Grigoriy Sluzhitel

I am actively seeking a publisher for my English translation of ‘Savely’s Days’, by Grigoriy Sluzhitel.

Grigoriy Sluzhitel (b. 1983, Moscow) is an actor at The Theatre Art Studio, a small, atmospheric theatre on Moscow’s Stanislavskiy Street.

‘Savely’s Days’ is Grigoriy’s first novel. It won the Readers’ Choice Yasnaya Polyana Award in 2019, and came second in both categories of the 2019 Big Book Award (jury and readers).

From Eugene Vodolazkin’s introduction to the novel:

By the time I had finished the opening few paragraphs, I was hooked, and could not tear myself away. I adore cats, but it was not the cat; it was the quality of the writing. There was none of the usual preening and strutting of the novice. Here was the powerful, calm voice of a master.

Sluzhitel’s heroes, whether cats or humans, are real. They are lonely; they suffer; they laugh; they love. Love in this novel deserves a special mention. It turns out to be the highest of all the loves: platonic. Reading ‘Savely’s Days’, I caught

myself believing that the novelist had actually become a full-fledged cat. For a regular Muscovite, changing one’s shape in this way would be an unusual, not to say exotic, activity, but it is a very important thing for a writer to be able to do. In his novel, Sluzhitel has offered us proof that from now on he will be able to turn into into anyone he chooses. We shall be sitting in the stalls, holding our breath as we watch his metamorphoses.

From a review on the blog ‘Lizok’s Bookshelf’:

Grigoriy Sluzhitel’s Savely’s Days, narrated by a male cat named Savely, who was likely named for a brand of a cottage cheese, is so affecting and charming that it made me smile, laugh, and even sob. Savely’s story isn’t just a chronicle of a cat’s life, it’s also a love letter to Moscow, and a bittersweet story of kinship, friendship, and separations.

As the novel’s title indicates, Savely, a very literate and literary cat, tells his life story, beginning with memories from the womb, birth, and early life in a Chiquita banana box. Savely’s childhood is pretty happy, featuring food from benefactors, regular visits to see his aunt (who lives in a front-loading washing machine), and good relationships with his sisters and mother. His upbringing is solid: his mother tells him that cats don’t really have nine lives so there’s no sense in taking chances by walking in front of motorized transportation.

Savely loses touch with his family after Vitya, a well-meaning human, takes him in. He’s not particularly happy in his new life despite nice possessions like a laser mouse, scratchers, and rubber balls, not to mention a Sunday ritual of climbing into a tea pot, inspired by a natural history programme Savely saw on television. He ends up bolting on the way to a vet visit (he’s already been neutered), leaving Vitya, a bookish teenager who’s something of an outcast, catless.

Savely cycles through quite a few lives in the book, serving as a rat catcher at the Tretyakov Gallery and having to co-habit, albeit briefly, with a parrot named Iggy, a situation not fated to end well. Then he’s hosted by Askar, a young Kirgiz man who rescues Savely after he’s attacked and left badly injured. After Askar is fired from his job at Gorky Park, he finds work as a bicycle deliveryman and brings Savely with him. They even deliver food to a theater backstage in a scene that seems to include Sluzhitel in a cameo appearance. There are lovely descriptions of Moscow during that period— the city filled with morning sun, puddles drying after a night downpour, everything looking harmonious and beautiful; and Askar, a migrant living under tenuous conditions with friends who’ve pooled their money for Savva’s care and feeding, was my favorite of the human characters in the novel, partly because of his big heart, but perhaps also because he lives on the margins of contemporary Moscow life, giving him something in common with Savva, who’s a wanderer.

Savely wants to see the world (or at least Moscow) and even gives the impression of being something of an existentialist with a phobia for commitment, too. At least, that is, until he meets a beautiful young cat, in some of the book’s nicest passages, and starts a happy cat-family life in a doghouse with his love and a dog.In his introduction to Savely’s Days, Eugene Vodolazkin says that Sluzhitel draws on his acting skills and becomes a full-fledged cat in the novel. Somehow this doesn’t just feel like a matter of Shklovsky’s ‘defamiliarization’, something else Vodolazkin mentions in his introduction. It feels as if Sluzhitel isn’t just showing the world from an unusual perspective. He’s an actor who’s an author (and an author who’s an actor) and channels his inner catness to thoroughly inhabit a character who’s not even of his own species. In doing so, he manages to find an internal logic for his text that makes the feline perspective feel perfectly natural, as if it’s not just a literary device. Savely may be a cat but he can tell a story—an exceedingly rare quality these days—at least as well as he can chase his tail.

Sample translation

You can read the opening of ‘Savely’s Days’ in my translation here: