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Kharitonov Awarded First Russian Booker Prize

December 8, 1992

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russian author Mark Kharitonov won the first international Booker Prize on Tuesday in a televised ceremony aimed at placing Russian literature once again in the limelight.

The $15,500 prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, has been given annually for 30 years for the best English-language novel of the year. This is the first year the competition has been extended to Russian- language works.

Kharitonov, 55, won for his novel, ″Lines of Fate, or Milashevich’s Casket,″ which tells of a graduate student intent on deciphering musings written on the back of candy wrappers by a long-forgotten Russian scholar.

The award ceremony was at Moscow’s Central House of Architects.

The author had tears in his eyes after the award was announced. In true Russian literary tradition, he began immediately to recite the verses of another Russian author - Osip Mandelstam, a poet killed during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

Kharitonov is well-known among Russian intellectuals, but has failed to get more than half his literary output published in the last 20 years. The Booker is his first prize.

The winning novel was written in 1985, but published only this year in a Russian literary magazine.

Kharitonov said of the award. ″Maybe it will raise the interest in literature ... I hope it will help get me printed.″

The new freedom in the former Soviet Union enabled many authors to get their works in print while confronting them with tremendous competition for readers. Western mysteries, detective stories, thrillers, science fiction and pornography - largely unavailable under the Soviets - now flood bookstores.

Russian classics and even the works of Nobel laureates like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Josef Brodsky go unsold.

″It’s intellectual writing. It’s not sexy writing. That’s not everybody’s cup of tea in Russia these days,″ Ellendea Proffer, a founder of Ardis, an American publishing house that focuses on Russian literature, said of the book.

Other finalists included Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, for ″Night Time,″ Friedrich Gorenstein for ″The Place,″ Vladimir Sorokin for ″The Hearts of Four,″ and Alexander Ivanchenko for ″Monogram.″

The prize is sponsored by Booker, an international food and agriculture business.

The jury for the Russian-language award included critic Alla Latynina, writers Andrei Bitov and Andrei Sinyavsky, Oxford University professor John Bailey, and Proffer.

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