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Archive for the 'Russian Library' Category

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Book Giveaway! City Folk and Country Folk, by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

City Folk and Country Folk

“Favorov’s brisk translation and helpful notes make the novel very accessible to present-day readers. This consistently delightful satire will introduce readers to a funnier, more female-centric slant on Russian literature than they may have previously encountered.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This week, our featured book is City Folk and Country Folk, by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Monday, August 7th, 2017

#WITMonth Book Giveaway!

City Folk and Country Folk

In celebration of Women in Translation Month, we are offering the chance to win a copy of three recent works by women, translated by women. The giveaway titles include: the newly published novel City Folk & Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov from our Russian Library series; Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila by Julia Kristeva, translated by Lorna Scott Fox; and new in paperback The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura, translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter. Throughout the week, we will feature more on these titles and others on the blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Art of Translation roundtable recap

There are still 2 days left in Russian Literature Week. Check out the remaining events here.

Art of Translation roundtable

Every year, Read Russia’s Russian Literature Week provides a variety of events for devotees of literature, from raucous panels on what’s new and hot on the contemporary scene to intimate, in-depth conversations on single titles. On Tuesday May 2nd 2017 the Russian Literature Week event The Art of Translation: A Literary Roundtable focused on translators. Moderator Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, began by inviting the participating translators to speak briefly about a recent translation and read a short passage from it. Thomas Kitson read from Rapture by Iliazd, the most recent publication in the Russian Library. Lisa Hayden commented that readers often assume that the most difficult part of translating Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin was the archaic language, but actually, getting the rhythm right was harder. Antonina Bouis read a passage from Sergei Lebedev’s Oblivion, a novel that, in Nina’s words, “turned the collapse of the Soviet Union into a kind of poetry”. And Marian Schwartz was gracious enough to read to us from an as-of-yet unpublished translation of a book by Leonid Yuzefovich. It will come out in February from Archipelago and currently bears the working title Horsemen of the Sands. The book concerns the Far East and Mongolia, and Marian pointed out that this makes it work particularly well in translation because Yuzefovich has already explained the unfamiliar customs and history for his Russian readers, who are also on unfamiliar ground.

Ruth deftly steered the conversation to highlight common themes and differences between the works and the methods of the translators. We had a rousing discussion of realia, which, as Marian commented, can add or take away from the overall experience of reading the translation. She cautioned that the translator should ask herself: Why is it there? How is it being used? What’s the effect on the original audience?

One big dividing factor is whether or not the author being translated is alive. Lisa, Nina, and Marian all enjoy close relationships with these authors. This allows them to ask for clarification, of course, but more importantly, having the author’s explicit permission makes it much easier to alter the underlying work. Michael Wise, the co-founder of New Vessel Press, was in the audience, and he and Nina spoke about some tightening of the prose and in one instance even some rearranging that they were able to do with Lebedev’s blessing. This kind of liberty is harder to take with the work of a dead author. Tom Kitson added that since he was unable to discuss Rapture with Iliazd, he compensated by reading his other works and getting a sense of his relations with other Russian writers.

Ruth ended the event with a request for advice for aspiring or emerging translators:
Marian Schwartz: Pick a really good book. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how good your translation is.
Antonina Bouis: Work with an author you like as a person.
Lisa Hayden: Listen for voices. Read out loud.
Thomas Kitson: Pick a book that you really love.

The Art of Translation: A Literary Roundtable was co-sponsored by Columbia University Press, the Columbia University Slavic Department, and the Harriman Institute

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Thoughts on Rapture by Iliazd (Ilia Zdanevich)

Iliazd’s Rapture is one of the upcoming titles in the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Rapture

Today Veniamin Gushchin, CC ’18, Russian Library Intern responds to Rapture by Iliazd, translated by Thomas J. Kitson

The term emigrant, as opposed to the more commonly used immigrant, is inherently backwards facing, focusing on the country of origin rather than the destination. In the popular imagination, the immigrant arrives in a land of opportunity, while the emigrant flees from an oppressive regime, hopelessly yearning to return to their past. Though the two words have vaguely the same meaning, though the distinction in writing is but a few letters and in pronunciation is often barely detectable, the terms are antonyms due to the complex set of relationships an individual has with their countries of departure and arrival.

As the son of Russian immigrants that grew up in a bilingual and bicultural environment, I am very sensitive to this distinction. My parents immigrated to the United States in the 90s for greater job opportunities in the field of medicine and made the deliberate choice – mostly to spite my grandmother, who believed such efforts to be in vain – to raise me speaking Russian and aware of my cultural heritage. From watching the Soviet version of Winnie the Pooh before Disney’s to listening to tapes of the actor Innokenty Smoktunovsky reading Eugene Onegin on road trips, my parents recreated a small island of Russian culture in our home. They spoke of their Soviet past with a mixture of nostalgia and disillusionment, as many Russians do. My childhood experience was one of continually balancing my parents’ past with the pressures to assimilate to American culture. Living in suburban Maryland rather than in an immigrant enclave like Brighton Beach, my sole source for my Russian identity was my parents, my only chance to use my Russian my home. As a result, preserving this heritage grew in significance. Now, studying Russian literature in college, I seem to have come to some sort of compromise between these identities. Nevertheless, I do often feel as if I am still that child coming back from school to my parent’s home, part of and distant from both worlds. More importantly, my experience is different than those of denizens of Brighton, than those whose heritage becomes but a percentage mentioned in discussions of ethnic background.

To turn things back a century, and three waves of Russian migration, the tension between cultural preservation and assimilation is reflected in the most prolific Russian émigré writers, Ivan Bunin and Vladimir Nabokov. Especially in the works of the nomadic Nabokov, nostalgia for an idealized version of prerevolutionary Russia is central to the artist’s identity. In terms of assimilation, even in Paris, Bunin wrote exclusively in Russian and interacted mostly with his immediate circle of fellow emigrants. Though Nabokov appears to have shown a greater degree of adaptability, becoming internationally renowned as a writer in English, his constant relocation – the only “Nabokov house” is in St. Petersburg where his family lived before the Revolution – betrays his inability to settle down and fully reconcile his lost past with the present. The idealization of this prerevolutionary period has influenced perceptions of the Soviet Union and imperial Russia both abroad and in Russia. More recently, post-Soviet discourse, exemplified in artistic expression such as Govorukhin’s film “Russia That We’ve Lost,” returns to portraying the turn of the twentieth century as a time of cultural brilliance and sophistication. These notions about the first wave of Russian immigration and that era have become so widespread that they have come to represent its dominant narrative.

