Mikhail Shishkin (writer)

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Mikhail Shishkin
Cafe Odeon in Zürich 2010 © Evgeniya Frolkova
Cafe Odeon in Zürich 2010 © Evgeniya Frolkova
Born (1961-01-18) January 18, 1961 (age 60)
Moscow, Russia
NationalityRussian, Swiss
GenreFiction, non-fiction
Notable awardsRussian Booker Prize (2000), the Russian National Bestseller Award (2005) and Big Book Prize (2006, 2010)

Mikhail Pavlovich Shishkin (Russian: Михаил Павлович Шишкин, born 18 January 1961) is a Russian writer and the only author to have won the Russian Booker Prize (2000), the Russian National Bestseller (2005), and Big Book Prize (2010). His books have been translated into 30 languages.[1] He also writes in German.


Mikhail Shishkin was born in 1961 in Moscow on 18 January 1961 to Irina Georgievna Shishkina, a Russian literature teacher, and Pavel Mikhailovich Shishkin, an engineer constructor. In 1977 Shishkin graduated from the high school #59 in the centre of Moscow in Arbat district.

After the graduation from Moscow State Pedagogical Institute, where Shishkin studied German and English, he worked as a road worker, a street sweeper, journalist, school teacher, and translator.
In 1995, Shishkin moved to Switzerland for family reason. He worked in Zürich within the Immigration Department and specifically with refugees as a Russian and German translator.[2][3]

Shishkin was invited as a guest professor to Washington and Lee University in Lexington (VA) (fall semester 2007 and 2009).
Since 2011 Shishkin lives with his family in a small village Kleinlützel near Basel.
Shishkin was a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program in Berlin in 2012/13.
He is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and cultural foundations across Europe and the United States and a frequent speaker on Television and Radio in many countries.[4][5][6]
Shishkin has published articles in The New York Times,[7] The Wall Street Journal,[8] The Guardian,[9] Le Monde,[10] The Independent,[11] and others.

Literary career[edit]

His first novel One Night Befalls Us All (Omnes una manet nox) / Всех ожидает одна ночь also appeared the same year in Znamya. Later this novel was published under the title Larionov's Reminiscences / Записки Ларионова. His first publications attracted the attention of literary critics and Shishkin received the Prize for the Best Debut of the Year.[12] Fred Kaplan called Mikhail Shishkin in Boston Globe "one of Moscow´s most wellregarded young novelists".[13]
In 1999, Znamya published Shishkin's breakthrough novel The Taking of Izmail. In 2000 the novel won Russian Booker Prize for the best Russian novel of the year. Nezavisimaya gazeta wrote: "A beautiful, powerful and fascinating book which will become a milestone not only in the history of Russian literature but in the development of Russian self-awareness."[14]
His experience of moving to a new country inspired Shishkin to write Russian Switzerland / Русская Швейцария, a nonfiction literary-historical guide. In 1999 it was published by PANO-Verlag in Zürich (in Russian). This book was translated into German and French and received the award of Canton of Zürich (Werkbeitrag des Kantons Zürich 2000).
In 2002, Limmat Verlag in Zürich released Shishkin's book written in German Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapowo: Tracing Byron and Tolstoy, a literary walk from Lake Geneva to the Bern Alps[15] which received the literary award of Zürich (Werkjahr der Stadt Zürich 2002).

In 2005, Shishkin published the novel Maidenhair, receiving the ]National Bestseller award 2005 and Big Book Award 2006. Maya Kucherskaya, a critic, described Shishkin's novel in the following manner: "Maidenhair is a great novel about a word and a language that becomes soft and obedient in the hands of a Master. It can create any other reality which will be more stunning and credible that the real world. The gap between a word and a fact, between reality and its translation to the human language is a real hotbed of internal tension in the novel".[16] Moscow News stated, "The writer tries to connect the achievements of Western literature of the XX century and its love for verbal technique with the humanistic nature of Russian literature. His new novel speaks about the most important subject: how to defeat death with love."[17]
The novel in the English translation published by Open Letter in 2012 was highly praised by critics. Daniel Kalder in The Dallas Morning News stated: "In short, Maidenhair is the best post-Soviet Russian novel I have read. Simply put, it is true literature, a phenomenon we encounter too rarely in any language."[18] Boris Dralyuk wrote in The Times Literary Supplement that "Shishkin's prodigious erudition, lapidary phrasing and penchant for generic play are conspicuous components of his art ... These characteristics do indeed ally him with Nabokov, as does his faith in the power of the written word: "The story is the hand, and you're the mitt. Stories change you, like mitts. You have to understand that stories are living beings"."[19]

