Don’t Feed or Touch the Pelicans, a novel by Andrei Astvatsaturov, a St Petersburg writer and the director of St Petersburg University’s Nabokov Museum, has made it onto the shortlist of Russia’s National Bestseller Literary Prize.

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In a preliminary vote, the book garnered six points and has now reached the final round of the competition for the prize, the winner of which will be announced this autumn.

The National Bestseller Literary Prize was established in 2001 and is awarded in St Petersburg for the best novel written in Russian within any one calendar year.

‘Any literary prize is a kind of strategy that does not always have something to do with literature and is, of course, an event,’ explained St Petersburg University Associate Professor Andrei Astvatsaturov. ‘In this respect, the «Natsbest» is relatively free and the most democratic prize, through which you can explore contemporary Russian prose. If you take the most significant Russian writers of today, 90 percent of them have either won the prize or made the shortlist. This includes Leonid Yuzefovich, Ilya Boyashov, Dmitry Bykov, Zakhar Prilepin, Andrei Gelasimov, Anna Kozlova, Eduard Kochergin and Mikhail Elizarov. I too was shortlisted once, in 2010, for People in the Nude. I’m pleased and delighted I’ve landed on it again with another one of my novels.’

‘The novel is deep and well-knit. But still, the main thing here is the love for the language. So many books use the language in their own interests, granted these may be the noble interests of the storyline and the composition. So many of them downright abuse it. Only here have I seen a novel with an author who is enraptured with and appreciative of the language, who has a careful and sensitive admiration for it,’ notes Moscow critic Anna Zhuchkova in her review of the book.

Andrei Astvatsaturov understands and loves the language. And it rewards him many times over — it comes to life, it is full of meaning, it breathes, it resounds. So, for me, this book is the best!

Anna Zhuchkova, National Bestseller grand juror

‘In his fourth work of fiction, Andrei Astvatsaturov’s very own, inimitable prose has become relentlessly austere. Now you can open any of his books at random, read a couple of paragraphs and say, with complete confidence, «This is Astvatsaturov,» remarked writer and social commentator German Sadulaev.

In 2017, On a Hairy Back, a novel by writer and screenwriter Vyacheslav Rybakov, who graduated from Leningrad State University in 1976, was put on the National Bestseller longlist. St Petersburg University associate professor Apollinariia Avrutina, a specialist in Turkic philology and literary translator who sat on the grand jury, has written a review of it.