The figure of Ilia Zdanevich, or Iliazd, complicates this simplistic view of the reactionary emigrant. Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, his first act of migration was to Petrograd, where he became involved in a number of avant-garde artistic groups associated with the movement of Russian Futurism. His reason for migrating to Paris was to establish new artistic relationships between the nascent Soviet avant-garde and similar artistic movements in Paris, such as Dada and surrealism. Both political and artistic, he stands in contrast to the more conservation Nabokov and Bunin. While the latter two writers proudly continued the traditions of Russian nineteenth century literature, Zdanevich eagerly embraced the possibility of reshaping and developing his genre. Despite his efforts, however, once the Soviet government turned against the avant-garde, Iliazd found himself in “poetic reclusion,” effectively exiled despite having emigrating for an entirely different set of reasons. Nevertheless, the artist continued to live in Paris, collaborating with the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Léger, developing a reputation in the European art world and, at least in part, assimilating.

Rapture is a doubly nostalgic novel, set in Iliazd’s native Georgia and written as an allegory of the Russian Futurism movement. Published in a doubly distant Paris, it is a thick mixture of avant-garde and traditional folklore, of Russian, Georgian, and Western influences that is impossible to fully separate into its constituent elements.

This new translation of Rapture allows Anglophone readers to experience Iliazd’s complex and thrilling artistic vision for the first time ever. In addition to placing the novel on the same shelf as the modernist masterpieces of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Thomas Mann, the publication of this translation complicates the simplistic binary between emigrant and home country present in the most influential narratives about this era. Iliazd’s voice joins the already dominant voices of Bunin and Nabokov to paint a more detailed and nuanced portrait of the first wave of Russian immigration in Paris. Immigration, emigration, and migration are all messy concepts, crossing the boundaries of identity as much as geopolitical borders. Each individual within these processes has a unique relationship to both the country of arrival and departure, the experience only able to be captured in polyphony.

Want to learn more about Rapture? Join the event TODAY, May 4, cosponsored by the NYU Jordan Center and PEN America World Voices Festival, with translator Thomas Kitson and scholar Jennifer Wilson. “What’s Old is New: Gender and Power in Iliazd’s Neglected Rapture

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Interview with Thomas J. Kitson, translator of Iliazd’s Rapture

Iliazd’s Rapture is the newest title in the Russian Library, a series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Thomas J. Kitson will be speaking about Rapture with Jennifer Wilson on Thursday, May 4th at 5:00 PM at NYU’s Jordan Center. More information here

Enter the Rapture Book Giveaway here

Rapture

Today Veniamin Gushchin, CC ’18, Russian Library Intern interviews Thomas J. Kitson about his translation of Rapture by Iliazd

What makes Rapture a classic of literary modernism, worthy of being read alongside the works of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and others? Why has it been ignored for so long?

I’ll take your second question first. Rapture got off to a bad start in the politically touchy and rapidly shifting Russian publishing milieu of the late 1920s, both in the Soviet Union and in the Emigration. But Iliazd took a stance that tended to undermine his own cause – and eventually, this became a fully conscious campaign to create art that would “vanish idly,” like the storied hidden treasures in the novel. When Iliazd began writing his novel in 1926, there was every indication Soviet publishers wanted to establish ties with left-leaning émigré writers. Iliazd sent the first chapters to his brother Kirill in the USSR, expecting it would appear alongside works by “fellow travelers” like Isaac Babel, Boris Pilnyak and other authors who had been moving more or less fluidly between Moscow, Berlin, and Paris. Kirill submitted the manuscript just when those publishing opportunities started disappearing. A new “proletarian” campaign in literature, not just against fellow travelers and their favored journal, Red Virgin Soil, but also against the avant-garde gathered around the journal LEF, including Vladimir Mayakovsky, coincided with Stalin’s consolidation of power within the Party. Iliazd’s manuscript was rejected on a combination of aesthetic and ideological grounds (reads like it’s been translated, “clumsy,” even “illiterate”; opens with a monk, displays “aesthetico-contemplative indifference to characters” and entertains a “mystical state of the spirit”). Iliazd wrote an exaggeratedly tendentious, almost mocking rejoinder to the Soviet editors emphasizing his “internationalism” and asserting that he’d been in the crowd that greeted Lenin at Finland Station in April 1917. But under conditions in the Soviet Union in 1928, his avant-garde pedigree and émigré status made him profoundly suspect. To my knowledge, his contacts in the USSR never made another attempt to publish the novel, although copies of it circulated among a small group of admirers in the 1930s. So for the vast majority of Russian readers, the novel never existed at all.

In Paris, Iliazd had taken a resolute stance against the anti-Soviet émigré arbiters of culture who controlled access to the Russian-language press, and there simply wasn’t a sufficiently large Russian-speaking audience independent of those organs. Iliazd’s associates, like the Dada writer and painter Sergei Charchoune and the younger poet Boris Poplavsky, had, one by one, “compromised” for the sake of being able to publish. Again, as far as I know, Iliazd never made any overture at all to the main Russian-language publishers, and even preferred unrealized schemes to translate the novel into French. He gave away a large number of the 750 copies he published at his own expense in 1930, and Russian bookstores refused to carry what was left on the pretext that it included several obscenities. Iliazd’s marketing strategy was openly challenging to potential buyers: “If you’re that inhibited, don’t read it!” So it disappeared there, too.
When Iliazd later gained a reputation in France as a printer and publisher of artists’ books, Rapture didn’t have the visual appeal to overcome its inaccessibility to non-Russian readers. It’s an indication of how thoroughly forgotten the novel was that it didn’t have champions to publish it during the Glasnost explosion. Luckily, there have been connoisseurs over the last thirty years, in and outside Russia, to keep pushing it forward in small editions. I find myself thinking that this is probably the most high-profile publication the novel has ever had, and that puts a lot of responsibility on me.

The novel’s modernism lies primarily in its post-Great War, post-Christian exploration of human desire for transcendence. Humans are thoroughly unnatural, time-bound, dying animals whose relentless artifice inevitably creates nostalgia for Nature, or the Infinite, or Unchanging Eternity, or Ideal Beauty, and efforts to “recover” these unattainable states exact a certain quantity of violence of one kind or another. Beneath his entertaining adventure story, Iliazd introduces Freudian drives, linguistic minimal phonetic pairs, Nietzschean jenseits, chivalric quests and fairy-tale tasks, mythologies of metamorphosis, including Christian Transfiguration and Resurrection, Romantic and Symbolist longing for the Eternal Feminine, and various strains of apocalypticism, among other features, to generate layers of meaning. Iliazd considered his novel above all a “commentary on… poetry as an always vain endeavor.” It is full of allusion, but also poetically structured (circularly, like many other modernist works) with rhyme, inversion, and recapitulation. And it wears all this remarkably lightly.

What new insights about the competing literary movements at the beginning of the twentieth century can be gained from Rapture?

