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CHKHARTISHVILI, Grigory (Shalvovich) 1956-

(Boris Akunin)

PERSONAL:

Born May 20, 1956, in Georgia; Education: Moscow State University.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Moscow, Russia. Office—Poema Press Publications, Zvezdny Blvd. 23, 129075 Moscow, Russia. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

CAREER:

Writer, editor, critic, philologist, translator. Inostrannaya Literatura magazine, editor-in-chief, until 2000. Pushkin Library, Soros Foundation, chairman of executive board.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Smirnoff-Booker Prize nomination, 2000; Russian Writer of the Year, 2000; Anti-booker Prize, 2000, for Koronatsiia, ili, Poslednii iz romanov; Gold and Silver Daggers Award shortlist, British Crime Writers' Association, 2003, for The Winter Queen.

WRITINGS:

AS BORIS AKUNIN, UNLESS NOTED

Azazel', Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 1998, translated by Andrew Bromfield as The Winter Queen, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

Turetskii gambit, Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 1998, translated by Andrew Bromfield as The Turkish Gambit, Phoenix (London, England), 2005.

Leviafan, Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 1998, translated by Andrew Bromfield as Murder on the Leviathan, 2004, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.

Smert' Akhillesa (title means "Death of Achilles"), Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 1998.

Osobye porucheniia (title means "Special Assignments"), Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 1999.

Statskii sovetnik (title means "The State Councilor"), Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 1999.

(As Grigory Chkhartishvili) Pisatel' i samoubiistvo (title means "The Writer and Suicide"), Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie (Moscow, Russia), 1999.

Koronatsiia; ili, Poslednii iz romanov (title means "The Coronation; or, the Last of the Novels"), Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 2000.

Pelagiia i belyi bul'dog (title means "Pelagiia and the White Bulldog"), Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 1999.

Altyn-tolobas, Neva (St. Petersburg, Russia)/OLMA (Moscow, Russia), 2000.

Skazki dlia idiotov (title means "Fairy Tales for Idiots"), Neva (St. Petersburg, Russia)/OLMA (Moscow, Russia), 2000.

Liubovnik smerti, Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 2001.

Liubovnitsa smerti, Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 2001.

Pelagiia i chernyi monakh (title means "Pelagiia and the Black Monk"), Zakharov (Moscow, Russia), 2001.

Vneklassnoe chtenie, two volumes, OLMA (Moscow, Russia), 2002.

PLAYS

Chaika: Komediia i ee prodolzhenie (sequel to The Seagull by Anton Chekhov; produced in Moscow, Russia, at Shkola sovremennoi p'esy, April 26, 2001), Mosty kul'tury (Moscow, Russia), 2000.

Erast Fandorin, produced in Moscow, Russia, at Rossiiskii akademicheskii molodezhnyi teatr, June 2, 2002.

Tragediia/Komediia, OLMA (Moscow, Russia), 2002.

TRANSLATOR

Doroga k zamku: Sovremennaia iaponskaia novella, Izvestiia (Moscow, Russia), 1987.

Seiichi Morimura, Ispytanie zveria, Raduga (Moscow, Russia), 1989.

Ubiitsvo na Rozovoi ville: Sovremennyi iaponskii detektiv, Raduga (Moscow, Russia), 1990.

(As Grigory Chkhartishvili) Yukio Mishima, Izbrannoe, Terra (Moscow, Russia,) 1996.

(As Grigory Chkhartishvili) Tikamatsu Mondzaemon and others, Iaponskii teatr, Severo-Zapad (St. Petersburg, Russia), 1997.

Iaponskie dzuikhitsu, Severo-Zapad (St. Petersburg, Russia), 1998.

Seiichi Mishima, Ispoved' maski, Simpozium (St. Petersburg, Russia), 2000.

Seiichi Mishima, Markiz de Sad, Azbuka (St. Petersburg, Russia), 2000.

Seiichi Mishima, Zolotoi khram, Simpozium (St. Petersburg, Russia), 2000.

OTHER

Azazel' (television script), ORT, 2002.

Contributor of articles and translations from the Japanese and English for numerous publications. Editor in chief of "Anthology of the Japanese Literature" book series.

ADAPTATIONS:

The Winter Queen has been adapted as an audiobook.