In 2010, the novel Pismovnik (Letter-Book) was published by AST in Moscow. It won him the main Russian literary Prize "Bolshaya kniga" - the author received the main award of the Big Book Prize (2011) and won the reader choice vote.
The English translation of Pismovnik was published under the title The Light and the Dark by Quercus in 2013. The Wall Street Journal praised the author: "Mr. Shishkin has created a bewitching potion of reality and fantasy, of history and fable, and of lonely need and joyful consolation."[20] Monocle stated: "His latest novel, The Light and the Dark, in its brilliant translation, is striking proof that great Russian literature didn't die with Dostoevsky. The prose is lapidary, the evocation of history and the present razor-sharp. A wonderful book: it is filled with wonder."[21] The Sunday Times called Shishkin "a writer with a compelling sense of the skull beneath the skin."[22] The New York Times Book Review described Shishkin as "a proud sentimentalist. (The gold medal for synchronized cynicism and sentimentalism will always go to Russia.)"[23] The Guardian wrote: "Both novels attempt to represent multifaceted reality, and there is sometimes an unbearable intensity as the metaphors sprout and writhe. The breathlessness of Maidenhair becomes, in The Light and the Dark, a more measured brilliance; the urgency of Shishkin's mission is undimmed. "Unless life is transformed into words, there will be nothing." ... Shishkin's writing is both philosophically ambitious and sensually specific."[24]

In 2015, Deep Vellum Publishing released Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories. Michael Orthofer in Complete Review called the book "an ideal introduction to Shishkin and his work". According to critic Jacob Kiernan (New Orleans Review),"the collection consists of artfully constructed, empathetic tales of people living in the midst cyclonic time."[25] Caroline North wrote in Dallas Observer: "Though the stories in CALLIGRAPHY LESSON are steeped in Russian history and have a distinctly Russian tone, many of the philosophical quandaries they engage extend beyond language and borders ― they are universal problems, and this translation boldly and successfully takes them on."[26]

Translations of the works of Mikhail Shishkin have received numerous international awards, including the 2007 Grinzane Cavour Prize (Italy)[27] for Capelvenere (Italian translation of Maidenhair), the French literary prize for the best foreign book of the year 2005 - Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Essay) in Paris[28] and The International Berlin Prize (Haus der Kulturen der Welt) International Literature Award for the best foreign novel of the year 2011 for Venushaar (German translation of Maidenhair).
Asked in an interview about all his prizes, Shishkin replied: "No award has ever made a book better." Shishkin sees his critical accomplishment as "proof that I was right not to compromise."[29]

In 2019, Shishkin released a digital Book Dead Souls, living Noses. An Introduction into the Russian Culture History (in German), a collection of 16 essays and 400 comments with pictures, music and videos. NZZ praised this digital project as "a new level in the development of book culture".[30] Shishkin called this book in an interview "my very personal encyclopedia of the Russian Culture".[31]

All Shishkins's novels have been adapted into theater dramas in Russia.

Literary style[edit]

His prose has been praised, e.g., "Shishkin's language is wonderfully lucid and concise. Without sounding archaic, it reaches over the heads of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (whose relationship with the Russian language was often uneasy) to the tradition of Pushkin."[32] He says, "Bunin taught me not to compromise, and to go on believing in myself. Chekhov passed on his sense of humanity – that there can't be any wholly negative characters in your text. And from Tolstoy I learned not to be afraid of being naïve."[33]

Shishkin compares the writing process with a blood transfusion: "I am sharing the most important essence of life with my reader. But we need to have the same blood type."[34]

Political views[edit]

Shishkin openly opposes the current Russian government and criticizes sharply Vladimir Putin's domestic and foreign policies, including the annexation of Crimea in 2014.[35][36]

In 2013, he pulled out of representing Russia at the Book Expo in the United States.[37] Mikhail Shishkin declared in his Open Letter:

A country where power has been seized by a corrupt, criminal regime, where the state is a pyramid of thieves, where elections have become farce, where courts serve the authorities, not the law, where there are political prisoners, where state television has become a prostitute, where packs of impostors pass insane laws that are returning everyone to the Middle Ages – such a country cannot be my Russia. I want to and will represent another Russia, my Russia, a country free of impostors, a country with a state structure that defends the right of the individual, not the right to corruption, a country with a free media, free elections, and free people.[38]

Awards and honors[edit]

Selected Bibliography[edit]


  • Calligraphy Lesson/ Урок каллиграфии, short story (1993)
  • One Night Befalls Us All (Omnes una manet nox) / Всех ожидает одна ночь, novel (1993)
  • Blind Musician / Слепой музыкант, novella (1994)
  • The Taking of Izmail / Взятие Измаила, novel (1999)
  • Saved language / Спасенный язык, essay (2001)
  • Maidenhair / Венерин Волос, novel (2005)
  • Pismovnik ("Letter Book") / Письмовник, novel (2010)
  • The Half-Belt Overcoat / Пальто с хлястиком, essays and short stories (2017)


  • Russian Switzerland / Русская Швейцария literary and historical guidebook (1999)
  • A letter on the snow. Three essays. Robert Walser, James Joyce, Vladimir Sharov / Буква на снегу. Три эссе. Роберт Вальзер, Джеймс Джойс, Владимир Шаров (2019)

Books written in German

  • Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapovo, Tracing Byron and Tolstoy, a literary walk from Lake Geneva to the Bern Alps / Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapowo, Auf den Spuren von Byron und Tolstoi, an essay collection, in German (2002).
  • Dead Souls, living Noses. An Introduction into the Russian Culture History / Tote Seelen, lebende Nasen. Eine Einführung in die russische Kulturgeschichte. A mulimedia digital book. Petit-Lucelle Publishing House, Kleinlützel, 2019, ISBN 978-3-033-07082-0.
  • War or Peace. Russia and the West. An Approach / Frieden oder Krieg. Russland und der Westen – eine Annäherung. Together with Fritz Pleitgen. Ludwig Verlag, München 2019, ISBN 978-3-453-28117-2.