Laurence, the protagonist, is said to be a portrait of Vladimir Mayakovsky, and the bare storyline grows out of a transparent pre-war polemic in which Zdanevich (not yet known as Iliazd) described a film scenario called “The Fallen Man,” a melodrama about a promising young revolutionary’s utter degradation and dishonorable death. While Iliazd could still be intransigent, I think what he saw during the war took away his unforgiving polemic edge, and Rapture is suffused with sympathy and self-deprecation – all poets are necessarily failures. We know that when Futurist and Acmeist poets rejected their Symbolist fathers, they retained, as with any Oedipal response, many of their fathers’ techniques and attitudes. The French scholar Régis Gayraud is absolutely right to see in Rapture “a return to a species of Symbolism bearing the experience of the avant-garde.” I suspect there may be a much harsher inscription of Nikolai Gumilev, the Acmeist leader executed by the Bolsheviks, lurking in the novel, but that’s something I haven’t dealt with.

I also hope, since Iliazd was close to Paul Eluard and frequently attended Surrealist meetings where Freud, Gothic novels, and German Romanticism were among the topics, someone will put this novel in conversation with the Surrealist prose emerging at the same time, like Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant and André Breton’s Nadja.

In translating Rapture, how did you navigate the multiple layers of cultural distance between the English-language reader and the text: first Russian, then Georgian?

Oddly, I didn’t feel that I needed to mediate much here. There’s an ongoing debate about where the novel is set (Soviet editors, to start with, didn’t like its lack of specified time and place). I lean toward agreeing with Elizabeth Beaujour that it’s simply set among mountain peoples, and there’s no need to specify more than Iliazd does. Iliazd loved the village culture of Georgia (and of the Anatolian areas he explored during a wartime archaeological expedition), but he also loved the Pyranees, and Petr Kazarnovskii makes a case for linking Rapture to the Albanian mountain settings that inspired Zdanevich’s first play. There are features that suggest a setting in the Russian Empire, but, once again, I don’t feel compelled to set that down in stone, and, in fact, I think the novel gains, especially on the mythical and fairy-tale levels, by leaving the question open. I deliberately translate vodka as “brandy” just for that reason. There’s a lovely interplay between the openness of “Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away” and maddeningly detailed descriptions of seemingly fantastic ethnographic practices and beliefs that turn out to be lifted almost verbatim from Iliazd’s notes about specific villages he visited. I want English-language readers to be immersed in minute detail when Iliazd decides to give it without breaking the effect of fantasy – and the same holds for the urban settings with their commercial phantasmagoria and the Party’s revolutionary striving for “expedient coercion.”

Rapture is rich in literary and historical references, especially to the Russia literary scene at the turn of the century. For English-language readers with little to no knowledge of the Russian literary tradition, do you believe this text is truly accessible? To what extent?

I think the novel can be enjoyed without being able to catch all the allusions (I certainly haven’t). Many English-language readers are familiar with Dostoevsky and will certainly find that characters and situations from his major novels come to mind. Readers who know modern French poetry will find echoes of Baudelaire and Rimbaud (for instance, the monk Mocius sees a satyr gnawing a rifle barrel). I have incorporated some vocabulary and phrasing from the King James Version of the Bible, which I hope will sound in many English-language readers’ ears. Some allusions, like Laurence’s invocation of Boris Pasternak when he vows to wed the government’s soldiers to “our sister death,” are extremely fleeting, but will probably register with some readers. I think the book will reward any level of reading experience for curious, intelligent readers.

When I’m feeling very inadequate as a translator, I imagine Rapture could warrant something like Yale University Press’s simultaneous publication of two versions of Máirtín ´O Cadhain’s Cré na Cille (The Dirty Dust and Graveyard Clay), where the alternate version would focus sharply on another level of puns and allusions that results in an entirely different book.

Translators generally fall along a spectrum regarding how faithfully they believe a translation should adhere to a source text. Where do you fall on this spectrum of remaining to true to the text and making it accessible to the reader?

I don’t think of remaining true and making it accessible as mutually exclusive tasks. I think the text can have some odd features and still be accessible, especially because I imagine a reader with a generous tolerance for what’s unfamiliar. In part, remaining true to this text meant taking into account the specific kinds of incomprehension or bewilderment evident in the fragmentary accounts of the manuscript’s effect on its first readers. I was particularly drawn to the impression that the novel had been translated from another language into Russian. How should I handle that in my own, actual translation? I retained a few syntactic and punctuation features I thought might create just a slight edge of unease. They were flagged at the proofreading stage, so they were perceptible, but we agreed that they didn’t impede reading. But my sense of hitting the right balance depends on the text. If I were tackling Zdanevich’s beyonsense plays, I’d have a very different feeling for what I want readers to have access to.

What are your hopes for this publication? Do you have any particular expectations for its reception or impact both on academia and general readership?

As I mentioned above, I feel like this translation has the potential to introduce Rapture to readers on a scale it’s never achieved. Today, the sheer fact of making it available in English already provides a huge advantage. I fantasize that bilingual Russian speakers will encounter it and want to read Iliazd’s Russian.

At the same time, I hope Rapture finds a place for general readers alongside Dostoevsky and Bulgakov, but also alongside Woolf and Lawrence and Mann. And, in a sense, I hope readers will think of it not as a Russian novel, but as an important element in a much broader literary heritage.

Are you interested in translating any of Iliazd’s other novels or works?

I’m currently translating Iliazd’s Philosophia, set in 1921 among Russian refugees in Istanbul — a psychologically and referentially paranoid novel moving toward a terrorist plot to blow up Hagia Sophia. It feels very timely.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

Brother Mocius’s Funeral

Rapture

“Brother Mocius’s funeral was performed not by parish priests, but by monks who turned up from his own monastery, as well as from the monastery he’d been traveling to. The monks didn’t share lay opinion as to the ascetic’s violent death, since the expression in the dead man’s eyes bore witness that he had seen death, while people who die violently supposedly don’t see it; but since the monks weren’t convinced even of this (to Luke’s distress), they decided, in order to avoid any ambiguity, to accept the locals’ petition and bury the holy fool in the cemetery there. No one showed up for the funeral.” — Iliazd

This week, our featured book is Rapture: A Novel, by Iliazd, translated by Thomas J. Kitson. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the third chapter of Rapture.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Rapture!

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Book Giveaway! Rapture, by Iliazd

Rapture

“Magical… like a wizard’s spell.” — Aleksandr Goldshtein, Nezavisimaia Gazeta

This week, our featured book is Rapture: A Novel, by Iliazd, translated by Thomas J. Kitson. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Thoughts on and an Excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays

Today Adham Azab-Xu, Ph.D. candidate in French and Romance Philology at Columbia University and current Fellow in Academic Administration here at Columbia University Press, responds to Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler and translated by Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen.

When Christine Dunbar, the editor of the Russian Library Series, asked me to read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it—I certainly don’t have a background in Russian literature, and have never been an enthusiastic reader of plays. But once I began reading, I was quickly engrossed in the stories these plays have to tell, which is why I am writing this post and urging you, our readers, to give Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays a chance.

