Alexey’s amazing adventures in Russia and abroad

We’re talking about books this month on PocketCultures, so here on People of the World we’ve got some interviews with authors for you.

Today’s interview is with Alexey Subbotin, whose novella A few hours in the life of a young man describes life in contemporary Russia. Alexey had a pretty eventful life so far; here he tells us about surviving the breakup of the Soviet Union, studying and working abroad, selling a telecoms company and writing on the Moscow-St Petersburg railroad (phew!).

Tell us a bit about yourself

I was born in 1975, in Nyandoma – a small district center in Northern Russia. Both my parents worked for the local railroad. In 1977, we moved to Arkhangelsk – the capital of the Russian North, a place with lots of history and traditions. Then in late 90’s the whole world around me collapsed – whatever people may say nowadays about the break up of the Soviet Union, it was rather unmerciful and unpleasant experience. Luckily for me my parents kept sanity and raised me and my brother in spite of all the challenges stemming from a failed economy and disintegrating society. My father was unemployed for a number of years doing some dull temporary jobs despite his excellent engineering background.

In 1992, I graduated from middle school and began to study management at the Saint Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance. In my third year there I got an opportunity to study in Germany at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Bernburg. DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) recognized me as the Best Foreign Student in 1997. Upon graduation I started to work as an auditor in the St. Petersburg office of Arthur Andersen.

After the first steps up the career ladder I decided to look around once more and, in 2002, went to Barcelona to study for an MBA at the IESE Business School. With my MBA I got a very fancy job within the Strategy & Planning team at Barclays Capital in London. It was interesting, but I always felt that my real future is in Russia. So, in 2006, I moved to Moscow where I started as the Head of Investor Relations at ‘Golden Telecom’. Two years later, after the share price went up almost six-fold (and I did most of the talking!) we sold the company.

I was paid enough money to stop working for a while, but instead became a member of the management board of the consolidated company VimpelCom. While the owners went on a shopping spree acquiring companies in Ukraine, Italy, Vietnam, Canada, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria and goodness knows where else I had the honour of explaining the reasons for their appetite to investors. After surviving four CEOs, two major reorganizations and the HQ move to Amsterdam, I decided to call it a day and took a break. I left the Company with 99 days of unused vacations and 650,000 miles with Aeroflot alone.

Since then I work with few rather personal projects which include a small direct investment fund in Arkhangelsk, boutique advisory for Investor Relations and Corporate Governance in Moscow and little bit of writing. I always liked reading, in the recent times more focusing on documentaries and non-fiction concerning history, science and other interesting subjects like politics and philosophy. I enjoy playing billiards and poker, like different kinds of water sports including fishing. And obviously a good pint of Guinness!

Why did you decide to write a book?

I always liked to write. I mean put words together. While working in Investor Relations I have discovered that I am a good storyteller and even very senior and wise people listed to my stories with full attention. I think I even got very neat handwriting – just kidding. In this particular case I just stumbled upon an idea and it felt like a challenge whether I will be able to complete a small novel.

The timing was right – I was full of positive energy and on the lookout for new things in my life. The topic of my little novel was also very contemporary – just before the presidential elections, which absolutely in line with my expectations marked the beginning of a new political era in Russia. It took me two or three weeks to write the main parts and than another couple of weeks to put the whole thing together polishing bits and pieces.

What is your book about?

My little novel describes events, conversations and thoughts occurring during the day hours of a certain young man. He seems to be the looking glass through which the present shape of society in Russia is being looked upon. The storyline also touches on subjects like family relations, various aspects of politics and economics, modern science and even art. Different issues and possible solutions are being discussed. I guess the attention slowly shifts to his father and then there is a little twist at the end – I am curious how many readers can guess his family name…

(Although I would also like to say that «A few hours in the life of a young man» is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)

What is your day job? Do you work long hours? How did you find time to write?

As I said I am on my own right now – that surely gives you a lot of time. But it also strengthens my core enemy within – my laziness. I remember that I was very efficient when travelling: the new high-speed train takes you from St. Petersburg to Moscow in four hours. So, I would write maybe 20-30 pages. For whatever reason I had to travel to St. Petersburg quite often back then, that’s where the most part of the book was written. The sound of railroad helped me to get my thought on paper (or screen) I guess. But the thought where always there!

Why did you decide to translate it?

Well, I’ve got quite an international background and have friend in many countries across the globe. The translation thus just reflected my desire to share my book with my friends. I hired a professional translator and decided that I will check the quality myself. The English version still bears some Russianness, but I think it is good like that. I let some professional editors look at it, but there weren’t that many comments to be frank. I doubt that I ever get close to the Nobel Prize for my little novel, but hey – it is just the first step!

How can we read it?

Through Smashwords you can get it on Amazon, B&N, Kobo and some other sites. Or you can read it for free (both in English and Russian) on my website: A few hours or here: (Russian only – but there are also some of my short stories)

Read more:
Author Tash Aw on moving to China and the South Asian novel
Books from around the world, recommended by our contributors
Images from the edge of Russia

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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2 Comments

  • Simona

    Hi Alexey! your story is pretty inspiring- both regarding your career and the book.
    I guess it is a lot of people’s dream to manage to write a book (including myself) but not so many succeed. My question is: did you take any writing classes or did you just write how you felt? thank you :)

  • Privet! Thanks for your comment – such words really inspire young authors ))
    To answer your question – no, I never attended any lessons or classes on how to write fiction. Though I did read a few books on the subject. I would recommend you to read Mikail Veller’s “Guru” (it is available in English here: http://lib.ru/WELLER/r_teacher_engl.txt)
    And before I started to write I re-read three short novels, which I decided to use as some kind of example in terms of style and form. These are:
    1) Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”
    2) Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”
    3) Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time”
    Good Luck!