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Letterbook aka The Light and the Dark


Full English, French, German translations available

Awarded Premio Strega Europeo 2022

The internationally prize–awarded writer, Mikhail Shishkin, comes with a beautifully sad and bewitchingly lucid epistolary novel. The stories of two lovers told through their love letters through continents and epochs intertwine in an elaborate text about mysteries of life, acceptance of death, and, ultimately, about grasping the eternity.

This latest novel by Mikhail Shishkin is deceivingly simple. A man. A woman. Their love letters. A summer house, the first love. Vladimir — Vovka–carrot–top — and Alexandra — Sashka; he goes to war, she stays at home, living an ordinary life. Two people writing each other just about everything — their childhood, families, trifles of life, joys and sorrows — what could be more normal? Until we get to know things are not what they seem. The deeper readers emerge into the writing the more obvious it becomes that the time has been disunited, dissected and tossed together as in a children nonsense rhyme.

The time is indeed out of joint and only these letters bind it together restoring the world’s order. She lives in the 60s, he goes to the Boxers uprising in China at the turn of the twentieth century. He dies in the very first battle of this half– forgotten war of his own choosing (“What war? Doesn’t matter. A war has always been. And will always be. And people get injuries and killed. And death is real”) — but his letters continue to arrive. She gets married, carries and loses a child — and keeps writing to him as if these letters exist in a parallel universe, as if time doesn’t matter — and neither does death.

This is a novel about the mysteries of life — and acceptance of death.

Shishkin is loyal to articulating his principle: the written word is the key, and so is love. “To exist you have to live not in your own mind that is so unreliable... but in the mind of another person, and not just any person but the one who cares if you exist”.

Shishkin’s sophisticated language and intricate style have won him major international literary awards and comparisons to the greatest authors of our time — and Letterbook firmly confirms this well–deserved reputation.

Shishkin is arguably Russia’s greatest living novelist... his writing is richly textured and innovative and his themes are universal: love and death, pain and happiness, war and peace... Shishkin’s writing is both philosophically ambitious and sensually specific, evoking the rain on a dacha roof, the smell of blossoming lime trees, or the stink of human corpses.

— The Guardian

Whatever the secret of the time scheme, and however magic–realist or metaphysical it might be, it contributes to the book’s powerful treatment of love and the vividness of being alive, underscored by the reality of ever–present morality Shishkin is a writer with a compelling sense of the skull beneath the skin.

— The Sunday Times

There is a lyrical, poetic quality to much of Shishkin’s writing... This is certainly the most complicated, protean book I’ve ever reviewed and one jammed with cultural allusions and ideas.

— Standpoint Magazine

Shishkin’s prodigious erudition, lapidary phrasing and penchant for generic play are conspicuous components of his art... These charactersitics do indeed ally him with Nabokov, as he does have faith in the written word... And yet, unlike Nabokov, Joyce and many of their postmodern acolytes, Shishkin is unabashedly and unironically sentimental.

— Times Literary Supplement

Mikhail Shishkin is the Ian McEwan of Russia. A prize–winning writer who enjoys stunning commercial and critical success, he’s also a literary celebrity in a country that still knows how to celebrate its author– heroes. His latest novel, The Light and the Dark, in its brilliant translation, is striking proof that great Russian literature didn’t die with Dostoevsky. A wonderful book: it is filled with wonder.

— Monocle Magazine

It really does not matter if the lovers have ever met in person. The only witness who counts is the author or, more precisely, his prose.

— The Independent

Striking... [Vladimir and Alexandra’s] tales cohere into a portrait of Russians growing up too soon, enlisted in causes not their own, exemplified by Sashenka’s belief in a second, disobedient self who lives out the dreams she can’t.

— Publishers Weekly

Book details

Elena Shubina Publishing (AST)

Novel, 2010

412 pp

Rights sold

  • World English Quercus

  • Italian Lettera 21

  • German DVA

  • French Noir sur blanc

  • Spanish Armaenia

  • Japanese Shinchosha

  • Dutch Querido

  • Finnish WSOY

  • Finnish audioplay YLE

  • Norwegian Oktober

  • Swedish Ersatz

  • Danish Batzer & Co

  • Faroe Sprotin

  • Icelandic Bjartur

  • Serbian Paideia

  • Croatian Naklada Ljevak

  • Macedonian Antolog

  • Czech Vìtrné mlýny

  • Slovakian Slovart

  • Polish Noir sur Blanc

  • Lithuanian Vaga

  • Latvian Jumava

  • Estonian Varrak

  • Bulgarian Fakel

  • Romanian Curtea Veche

  • Hungarian Cartaphilus

  • Simpified Chinese Hunan People Publishing House

  • Arabic Arab Scientific Publishers

  • Albanian Fan Noli

  • Turkish Jaguar

  • Hebrew Kinneret

  • Estonian Varrak

Literary awards

  • Premio Strega Europeo 2022

  • Shortlisted for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize 2013

  • The Big Book Award 2011

  • Haus der Kulturen der Welt International Literature Award 2011

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