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Interview With Boris Akunin

Interview: Boris Akunin
Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, a literary scholar, translator, and novelist. He has written more than a dozen best-selling detective novels, mostly set in the tsarist era.

Akunin's novels have been widely translated and in 2003, the British Crime Writers Association placed Akunin's "The White Queen" on the short list for its Dagger Award for Fiction. Akunin's latest thriller is called "The Falcon And The Swallow."

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Igor Pomerantsev recently chatted with the author. (A video interview with Akunin in English is available here.

RFE/RL: Does crime fiction have a nationality, or does the genre itself mean more than the language it's written in?

Boris Akunin: That depends on the subgenre. There are "classic" detective novels in which everything depends on the unpredictability of the ending. For this category, the nationality of the narrator isn't so important.

There are "atmospheric" stories, where the texture is often more important than the plot. Though the top "ethno-detective" authors are usually foreigners -- [Robert Hans] van Gulik, Donna Leon, [Alexander] McCall Smith....

RFE/RL: Does being successful in Russia for a crime writer mean anything different from success in Britain or America?

Like for any non-English-language writer, this success doesn't transfer well. Otherwise, I don't suppose there's much difference.

RFE/RL: Are you interested in the way English or American writers handle the detective genre?

I used to be. Since I started writing myself, I've stopped reading detective or any other kind of fiction. Reading other authors' work is harmful for an active writer. At least, it is for me.

RFE/RL: Is there any fundamental difference between contemporary Russian crime fiction from the Anglo-Saxon equivalent?

I don't know. As I say, I don't read contemporary Russian detective novels. Or non-Russian, either.

RFE/RL: Do you take the new Russian political reality into account in your writing? I mean, the failure of fledgling democracy.

I put everything that occupies my mind into my novels. Unfortunately, thoughts about politics in modern Russia are there all the time. So allusions and parallels are inevitable, even if you're writing about the distant past.

RFE/RL: Which would be your top five Russian and Soviet detective novels?

In the USSR the detective genre existed in embryonic form. In Russian literature as a whole, only [Fyodor Dostoyevsky's] "The Brothers Karamazov" come to mind. There, in contrast to "Crime And Punishment," who the criminal is becomes obvious only right at the end.