English Translations



  1. ^ Shishkin´s Literary Agency
  2. ^ Big Book Prize web-site
  3. ^ Interview with Mikhail Shishkin, The Morning News December 17, 2012
  4. ^ BBC Radio 4 Talk with Shishkin March 24, 2013
  5. ^ Sternstunde Philosophie - Poet gegen Zar - Der Schriftsteller Michail Schischkin/Poet against Tsar (in German)
  6. ^ Shishkin´s Talk at the Columbia University June 26, 2013
  7. ^ "Mikhail Shishkin: How Russians lost the War" The New York Times 9.05.2015
  8. ^ Mikhail Shishkin on Olimpics in Sochi The Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2014
  9. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/profile/mikhail-shishkin
  10. ^ Mikhail Chichkine "Triste empire poutinien" Le Monde, March 3, 2012]
  11. ^ "Mikhail Shishkin: A revolution for Russia's words" , The Independent 22.03.2013
  12. ^ Official website of the literary magazine Znamya
  13. ^ "Reading the Future of Russian Literature" by F.Kaplan, The Boston Sunday Globe June 25, 1995
  14. ^ ″Taking Izmail sub specia aeternitatis" by Bakhyt Kenzheyev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" January 17, 2000.
  15. ^ Michail Schischkin Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapowo, Auf den Spuren von Byron und Tolstoj Limmat Verlag, Zürich, 2002
  16. ^ Mikhail Shishkin´s Anabasis by Maya Kucherskaya, polit.ru
  17. ^ By the word shall we be resurrected by Dmitry Kharitonov, Moscow News, April 22, 2005
  18. ^ Mikhail Shishkin´s Maidenhair Review by Daniel Kalder, November 26. 2012
  19. ^ TLS,Sentimental Education by Boris Dralyuk, March 29. 2013
  20. ^ Wall Street Journal, Book Review: 'The Light and the Dark' by Sam Sacks, January 10, 2014
  21. ^ Monocle Magazine, April 2013, Issue 62, volume 7, p.182-183. Book Review: 'The Light and the Dark' by Robert Bound, January 10, 2014
  22. ^ The Sunday Times "On a winning streak" by Phil Baker, April 14, 2013
  23. ^ The New York Times Book Review "Dear Sasha, Dear Volodya" by Boris Fishman, January 10, 2014
  24. ^ The Guardian "The Light and the Dark by Mikhail Shishkin" by Phoebe Taplin, March 13, 2013
  25. ^ New Orleans Review Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories, Book Review by Jacob Kiernan
  26. ^ Dallas Observer,Is all about Language by Caroline North, May 22. 2015
  27. ^ Mikhail Shishkin Vince il Grinzane Cavour - Mosca 21.11.2007
  28. ^ Mikhaïl Chichkine Dans les pas de Byron et Tolstoi. Du lac Léman à l'Oberland bernois Noir sur Blanc, Lausanne, 2015
  29. ^ Interview with Mikhail Shishkin, The Morning News December 17, 2012
  30. ^ "Michail Schischkin legt eine superbe multimediale Einführung in die russische Kulturgeschichte vor", by U.Schmid NZZ, January 20.2019
  31. ^ Michail Schischkin: «Für mein Buch gibt es noch kein Regal» LZ, January 13, 2019
  32. ^ Times Literary Supplement, 8.10.2010. By V. Sonkin
  33. ^ "Russia's best-kept literary secret", Phoebe Taplin, Russia Beyond the Headlines, Jan 9, 2012.
  34. ^ Interview with Mikhail Shishkin, The Morning News December 17, 2012
  35. ^ "Vladimir Putin's black hole" The Guardian September 18, 2015.
  36. ^ "Mikhail Shishkin: How Russians lost the War" The New York Times 9.05.2015
  37. ^ Mikhail Shishkin refuses to represent 'criminal' Russian regime The Guardian March 7, 2013.
  38. ^ Shishkin´s Open Letter in Russian, German and English
  39. ^ Official website of the literary magazine Znamya
  40. ^ the Official Site of the Russian National Bestseller Prize
  41. ^ Mikhail Shishkin Vince il Grinzane Cavour - Mosca 21.11.2007
  42. ^ Chad W. Post (April 10, 2013). "2013 Best Translated Book Award: The Fiction Finalists". Three Percent. Retrieved April 11, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]