In his excellent introduction to this book, Chandler writes that “like all great art, [Platonov’s] stories and plays can speak to a reader who knows little or nothing about the author and his times. Platonov’s deepest concerns were, in fact, always universal—philosophical and psychological more than political” (xxvii). We often perceive great art as great particularly because it continues to appeal to us in changing times, or because changes in our own perspective fill it with new life. In a way, then, great art is both timeless and ephemeral—it endures, but it variously reflects differing perspectives across physical and temporal boundaries.

Wanting to disconnect from the world for a bit, I began reading Fourteen Little Red Huts on November 8th—the day Donald Trump won the presidential election—and Chandler’s observation resonated deeply with me. Like many people I know, I was up in arms for the whole presidential campaign about the unmitigated triumph of disinformation. Even now, fake news sites spread it relentlessly and virulently, and large groups of people (some of whom I know intimately) only double down on their beliefs when presented with information that contradicts the most damaging and outlandish conspiracies. On November 8th, I saw that ours is not unlike the world to which Platonov bears witness in Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays—his characters, in spite of their suffering, and in spite of the obvious signs of falsehood that surround them, cleave ever more closely to their beliefs, or to what they are told to believe, and it certainly doesn’t do them any good.

Granted, to put things in historical context, Platonov’s characters, living—or, more accurately, starving to death—on collective farms (or kolkhozy) in Soviet Russia, are faced with a choice between what they’re told to believe, on the one hand, and the Gulag* on the other. While it is reassuring that relatively few people in the world today have to make such a choice, it is important not to forget that these plays’ most dystopic scenes represent Platonov’s real-life experience as a land reclamation expert in the 1920s, and as a writer sent to report on events in the Soviet countryside between 1929 and 1932. Between 1932 and 1933 alone, the Encyclopedia Britannica estimates that six to nine million people died of hunger in the fields, but even as Platonov’s characters wither away and die, many of them refuse to acknowledge the direness of their reality. They continue to toe the party line.

The plays’ jarringly unnatural, morbidly jocular language, especially in The Hurdy Gurdy and in Fourteen Little Red Huts, testifies to the unbelievability of the situation their characters find themselves in, and I sense that in using this kind of language in these two plays, Platonov was walking a fine line—struggling to find a truthful way to express the dystopic suffering he witnessed without getting himself sent to the Gulag. On several occasions, though, it seems a wonder that Platonov got away with writing so openly about the famine, since the Soviet government denied its existence and criminalized all discourse about it. To this effect, the cries of starving children in Fourteen Little Red Huts are both poignant and remarkable—a true act of literary bravery, even if none of these plays, and only one of the works Platonov wrote about the collectivization or about the famine, were published during Platonov’s lifetime.

In light of this fact, it is perhaps not surprising that Platonov expresses a distinct ambivalence about the value of writing in his plays. Reading Fourteen Little Red Huts in particular, it seems fair to say that he would reject the notion of literary bravery altogether; the three writers in Fourteen Little Red Huts certainly do not come across in a positive light, and, in the same play, reading appears to be little more than a diversion for those who are both starving and bored to death on the kolkhoz. And yet, Platonov still wrote these plays—plays that have often been deemed unperformable on account of their unusual stage directions, which seem more aimed at readers than at potential viewers. Why write plays that aren’t really plays? And why write at all, when it won’t get you anywhere?

If there is any value at all in writing, I would argue that, as far as these plays are concerned, it has more to do with revealing the suffering of the voiceless than with trying to assuage that suffering, which would be an exercise in futility. Platonov offers these voices up to us, and, eighty-five years later, they still speak to us, reminding us in so many ways that we “shall languish without motion amid the historical current, […] the same piffle as everything living or dead” (159).

At any rate, I hope all of you will read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays! Especially now, it will give you a lot to think about.

*Editor’s note: Not yet called the Gulag, but the point still stands…

See below for an excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts:

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

An Excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Eugene Onegin, Pushkin’s novel in verse, is one of the most influential works of Russian literature. In the below excerpt, the narrator “strolls” through Eugene Onegin, explaining why it’s a good thing that Pushkin was superficial, full of nonsense, and unconcerned with consequences.

Intrigued? For more context on Strolls with Pushkin, see the excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction: http://www.cupblog.org/?p=20320

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Thursday Fiction Corner: Between Dog and Wolf in Translation

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Between Dog and Wolf

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Russian Library intern and Columbia Russian Literary Translation MA student Elaine Wilson delves into Alexander Boguslawski’s translation of Between Dog and Wolf.

Sasha Sokolov’s novel Between Dog and Wolf is intimidating in its complexity: time is non-linear, character names are inconsistent, register moves along a wide spectrum from peasant dialect to sophisticated, even Biblical style, and the language is filled with neologisms. It is highly intertextual, astoundingly rich in its reference to Russian literary tradition across the centuries. Space, time, life and death are all uncertain—rarely is any one of them clearly demarcated—and events are told and retold from differing perspectives. And that’s just the content.

The structure likewise poses a challenge: dialogue, monologue and third person omniscient narration coexist on the page with no breaks, no indentation, no typeset cues or even general conventions of reported speech, but rather flow freely along in a train of associative (and sometimes seemingly unassociated) thought. Sokolov’s writing style belongs in a category all its own, a genre Sokolov himself categorizes as somewhere between prose and poetry, or “proetry.” And speaking of poetry, there are plenty of poems throughout, too—complete chapters of poetry tucked among the “proetic” sections of the novel.

How can something like this find its voice in a foreign language? For a long time, publishers and translators asked themselves that very question. When the Russian version of the novel was first published in 1980, critics gave it a rather mixed reception, and many within the literary community—capable translators among them—balked at the idea of an English-language version, suggesting it could never be done.

And yet it could. Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf is being published in English for the very first time, and so the idea of the “untranslatable” returns to the realm of translation mythology. Or does it?

I am a student of translation. Russian into English literary translation, to be specific, and so I feel a personal kind of victory in the release of this novel, a sense of celebration in a triumph over apparently insurmountable linguistic odds. Yet for all my excitement I still wonder about the inevitable losses that occur when we bring a literary work from one language into another; in the back of my mind I can’t help but hear Nabokov denouncing the “sins” of our “queer world of verbal transmigration,”* crying out that all translation but for literal, scholarly renderings are false. (Though perhaps Nabokov would find the most egregious transgression of all to be the lack of exhaustive notes on the same page of the referenced text, an organizational decision specified by Sokolov himself.)

