Book Prize Winners for 2013


Mëniku, Linda and Héctor Campos. Discovering Albanian 1: Textbook, Workbook, Audio Supplement.

Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.

Discovering Albanian 1: Textbook, Workbook, Audio Supplement by Linda Mëniku and Héctor Campos is a major contribution to our field, making up for the dearth of materials available to English speaking students learning this language. Writing a textbook, workbook, and digital materials of Albanian, an Almost Never Taught Language, presents many challenges that these authors have met ambitiously and quite well. Discovering Albanian 1 will allow teachers of this language to truly focus on their syllabi and classroom interactions, rather than on having to create an endless library of grammatical explanations, charts and exercises.

Though the textbook is based on standard Albanian as it is used in Albania, the authors recognize and include major Albanian dialect varieties, and this provides a two-fold service to the profession: it teaches students the sociolinguistic realities of what is actually spoken Albanian; and it acknowledges and values speakers of the different varieties of the language. These are important considerations in shaping instructional materials for this critical language, which has so few published support materials. An appealing two-CD set provides a desired audio supplement. Discovering Albanian 1 includes answer keys to most of the exercises making the text a good choice for self-learners, and not only those learning the language in a more traditional classroom setting. Mëniku and Campos, as well as the University of Wisconsin Press, should be applauded for publishing a valuable and professional textbook, much needed and exemplary in its inclusion of Albanian dialect sociolinguistics.


Gurianova, Nina. The Aesthetics of Anarchy: Art and Ideology in the Early Avant-Garde.

Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2012.

In The Aesthetics of Anarchy: Art and Ideology in the Early Avant-Garde., Nina Gurianova alters our understanding of a crucial development in Russian art and culture. Deeply researched and vigorously argued, Gurianova’s study reveals why the early avant-garde should not be considered, as it often is, mainly as a precursor to the Constructivist movement. Instead, the early avant-garde was unique in its embrace of an aesthetics of anarchy, “a new interpretation of art and human creativity: an art without rules,” as Gurianova writes, “revealed in the creative energy of the artists as they transformed literary, theatrical, and performance practices.” Gurianova’s study is at once fascinating in its interpretation of individual artists, writers, and filmmakers, and sharply and productively polemical in its resistance to generalizations about the early avant garde, which she contests by defining the ideological underpinnings of the early avant-garde, examining the roots of the movement in Russian intellectual traditions, and exploring unexpected resonances between the early Russian avant-garde and Dada. Most broadly and impressively, The Aesthetics of Anarchy offers a newly complex account of the relationship between art and politics during this period.


Krzhizhanovsky, Sigizmund. The Letter Killers Club.

New York, NY: New York Review Books, 2012. Translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull with Nikolai Formozov. Introduction by Caryl Emerson.

“I am known for being unknown.” Thus Sigizimund Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950) eloquently and with characteristic verbal ingenuity sums up his position in Soviet Russia. One editor branded his “intellectual prose” as “untimely”—there could be no harsher criticism than being out of step with the Soviet regime. Krzhizhanovsky published almost nothing of his work and ceased writing fiction in the thirties, only to be rediscovered, miraculously, by the Russian reader a half-century later during the late perestroika years. Joanne Turnbull’s inventive, resourceful and luminous translation of the metaphysical novel The Letter Killers Club. (translated with Nikolai Formozov) offers the English-language reader the perfect introduction to this enigmatic writer through one of his best longer prose pieces. This is Turnbull’s third volume of Krzhizhanovsky and a fourth is on its way. Krzhizhanovsky’s “shining talent,” to quote Adam Thirwell, at last is allowed to sparkle.


Herzen, Alexander.  A Herzen Reader.

Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2012. Translated from the Russian by Kathleen Parthé.

Alexander Herzen has always been a peculiar combination of critic and historical figure, memoirist and conscience—not so systematic a thinker as his philosophically-minded contemporaries, broader-minded than the pure revolutionaries. This collection gives Herzen reacting to events, thinking through positions, and displaying the qualities that put him at the center of Russian intellectual life despite his living abroad. Kathleen Parthé's translation reflects her deep understanding of her author and subject in the remarkable clarity and conviction with which it conveys Herzen's ideas, mood, and aesthetic sensibility. Indeed, the entire edition—with its informative introduction, extensive bibliography, and brilliant selection of texts—sets a standard to which future scholarly translations ought to aspire. Parthé has done a great service to all who would understand this fascinating man.


Bailyn, John Frederick. The Syntax of Russian.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

John Bailyn's The Syntax of Russian shows all the positives that a monographic treatment of a syntactic topic can have—It is bold in the scope of its coverage, it is empirical in providing a detailed and lucid discussion of the data, it is ambitious in offering a treatment embedded in a complex, but articulate theoretical framework, it is far-sighted in pointing to unresolved issues that may inspire future research, and it moves Russian linguistics beyond the scope of Slavistics by appearing in a broadly based series dedicated to the languages of the world. 

The book is divided into three parts. The first part analyzes core constructions of Russian, showing that they display restricted structural properties and can thus be interpreted through the prism of a syntactic theory based on the derivational approach, configurationality, hierarchical constituency, fine-grained functional structure, extended VP shells, and other central premises that characterize current generative theory. The chapter on Case argues convincingly for an analysis based on the idea that each Case arises in a particular syntactic configuration and as such represents a core area of the syntax of the language. The most original part of the book, that on word order in Russian, proceeds from word order in smaller nominal constituents to more challenging data including free word order phenomena. On the basis of intonation, word order universals, and syntactic tests, the chapter confirms the status of Russian as an SVO language. Further discussion addresses a variety of constructions that have been described mainly in terms of Theme/Rheme (Prague School), relying primarily on surface word order. Bailyn argues convincingly that the Theme-Rheme order is post-syntactic. The author provides a derivational system that accounts for it; he further substantiates the idea that so-called Scrambling phenomena are not part of the core grammar.

In sum, The Syntax of Russian is not only a balanced book that provides a deep insight into both Russian syntax and cutting-edge linguistic theory, but it is also an exemplary reminder that a monographic synthesis continues to represent a most valued style of research, thus remaining a classic genre.