The Baltic Assembly Literature Prize awarded posthumously to Vahur Afanasjev

The Baltic Assembly Prize in Literature was awarded to the late Estonian writer, Vahur Afanasjev (1979-2021), for his novel “Serafima and Bogdan” – a story about Old Believers: Russians who fled to Estonia because of religious persecution.

The jury noted the story of “Serafima and Bogdan” painted a vivid picture of the characters’ exceptional world: the villages, lifestyle, religion and language of the Estonia’s Old Believers – Russians who fled to Estonia because of religious persecution and found homes on the west banks of Lake Peipus. The first Russian Old Believers appeared in Estonia on the coast of Lake Peipus near Mustvee in the late 17th century.

“It is partly a fairy-tale, and partly an ethnographic portrayal of a community rich in traditions and history. Afanasjev’s mastery of style, detailed descriptions and metaphors make different feelings and actions clear to the reader. He pays special and acute attention to environment and details,” the jury said.

“The novel ‘Serafima and Bogdan’ by Vahur Afanasjev, who unfortunately passed away young this year, is a pearl on the cultural landscape of our country,” the head of the Estonian delegation to the Baltic Assembly, Aadu Must, said in a statement.

The Estonian cover of “Serafima and Bogdan”.

“Serafirma and Bogdan” took the Estonian literary scene by storm in 2017, earning both critical acclaim and readers’ love. It’s a 500-page family tale spanning half the 20th century in a Russian Old Believers’ village by Lake Peipus. Sprinkled with dark humour, wild imagination and a touch of magical realism, this feat of a novel took Afanasjev, who died suddenly in May this year, five years to complete.

The English translation of “Serafima and Bogdan” is set to be released later this year.

The Baltic Assembly has been awarding the prizes in literature, the arts and science since 1994. The assembly is a regional organisation that promotes intergovernmental cooperation between Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It attempts to find a common position in relation to many international issues, including economic, political and cultural issues. Its role is purely advisory.

Read also: Kristel Kont: The words remain ‒ in memory of writer Vahur Afanasjev.

Cover: Vahur Afanasjev reading out his latest novel at an Estonian literary festival in August 2020. Photo by Kris Moor.

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