Nabokovian doubt on the value of translation aside, can translation of something like Sokolov’s convoluted work be done well? The novel is difficult, packed with myriad obstacles that translators don’t frequently face, much less all at once. Puns, peasant dialect, a general sense of disorientation—translator Alexander Boguslawski tackles these challenges by the best means possible: culturally conscious creativity, or what Philip E. Lewis calls “abusive translation.” When a translator must force an idea from a unique mode of expression in the source text into a new linguistic framework, the translator’s job is to convey sense and meaning while still communicating the uniqueness of the source form in the receiving language. Often what “works” in Russian won’t work in English, and so the translator needs to “abuse” the text, that is, creatively engage the receiving language so that it can carry the meaning, the humor/ irony/ sadness, etc. and the unorthodox medium of the source in its new linguistic code. Consider Boguslawski’s translation of the Russian dva sapoga para: “two boots of leather flock together.” This is a clever blending of the Russian subject and English idiomatic structure to convey the literal scene—two characters sharing a pair of boots—and the spirit of collaboration implied by the Russian proverb Sokolov uses to describe them. The Russian, literally “two boots are a pair,” folds into “birds of a feather flock together” to create an English-Russian proverbial hybrid.

Why not simply use the English idiom here? Wouldn’t the spirit of the proverb be enough to convey the characters’ sense of comraderie? A translator could take this easy way out, but more than just sounding trite, the imagery would be lost, deafening the line’s descriptive power in Russian. Boguslawki does not take the easy road, and thank goodness, for his solution is lovely: it retains the visual and sense of the Russian while infusing some “foreignness” into the English text, an “abuse” that works in service of conveying the character and style that we experience in Sokolov’s Russian.

So much for linguistic obstacles. What about literary density? Again, Nabokov’s cynicism echoes in the back of my mind: the translator of a text “must have as much talent, or at least the same kind of talent, as the author he chooses.”* Between Dog and Wolf is packed with references to past and modern Russian artists, particularly Pushkin, something which only a reader with comprehensive, arguably exhaustive knowledge of Russian literary tradition would understand. Careful Russian readers have trouble identifying everything that is layered within the story, so how can we expect anyone but the most meticulous scholar to identify these layers, much less translate such a text? Of course, Boguslawski’s friendly relationship with the author establishes him as the closest thing to a Sokolov specialist for this translation, but Nabokov’s standards still reach impossibly high; in the case of this extremely learned text, is anyone capable of translation? Or perhaps the “untranslatable” does not exist, but is it possible that scholarly translation and Nabokov’s towering footnotes are the only recourse? If so, are there “prerequisites” in literary pedigree for both translators and readers of these works?

To silence this existential questioning I could turn again to literary and translation theory for inspiration, but I don’t need to. A novel’s complexity notwithstanding, translation is ultimately a dialogue between cultures and an exchange of ideas. And even though things are certain to get left by the wayside as they move from one linguistic and cultural framework to another, the receiving language and audience still gain. Perhaps readers won’t or possibly can’t identify all that the author has folded into the text, but this is an invitation to study, to revisit the story and look closer.. No matter how deep the reader chooses to go, reading a text in translation is an entry point into another literary tradition and culture that was previously closed; exhaustive research can be nice, but ultimately we have reason to celebrate because one group has gained insight into another, and that is a beautiful thing.

*Nabokov, Vladimir, (August 4,1941). The Art of Translation. The New Republic.
Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/62610/the-art-translation

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction to Andrei Sinyavsky’s Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Anglophone readers, and perhaps Americans in particular, have a hard time understanding the centrality of Pushkin to Russian culture. The most tempting comparison is to Shakespeare: after all, Pushkin and Shakespeare are the generally acknowledged “great writers” of their respective languages; both wrote not only lyric poetry but also longer, more complex works; both popularized plots that continue to energize the writing of others; both are taught in schoolrooms and authored phrases that have entered everyday speech. And, Pushkin really liked Shakespeare, a fact that seems to give an added imprimatur to the comparison. But to me, at least, Shakespeare has never felt as immediate as Pushkin. He’s much further removed temporally, of course, having been born in 1564 to Pushkin’s 1799, and that makes his language more removed from the modern idiom as well. And I suspect that Shakespeare’s Englishness contributes to this sense of distance for me as an American. But more than anything, it’s Pushkin’s ubiquity in Russian life that lacks an appropriate analog in the Anglophone world.

This ubiquity both motivates and makes possible Andrei Sinyavsky’s book Strolls with Pushkin. Sinyavsky wrote the book while in Dubrovlag, part of the Soviet gulag system (the “lag” in both words in short for “lager’” or “camp”). He explains that while politics and camp conditions were proscribed topics, it was entirely permissible to fill his bimonthly letters to his wife with musings on Pushkin. After all, what could be more innocent? Nevertheless, the resulting book would prove to be Sinyavsky’s most controversial, as Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy explains in her masterful introduction. Following a biography of Pushkin that begins with his birth and continues, in the form of an overview of the cult of Pushkin, past his death and up to the time when Sinyavsky was writing, Nepomnyashchy offers the following invitation to the text:

It is precisely the boundary between the revered and the irreverent Pushkins that Sinyavsky transgresses from the very beginning of his Strolls with Pushkin. He sets off on his meanderings through the “sacred verses” of the poet with the Pushkin of pushkinskie anekdoty as his companion in hopes of circumventing the “wreaths and busts” that enshrine the canonic Pushkin and finding the “beautiful original.” This initial border violation defines the course of Sinyavsky’s strolls throughout. At every step he challenges accepted dividing lines—between writer and critic, author and character, sacred and profane, art and life—in order to undermine the commonplaces of the Pushkin myth as well as the understanding of literature as a reflection of reality that the myth entails. His project, moreover, rests on an internal contradiction. If strolling is by definition aimless motion, how can one stroll in search of something? This paradox is ultimately resolved when Sinyavsky reaches his goal only to discover that it is “zero,” that it lies in the very imposture embodied in the anecdotal Pushkin with whom he began. His strolls have both attained their object and gone nowhere and thus become a paradigm for “pure art”—art that transcends purposes external to it and becomes an end in itself. As Sinyavsky observes, “Art strolls.”

To read more:

Check back later this week now for an excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin.

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Excerpt from Sasha Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.
Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Between Dog and Wolf

This excerpt from Chapter 5 finds one of the principal characters, the erudite poet-philosopher Yakov Ilyich Palamakhterov, reveling in scholarly company at a publishing meeting-turned-party. Uncomfortable in his own skin, his social blunders launch the narration into recollection of awkward episodes past. This passage is the reader’s first formal introduction to Yakov and his interiority.