SIDELIGHTS:

Russian editor, writer, and translator Grigory Chkhartishvili turned his life around after his fortieth birthday party in 1996. As he later noted, this was the dangerous age when men might leave their wives, but as he was happy with his, he decided on another kind of change. Known for his translations from the Japanese and for his editing, Chkhartishvili decided on a career change. Understanding that his wife and other readers of mysteries found their hobby a guilty pleasure and even felt constrained to hide the covers of the trashy mysteries they were reading with brown paper when riding public transport, Chkhartishvili decided to create a high-class mystery series, part postmodern literature and part page-turning suspense novel. He also adopted a pen name, Boris Akunin, chosen because his own name was so difficult to pronounce for even other Russian speakers, and also to hide his identity from his more literary and academic colleagues. His pen surname comes from the Japanese word for "evil." For content and setting Chkhartishvili mined the world of nineteenth-century Russia long before the 1917 Russian Revolution turned his country upside down; for his main character he created a "resourceful young detective," as Time critic Lev Grossman described Erast Petrovich Fandorin, the protagonist of Chkhartishvili's series, which is ten books strong and growing.

Fandorin is the orphaned son of a once-wealthy Russian family. He is "young, handsome, versed in foreign languages and Eastern breathing techniques," according to Richard Lourie in the New York Times Book Review. Fandorin's desire to become a top-notch police inspector runs into complications when he discovers he cannot stand the sight of blood, but his deductive abilities see him through. Wall Street Journal contributor Guy Chazan further described this protagonist, whose books sell in the millions of copies in Russia, as "a Slavic Sherlock Holmes who speaks Japanese and English, is skilled at martial arts and has lady-killer good looks." According to Chazan, these "qualities set [Fandorin] apart from the beefy, violent protagonists of most Russian thrillers. Millions of readers have been seduced by the books' elegant style and classy, retro feel." All of the books in the series are written in a pastiche of a nineteenth-century literary idiom and set in a world that is still run by czars. Grossman praised Chkhartishvili's "gloriously pre-Soviet prose, sophisticated and suffused in melancholy and worthy of nineteenth-century forebears like [Nikolai] Gogol and [Anton] Chekhov." Lourie, reviewing the first of the series and the first translated into English, The Winter Queen, had a similar literary comparison: "If Pushkin had tried his hand at detective fiction, it might have turned out something like this." Writing in the the Slavic and East European Journal, Anatoly Vishevsky also commented on the prose style, noting that "Akunin's books are rich in literary allusions and parallels."

The Winter Queen opens with the suicide death of a rich young man in a Moscow park. Playing what Chkhartishvili submits is "American roulette" (most definitely not Russian roulette), the young man has lost. The Moscow police are not very interested in suicides, but one man, detective superintendent Xavier Grushin, sees that this could be the perfect training exercise for his new clerk, Fandorin. Once Fandorin begins following leads in this case, however, he discovers a global conspiracy involving a British progressive orphanage. Fandorin's case leads him to foggy London of 1876 and back to Moscow in this "sparkling romp of a story," as Vanora Bennett described the novel in a Times Literary Supplement review. The international conspiracy the young inspector uncovers has its tentacles everywhere, presenting a fictional set up that is "classic James Bond," according to Vishevsky. For Lourie, this debut title in English from Chkhartishvili is a "saucy and insouciant tale of derringers and derring-do." Sarah Weinman, writing online for January Magazine, praised the characterization in this novel, noting that "Fandorin is no two-dimensional cartoon." Weinman went on to explain that Fandorin's "sleuthing skills are demonstrated as he assembles the increasingly confusing pieces of this story's puzzle into a whole, revealing the depth and extent of the plot against Russia's regime." Weinman concluded, "Ultimately, the overall success of The Winter Queen is due to the vibrancy of its setting (which drips of nostalgia for an earlier time), the cleanness of its prose and the magnetism of its protagonist."

Further praise for The Winter Queen came from Booklist's Bill Ott, who called this first book in the Fandorin series a "rousing start," and commended the protagonist Fandorin as "an odd but appealing mix of Holmesian brilliance and Inspector Clousseauian bumbling." For Lisa Schwarzbaum, writing in Entertainment Weekly, the same novel is a "galloping story of murder, suicide, deception, and disguise." Similarly, Margaret Cannon, reviewing The Winter Queen in Toronto's Globe and Mail, called it a "brilliant novel," while Sean Gannon in People commended the "genteel style" of this "hands down winner."

