stilted style, it never plays for the high drama … choosing instead to beat steadily on from one absurdity to the next, coolly piling horror on top of horror…Seen through a lens softened by exhaustion and cheap vodka, Pavlov’s dark picture of existence becomes wryly amusing and often almost whimsical in its black humour.’ Ross McIndoe, The Skinny
- ‘Images of violence and pain linger with the reader long after the book is finished. Not for the faint hearted.’ Scarlett MccGwire, Tribune
- ‘[A] descent into an uncaring military world.’ San Francisco Book Review
- ‘Full of dark humor and dark characters, this book, while not for the faint of heart, is nevertheless an intriguing view into a life that experiences much pain and hardship with very little that is positive or beautiful to relieve its characters of the cruelty of their world.’ Elizabeth Schaulat, University of Oklahoma World Literature Today
- “Pavlov’s description of Matiushin’s hellish experiences will prove interesting to anyone with a marked interest in literature from or about the Soviet era.” Three Percent
- ‘[A] small stunner: brutal, salty, pulsing with hallucinatory beauty and lyrical grace … Pavlov’s portrait of helpless young men trapped in an insane system comes out as a sly, sad, occasionally joyous tragicomedy about power, helplessness, escape, and what it’s like to be young.’Pete Mitchell, Booktrust, Best Translated Books of 2014