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What is auto fiction and who is afraid of it? Five books for summer inspiration

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The name of the genre, which in English sounds like autofiction, in Russian may seem comical, oxymoronic – “fiction, myths about myself.” But it is the literal translation that best reflects the essence of the genre, which has been gaining more and more popularity among Russian readers in the last couple of years.

When picking up autofiction, it is important to remember that it is a borderline genre: it combines fiction and the author’s life experience (auto), and diaries, memoirs, letters, essays, reports, feuilletons and blogs have had a great influence on its formation.

The narrative is usually told in the first or third person. The protagonist may bear the author’s name, or may be hiding behind a pseudonym. The events described in the work could well have happened in reality, but it is not necessary to rely on the authenticity of the autofiction, all its truth is in the sincerity of the writer, in the authenticity of his experiences.

The popularity of autofiction among modern authors is due to fatigue from the traditional novel. In the 2010s, a period of searching for new forms of expression of personal experience began in foreign literature. The ideologue of this movement was the author of the manifesto “Thirst for Reality” David Shields, who campaigned not to act as a “clown behind the wheel” and abandon the form of a classic novel with fictional characters and conditional reality, because “all the best stories are real stories.”

Quite in the spirit of postmodernism, David Shields “edited” his book from quotations taken out of context, which formed the chapters of a kind of “dictionary of autofictionist” (“Person”, “Autobiographical”, “Collage”, “Risk” and so on). Supporters of the “rebellious” writer were found very quickly, and soon formed a pool of writers ready to free the book world from fiction: Chris Kraus, Ben Lerner, Maggie Nelson, Tao Lin, Sheila Hattie, Rachel Cask, Megan Boyle, Ocean Wong, Olivia Wong and many others.

Autofiction has become a kind of literary laboratory, a huge cauldron in which the author at his discretion in various proportions throws real and fictional events, photographs, documents, quotes. The plot may not be at all, it can be replaced by descriptions and self-reflection. The more unusual – the better

However, do not think that autofiction is an achievement of the XXI century. The name of the genre and its main features were formulated in 1977 by the French writer Serge Dubrovsky in an annotation to his novel “Son”. “An autobiography is a privilege left to important figures of this world, the twilight of their lives and their beautiful style. In front of you is a fiction of absolutely reliable events and facts,” he wrote.

Dubrovsky was destined to become not only a practitioner, but also one of the main theorists of autofiction. Although the works themselves in the genre of “self-writing” were written long before him, even without suspecting it. For example, the autobiographical multi-volume epic by Marcel Proust “In Search of Lost Time”, “Life” by Guy de Maupassant, “Other Shores” by Vladimir Nabokov, “Moscow – Cockerels” by Venedikt Erofeev, “Roland Bart on Roland Bart” by authorship, do not believe it , Rolana Bart. In Russia, car fiction is flourishing in the field of literary mainstream, in independent magazines and, of course, in samizdat.

This genre is an ideal option for those who find themselves in a creative impasse and do not know what to write about. The answer is simple: about yourself, about any event in life or a whole chronicle, a slice of your own observations and thoughts. And do not be afraid that such a work will not have readers. May the incredible success of Karl Uwe Knausgor’s book My Struggle encourage you on this path. The six-volume book was supposed to be a salvation from the creative crisis, an attempt to write 10 pages a day, no matter what. The result is a detailed diary without a plot about everyday trifles, quarrels with his wife, conversations with friends, games with children, in short, the everyday life of an ordinary person. And also – a world bestseller. What is the secret of the success of this book and similar literature? First of all, in her sincerity, which is so lacking in modern readers.

Here are some more interesting works in the genre of autofiction, which are perfect for summer reading and inspiration.

LitRes: Samizdat, 2020

Anne was eight years old when her parents sent her to her grandmother for the summer. She had three months of adventures, games, and books ahead of her. However, the grandmother did not seem to recognize her granddaughter, and the summer turned into a long six years among strangers, sectarians. This is a book about adult betrayal, a warning book that will help identify wolves in sheep’s clothing that promises to save the world. At any cost.

No Kidding Press, 2020

The first part of the trilogy (“Childhood”, “Youth” and “Adults”) by one of the most famous Danish poets of the twentieth century takes readers to the working-class district of Copenhagen. Little Tove was brought up in a stuffy atmosphere of indifference from her father and maternal dislike. The girl seems to live in two worlds: the first is a harsh reality surrounded by thieves and prostitutes, the second is ideal, literary. The heroine dreams of at least once feeling as happy as her favorite book characters.

“New Literary Review”, 2019

Notes from an oncologist about New York clinics, colleagues and patients will not leave anyone indifferent. Each chapter is dedicated to a hospital in one of the districts of the city. On the way to the hero there are very different people from different ethnic enclaves and social strata, but they all turned out to be equal in the face of adversity. The author tells their stories. Beginning in New York, the book brings the hero to New Delhi.

AST Publishing House, 2020

And again the place of action – New York. The book’s protagonist Esther Greenwood has become an intern at a local women’s magazine, but her plans are much more ambitious – to become a famous writer. Only behind the beautiful cover of fashion shows, parties and meetings with celebrities hides human indifference and other problems of adult life, for which Esther was not ready. She is drowning more and more in her loneliness and depression…

“My Year of the Salinger” by Joanna Rakoff

And even if this book has not yet been translated into Russian, we already have a film adaptation by director Philippe Fallardo (“My Year in New York”, 2020), which perfectly conveys the atmosphere of autofiction. The protagonist, in search of her first job, accidentally became an assistant at a literary agency, whose clients include many literary legends, including the living hermit J. D. Salinger. Thanks to an accidental telephone conversation, the girl became friends with the mayor and even received some valuable lessons from him, because she secretly dreams of becoming a celebrity – a poet. Around the main choice – to succumb to the elements of bohemian life or go your own way – and the story unfolds.

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