“And God only knows how long their confusion would have lasted if the porter Avdey, a sleepy peasant with a pitch-black beard reaching up to his dull and birdlike tiny eyes and with a similarly dull metal badge, did not come to say to the master that they should not be angry—the samovar completely broke and that is why there will be no tea, but, say, if needed, there is plenty of fresh beer, brought on a pledge from the cabbie, one should only procure a deed of purchase, and if in addition to beer they had wished to have some singing girls, they should send a courier to the Yar right away. Eh, brother, You are, methinks, not a total oaf, the policeman addresses the sentinel—and soon the table cannot be recognized. The prints and typesets are gone. In their place stand three mugs with beer, being filled, in keeping with their depletion, from a medium-size barrel that, with obvious importance, towers above the modest, but not lacking in refinement, selection of dishes: oysters; some anchovies; about a pound and a half of unpressed caviar; sturgeon’s spine—not tzimmes but also not to be called bad; and about three dozen lobsters. The Gypsies are late. Waiting for them, the companions arranged a game of lotto, and none else but Ksenofont Ardalyonych shouts out the numbers. Seventy-seven, he shouts out. A match made in heaven, rhymes Palamakhterov, even though he has no match. Forty-two! We have that too, the man from Petersburg assures, although again his numbers do not correspond. Deception of Nikodim Yermolaich is as petty as it is obvious, and as outsiders we are quite embarrassed for him; but the pretending of Yakov Ilyich stands out black on white. Possessing from his birth the enchanting gift of artistic contemplation, but being both shy and frail, now and then he tried not to attract attention to the fact that he was the one whom he, naturally, simply was not able not to be, since he possessed what he possessed. For that reason, probably, Yakov Ilyich’s attempts turned into complete blunders and consequently led not to the desirable but to undesirable results, again and again drawing to the gifted youngster uninterrupted, although not always favorable attention of the crowd. Do you remember how once, long ago, he let his mind wander, and a gust of the April chiller did not wait with ripping off the skullcap from his proudly carried head? It’s really not important that the street, as ill luck would have it, teeming with concerned well-wishers, kept admonishing the hero, warning: Pick it up, you will catch a cold! Ostentatiously ignoring the shouts, taking care not to look back, and arrogantly not stopping but turning the pedals forward and—cynically and flippantly chirring with the spokes, the chain, and the cog of free wheel—backward, attempting to present everything as if he had nothing to do with it, he continued riding, the way he definitely wanted it to be seen through the eyes of the side spectator, with melancholic detachment. But, you know, a certain superfluous stooping that unexpectedly for an instant appeared in the entire subtle look of the courier (exactly like his great-grandfather, his grandfather used to say), diminished, even nullified his efforts to make his bodily movements carefree, froze them, made them childishly angular and exposed the daydreaming errand boy, with his feeble straight-haired head, to the curses of the mob: Scatterbrain, dimwit—the street carped and hooted. And if it were, let us suppose, not simply a slouching chirring courier but a real humpbacked cricket from Patagonia, then, with such a mediocre ability not to attract attention, it would have been immediately pecked apart. But, fortunately, it was precisely a courier—a messenger-thinker, a painter-runner, an artist-carrier, and the nagging feeling that everything in our inexplicable here takes place and exists only supposedly did not leave him that evening even for a moment. That is how, either absentmindedly looking through the window or paging in the diffused light of a smoldering lamp through Carus Sterne—once respectable and solid, but now thinned, reduced by smoking and bodily urges, and yet, even now adequately representing the sole volume of this modest home library—Yakov Ilyich Palamakhterov, the incorruptible witness and whipper-in of his practical and unforgiving time, philosophized and speculated.”

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Interview with Alexander Boguslawski, Translator of Sasha Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Between Dog and Wolf

Alexander Boguslawski’s English translation of Sasha Sokolov’s second novel Between Dog and Wolf is the first of its kind, even though the Russian original was published in 1980. This English-language edition, recently published by Columbia University Press, marks the introduction of what has long been considered Sokolov’s most challenging work to Anglophone readers and, possibly, a new wave of Sokolov scholarship. We asked Boguslawski how he came to translate the “untranslatable,” what makes up his translation process, and what he hopes this new translation will achieve:

Not all translators are able to collaborate with the author of the text they translate. How did you come to meet Sasha Sokolov, what is your relationship like, and how–if at all–did it shape your translation process? How does working on a text by an author who is no longer living differ in terms of your sense of responsibility and confidence in your task?

We met in Vermont in 1982. After some brief letter exchanges that dealt primarily with my ideas about A School for Fools and with Sokolov’s inquiries about Polish translators, I decided to show him my sample translation of the School into Polish. I went to visit him in Vermont, where we walked around, talked, played Russian music, picked mushrooms, and admired the hills, rivers, and fields so attractive and enchanting to European emigres. His friends, who spoke both Russian and Polish, approved of my translation, and it came out in London in 1984. We’ve been good friends since then.

Having the author as an advisor and critic, but also as a friend is, in my opinion, extremely valuable and reaffirming. You simply know that you did not misinterpret the author’s ideas or that you caught what was hidden and could have been missed. And the collaborative translation process – getting together, talking, cooking, eating, drinking, laughing, breathing in unison – those are the unforgettable experiences which translating deceased authors can never give us. I would not hesitate to say that to translate an author without personal contact with her or him is a horrible burden on the translator. All the responsibility is on your shoulders, and regardless of how well you know the language and culture of the original text, sometimes it is impossible to guess what exactly the author wanted to say or reveal in his turn of phrase, in a hidden quote, or in a camouflaged reference. In contrast, the living author, especially when you consider him a friend, is a steady guide, a beacon of light you follow, a crutch you always have to support you.

How does your experience translating Between Dog and Wolf compare to that of translating A School for Fools?

I think that it could be useful to start with the common things: every word counts; remember that a master created these texts, so be humble trying to render them as faithfully as possible without imposing your translator’s ego on the final version; be aware of the music of the text, of the rhythm of the phrases, and don’t try to “improve” them.

English is an incredible and flexible instrument able to render the most complicated texts. Many readers would say that A School for Fools is “simpler” than Between Dog and Wolf. But it is not exactly so. They are simply different texts. The biggest difference is that Between Dog and Wolf forces the translator to render three distinctive narrative voices: the voice of Ilya the grinder, the voice of the authorial persona, and the poetic voice of Yakov. In A School for Fools we have one (well, we could argue about this) voice: the extraordinarily sensitive and complicated narrator and his alter ego. The other voices (the author, the narrator’s parents, Doctor Zauze, Savl Petrovich) more or less occupy the same linguistic register. The only distinctive and clearly distinguishable “other voice” is the narrative of Chapter two, and it’s down to earth, simpler, more prosaic. So, translating Between Dog and Wolf is definitely a greater challenge for a translator – besides complicated layers of vocabulary, it forces the translator to be more creative.

Between Dog and Wolf contains many original poems, and Sokolov’s prose is poetic in and of itself. What are some of the unique challenges posed by Sokolov’s “proeziia”(“proetry”), and how did you work to overcome them in your English rendering? An artist yourself, did your own creative sensibility influence the translation process?