Chkhartishvili's second novel to appear in English is Murder on the Leviathan. Set in 1878, it involves a series of violent murders in Paris and a mystery solved aboard the luxury ship Leviathan en route to India. A British aristocrat, along with nine servants and family members, have been killed, and an invaluable golden statue of Shiva stolen. Now a diplomat, Fandorin happens to be aboard the ship, as does Parisian Commissioner Gustave Gauche, who has followed leads on the killer to this ship. Soon, he and Fandorin are matching wits to find the murderer in this "intelligent and deftly plotted work," as Barbara Hoffert described it in Library Journal. For one Publishers Weekly contributor, Chkhartishvili "writes like a hybrid Caleb Carr, Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters." The same contributor also noted that "atmospheric detail gives depth to the twisting plot." Schwarzbaum, writing in another Entertainment Weekly assessment, had further praise for this novel and for all the "addictively dazzling Erast Fandorin mysteries." She observed that "the book itself is a luxury literary cruise." Gannon, writing in People, found Murder on the Leviathan "as stylish as it is suspenseful," and Time reviewer Grossman dubbed it "fiendishly witty."

The entire series of mysteries featuring Fandorin are scheduled for translation into English. But Chkhartishvili has already moved beyond this series, initiating spin-offs featuring Fandorin's grandson, Nicholas, who is a British citizen in the contemporary world in the novel Altyn-tolobas, and a second series featuring a late-nineteenth-century nun, Pelagiia, who is reminiscent of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. With plays made from his works, as well as a television series broadcast in Russia, "there is little doubt that Akunin has achieved a permanent place in the annals of Russian culture," according to Konstantine Klioutchkine in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 285: Russian Writers since 1980, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2004, pp. 3-10.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 2003, Bill Ott, review of The Winter Queen, p. 1637; May 1, 2004, Ted Hipple, review of The Winter Queen (audiobook), p. 1491.

Economist, March 17, 2001, Tatyana Tolstaya, "Speech Therapy; New Fiction from Russia," p. 8.

Entertainment Weekly, May 23, 2003, Lisa Schwarzbaum, "Czar Struck: Russian Author Boris Akunin Imports His Best-Selling Mystery-Thriller Series Set in 19th-Century Moscow," p. 79; April 30, 2004, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Murder on the Leviathan, p. 168.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 24, 2003, Margaret Cannon, review of The Winter Queen, p. D15.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2004, review of Murder on the Leviathan, pp. 202-203.

Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Winter Queen, p. 152; March 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Murder on the Leviathan, p. 112.

New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2003, Richard Lourie, review of The Winter Queen, p. 8.

People, June 16, 2003, Sean Gannon, review of The Winter Queen, p. 53; May 31, 2004, Sean Gannon, review of Murder on the Leviathan, p. 56.

Publishers Weekly, March 22, 2004, review of Murder on the Leviathan, p. 66.

Russian Life, September-October, 2003, review of The Winter Queen, p. 61.

Slavic and East European Journal, winter, 2001, Anatoly Vishevsky, "Answers to Eternal Questions in Soft Covers: Post-Soviet Detective Stories," pp. 733-739.

Time, August 11, 2002, Lev Grossman, review of The Winter Queen, p. 58; June 7, 2004, Lev Grossman, "Murder Most Exotic," p. 121.

Times Literary Supplement, May 16, 2003, Vanora Bennett, review of The Winter Queen, p. 32.

Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2002, Guy Chazan, "Roll Over, Dostoyevsky: Serious Russian Writers Reinvent the Thriller—Grigory Chkhartishvili Writes Popular, Classy Whodunits; At Peace in the Cemetery," p. A1.

World Literature Today October-December, 2003, Emily Johnson, review of Tragediia/Komediia, p. 129.

Writer, September, 2003, "Waking with a Hangover from his 40th Birthday Party in 1997, Russian Mystery Novelist Boris Akunin Decided to Change His Life," p. 11.

ONLINE

BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (June 18, 2004), Mike Parker, review of The Winter Queen.

January Magazine,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (May, 2003), Sarah Weinman, review of The Winter Queen.*

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Chkhartishvili, Grigory (Shalvovich) 1956-

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