The gracious Leonard Lopate of WNYC Radio moderated a meeting of literary luminaries Martin Amis and Olga Slanikova in an entertaining event at The New York Public Library On Saturday June 2, 2012 as part of The Festival of Russian Arts, a celebration of literature, music, theater, and art.
Martin Amis, author of many books, including Money, London Fields, Night Train, and House of Meetings, presented a kind of West meets East viewpoint comparison with acclaimed Russian author Olga Slavnikova, winner of the Polonsky Prize and author of A Dragonfly Enlarged to the Size of a Dog, and the soon-to-be-released Light Head, which will be coming out in English translation in early 2013.
Mr. Amis read from his book House of Meetings, the title of which refers to the conjugal meeting place for incarcerated Soviet prisoners and their visiting spouses. It is ‘a love story, gothic in timbre and triangular in shape. In 1946, two brothers and a Jewish girl fall into alignment in pogram-poised Moscow. The fraternal conflict then marinates in Norlag, a slave-labor camp above the Arctic Circle, where a tryst in the coveted House of Meetings will haunt all three loves long after the brothers are released’ (from book jacket summary). Mr. Amis stated that he wrote the story after reading a history of the Gulag.
This is a somber book, as compared with the fantastical, yet no less powerful Light Head, written by Ms. Slavnikova. Her story, from which she read a portion of, is of a man whose head is totally weightless. He also appears to be mired in the world of comical yet frightening government bureaucracy, not unlike K in Kafka’s more frightening The Trial.
The authors also engaged in a brief discussion of the state of literature today, with Ms. Slavnikova stating rather surprisingly that the enemy of literature to a large extent is the mid-level bookseller. Her reasoning was that the mid-level bookseller thinks he knows the reader through and through and that the reader is an idiot, so therefore he stocks books gearing to the supposed tastes of the reader, thereby creating that reader.
The event then took on a rather free-for-all question and answer session from the audience which was by turns thought provoking and comical.
Both authors were kind and spoke with audience members following the event. An eclectic assortment of refreshments were served.