Let’s start with creativity because I ended my last response with it. Creativity is a necessary and intrinsic element of any translation; after all, we are creating works of art and without imagination, invention, and artistic sense we would be just robots. As far as the prose is concerned, we have to be tuned in to the euphonic quality of the phrases, to sound repetitions, alliterations, rhymes, rhythm, and all the elements that constitute Sokolov’s “proetry.” Translating poems, in my opinion, is an extremely “delicate” artistic game: if I want to preserve the meaning and the rhymes of the poems, what am I willing to sacrifice? How much of “stuffing” or, as Russians aptly name it, “otsebyatina” (stuff from yourself) will I have to put in? Or how much will I have to rephrase the author’s expressions? Are my rephrasings adequate? Here we find ourselves at the border between creativity and making up nonsense. I try whenever I can to add as little as possible and when I add, I always ask myself: Does it fit the tone and style of the poem? Is it going to make the reader cringe or read it naturally as if it belonged there in the first place? Of course, most of these considerations are a matter of personal taste, personal sensibility, and creative restraint.

Translation is writing, and your English-language version of Sokolov’s story and characters required creativity and compromise across language. Do you believe there are any nuances or subtle differences that emerged in your English-language characters in contrast to the Russian originals? If so, what are they?

My Ilya Zynzyrella may appear to the readers who know the Russian original as too “literate” and “smooth” because his language does not have all the incorrect grammatical forms, dialectical forms, and diminutives and augmentatives so rich in Ilya’s Russian. But I tried to substitute for these differences by inventing language features English speakers will notice and appreciate: phonetic spelling of words, double negatives, and rendering his Russian “blunders” by English neologisms. Yakov’s poems may be missing some of his fascinating word plays – again, a result of sacrificing something beautiful for the sake of being as faithful as possible to the original meaning of the poem.

Between Dog and Wolf is rich in literary and historical references and wordplay. For English-language readers with little to no knowledge of Russian literary tradition, do you believe this text is truly accessible? To what extent?

If you read the text as it appears in English, you will have no difficulty understanding it. Most readers will probably not notice word plays or language “distortions” that I explain in the annotations. They will also not see the multiple references to Russian literature, Russian songs, proverbs, or Scriptures. However, we should be aware that most Russian readers also missed these references and that the average Russian reader was as puzzled by Sokolov’s text as an average English reader may be puzzled by Finnegans Wake. However, for the curious readers, I provide extensive annotations. These may not only identify the authors or sources quoted, but they also explain proverbial expressions and place names from the novel in proper cultural context.

Translators generally fall along a spectrum regarding how truthfully they believe a translation should adhere to a source text. How much creative license do you believe a translator has in their own production of text? Does this level of creativity change with respect to content, writing style, etc? If so, how?

We know from examples by Constance Garnett that one can produce a refined translation that reflects the moral or ethical sensibility of the translator. Are her translations bad? No; after all, thousands of English readers enjoyed Dostoevsky in her translation not knowing that she changed the original, imposed her Victorian taste on the text and presented to us a “different” Dostoevsky. That’s why new translations are needed, especially when they reveal better the stylistic, linguistic, and cultural idiosyncrasies of the writer.

This novel has long been regarded as “untranslatable.” Do you believe any text truly falls into that category? How do you understand your own success in carrying the spirit and language of Sokolov’s Russian into English?

I am sure that there are some works written mostly as a challenge to readers and translators. In those rare cases, I don’t think they deserve the effort or attention of the reading public. Sokolov’s books are not written to puzzle and confuse the readers. The more you open up to their beauty and their stylistic and verbal mastery, the more natural they become. But, as most of great literature, they are not written for lazy readers. Literature is art, and reading it can be difficult. But the rewards are enormous. I hope that my efforts in translating Sokolov are successful and appreciated, even if in a few years I decide that I could do it even better.

What are your hopes for this publication? Do you have any particular expectations for its reception or impact on academia and general readership?

First of all, I am hoping that Between Dog and Wolf will gain many new readers who were kept away from it by the linguistic complexity of the original. I would like to see critical studies by literary scholars from many Western nations. But most of all, I would like to see a general acknowledgment of Sasha Sokolov’s great talent and mastery. In the last few years, I have presented to English-speaking readers Sokolov’s literary essays and vers libres, the new translation of A School for Fools, and now the first translation of his best novel, Between Dog and Wolf. Working so closely with these unique works of art and admiring their artistic qualities and their exploration of the possibilities of language, I am absolutely convinced that today Sasha Sokolov is the most deserving candidate for the Nobel prize in literature.

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The three inaugural titles of the Russian Library

The Russian Library series

“Sasha Sokolov’s classic Between Dog and Wolf is intricate and rewarding–a Russian Finnegans Wake.” — Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

This week, we are featuring the three inaugural titles of the new Russian Library series of Russian literature in translation: Between Dog and Wolf, by Sasha Sokolov, translated and annotated by Alexander Boguslawski; Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler and translated by Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen; and Strolls with Pushkin, by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I. Yastremski.

Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about these books and their authors and translators on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Thursday Fiction Corner: Many Annas Karenina

Repin's Volga Boatmen

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Russian Library editor Christine Dunbar comments on Janet Malcolm’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books on translations of Anna Karenina.

Janet Malcolm’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books on translations of Anna Karenina has spurred many discussions in the Slavic studies community. Malcolm comes down hard on the translating duo Pevear and Volokhonsky, who are as controversial amongst Russian scholars as they are feted by the non-Russian-speaking book world (chosen by Oprah!). On the other hand, she praises Constance Garnett, who is having a reputational renaissance in the scholarly world.

Arguing that Garnett is superior because she is more readable, Malcolm in turn insists that translators not sacrifice readability for textual fidelity. Like most generalizations, it’s easy to pick holes in this one: translation invariably requires an interpretive move, but if the source text is ambiguous or confused, perhaps reflecting, in the case of Anna Karenina, Anna’s disordered state of mind, smoothing it out is not in the reader’s best interest. The example Malcolm ends on—the confusion the reader feels when reading that Stiva Oblonsky’s hunting attire includes “linen bands wrapped around his feet” (in the Kent and Berberova edition of Garnett) and the additional explanation (in the Maudes’ translation) of “instead of socks,” not present in the original—is one I suspect many translators would sympathize with. I have heard Marian Schwartz, whose translation of Anna Karenina Malcolm casually and unfairly dismisses, say that if she can avoid unnecessary confusion (or a footnote) by inserting one or two extra words in the text, she may do so. Scholars tend to worry about what is lost in translation rather than what the reading public gains from works being translated, and so are more likely to quibble with this kind of deviation from the source text. (more…)

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles

Between Dog and Wolf

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on our exciting new Russian Library series. In this post, series editor Christine Dunbar introduces the first three titles in the series.

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles
By Christine Dunbar

One of the defining features of the Russian Library is its generic diversity. This is particularly significant for an Anglophone audience, because we tend to think of the Russian literary tradition as one that derives its greatness from novels, primarily the 19th century masterpieces of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Others think first of Chekhov’s fin-de-siècle plays, which have become part of the Western canon in large part because of their connection to Stanislavsky and eventually to method acting. Russians, and for that matter, scholars of Russian, are more likely to consider poetry the best and most powerful iteration of Russian letters.

The first three books in the Russian Library will publish in December, and while the three have much in common—linguistic virtuosity being the most obvious example—they amply demonstrate the profusion of genres that make up Russian literature. Before going any farther, let me digress momentarily to admit that I am and will be referring to genre in a fairly unsophisticated manner. I believe that it is generally more productive to think of a work as exhibiting certain generic characteristics, rather than belonging to a genre. However, obeying the generic conventions of the blog post, I’m not going to get too hung up on it here.

Andrei Platonov (1899-1951) was a supporter of the 1917 revolution, and in both his best-known novel The Foundation Pit and the plays in the Russian Library volume Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays one can see his sympathy for the dream of communism, even as he absolutely eviscerates the policies and realities of the contemporary Soviet Union. Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays contains two plays written in the early 1930s as direct reactions to the travails of collectivization and the resulting famine. (Estimates vary, but most place the death toll of the famine at between 5.5 and 8 million.) (more…)

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Weekly Feature and Book Giveaway: World Literature Week

World Literature Week

This week, in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival, we will be highlighting our wide range of books of and about world literature here on the Columbia University Press blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Here’s a quick summary of books we’ll have posts for this week (we’ll add the posts, as well, as they arrive!):

Monday

  • An interview with M. A. Orthofer, highlighting his thorough and fascinating new guide to contemporary fiction around the world, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction
  • Tuesday

  • An interview with translator Julia Lovell and “The Apprentice,” an excerpted short story from The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, a collection of short stories about everyday life in China in the late 1980s by Zhu Wen (following up his previous collection, I Love Dollars)
  • An excerpt on writing a book composed from notes in the margins of history, from Hideo Furukawa’s novel/history/memoir of the 3/11 disaster at Fukushima, Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, translated by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka. Hideo Furukawa will be in New York for the PEN World Voices festival! For more details, click here.
  • Wednesday

  • “The Disappearance of M,” the first story in Ng Kim Chew’s collection of short fiction, Slow Boat to China and Other Stories, translated and edited by Carlos Rojas
  • Watch novelist Li Ang discuss The Lost Garden, her eloquent and beautiful exploration of contemporary Taiwan, with translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt, and Columbia University Press Director Jennifer Crewe, and then read “When the Incident Occurred,” an excerpt from Part 1
  • Thursday

  • A quick critical look at the dominance of English and its effect on world literature from Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, by Rebecca L. Walkowitz, and The Fall of Language in the Age of English, by Minae Mizumura, translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • Editor Christine Dunbar introduces our new Russian Library series, with a particular focus on its first three books: Between Dog and Wolf, by Sasha Sokolov, translated by Alexander Boguslawski; Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, translated by Robert Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen; and Strolls with Pushkin, by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated by Catherine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I. Yastremski
  • Friday

  • Take a closer look at Chinese University Press’s extensive collection of drama from Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gao Xingjian, including, among others, The Other Shore, Snow in August, and, most recently, City of the Dead and Ballade Nocturne
  • A wonderful selection of poetry from Chinese University Press’s series of International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong anthologies, particularly the most recent installment, Poetry and Conflict, Edited by Bei Dao, Shelby K. Y. Chan, Gilbert C. F. Fong, Lucas Klein, Christopher Mattison, and Chris Song
  • Book Giveaway

    We are also offering a FREE selection of titles discussed in the feature: The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction, by M. A. Orthofer; Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, by Hideo Furukawa; The Lost Garden, by Li Ang; and The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, by Zhu Wen. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

    Thursday, January 28th, 2016

    Thursday Fiction Corner: The Closing of the Russian Mind?

    The Closing of the Russian Mind

    Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! Last night, Russian Library editor Christine Dunbar attended “The Closing of the Russian Mind? Freedom of Expression in Putin’s Russia,” sponsored by PEN America (watch the video here). She wrote up a brief reaction to the event for today’s post.

    The Closing of the Russian Mind?
    By Christine Dunbar

    Last night I attended a PEN America-sponsored event at the Manhattan JCC titled “The Closing of the Russian Mind? Freedom of Expression in Putin’s Russia.” These events are always a little surreal. All six people on stage—headliner Ludmila Ulitskaya, novelist Anna Nemzer, poet Maria Stepanova, publisher Ilya Danishevsky, moderator Masha Gessen, and the interpreter—were native speakers of Russian, and only Gessen is bilingual. The audience was comprised of at least 80% native or heritage speakers, and I revised that estimate down during the closing Q and A. In my immediate vicinity in the top row of the sold out event, I saw only two other non-native speakers. The desire to reach a wide public, however, necessitates an English-language event. So you have either very smart, very eloquent people attempting to express complex ideas, on the fly, in a second (or third, for all I know) language in which they are highly, impressively competent but far from fluent (Nemzer, Stepanova) or you use an interpreter (Ulitskaya, Danishevsky), and most of the audience hears the same thing twice. If you are lucky, they are polite about it, keeping quiet while they mentally quibble with the interpreter’s word choices, which is easy to do when you don’t have to consider syntax, grammatical agreement, or cultural references. (How, for instance, is the poor interpreter to render Ulitskaya’s seemingly simply statement, “We have the kitchen again,” where the kitchen is a cultural shorthand for, well, literally sitting in the kitchen, which becomes the central location of cultural life, a place where poems are read, songs are sung, and issues are debated, in the absence of a functional public square?) If you are unlucky, the audience loses patience, and the whispering starts. It’s a bind, and one I saw no way out of, until today.

    Of the six people on the stage, other than the aforementioned beleaguered interpreter, Ilya Danishevsky is probably the least well known. And he seemed the least comfortable. But he was a masterful performer. He spoke with animation and conviction, but softly, forcing the auditorium to quiet in order to hear him. But to me, most impressive was his orchestration of the interpretation, which tended toward short statements with frequent pauses, allowing him to retain control of the momentum throughout his statement, rather than losing it after each three or four sentence block. The high point, however, was his use of the interpretation to create an enjambment, when he says something along the lines of “we are speaking about the Russian landscape, and for me, this landscape is connected to two concepts” and then he signals for the interpreter to take over, forcing the audience to wait to find out what those two concepts are. (Fear and solipsism, in case you are curious.) I had noticed before that a practiced public speaker, used to working with an interpreter, could make the process seem less onerous for everyone involved, but I had never before witnessed a speaker using the very fact of interpretation as a rhetorical device. I’m looking forward to checking out more of Danishevsky’s work.