Thursday, April 17, 2014

2014 NatsBest Shortlists

Yes, that’s right, this year there are two National Bestseller shortlists: the usual NatsBest shortlist and a NatsBest-Beginning shortlist of books written by young writers. Where “young” means under 35. The “Beginning” piece of NatsBest is sponsored by the TV channel 2x2; 2x2 will choose the winner. There’s a bit of list-based overlap:

The “usual” NatsBest shortlist
  • Sergei Shargunov: 1993. This novel calls itself “a family portrait set against the backdrop of a burning house”… 1993 was the year of the “October events,” when tanks shelled the Russian White House. (13 points)
  • Pavel Krusanov: Царь головы ([edit The Tsar in the Head, thanks Languagehat!] Tsar of the Head? I feel like I’m missing something horribly, embarrassingly obvious here, me and my titles!..). Short stories. (10 points)
  • Ksenia Buksha: Завод “Свобода” (The “Freedom” Factory). About a factory called Freedom that was founded in 1920 then fails in a later era; based on real events. (9 points)
  • Vladimir Sharov: Возвращение в Египет (Return to Egypt). In which one Kolya Gogol (a distant relative of familiar old Nikolai Gogol) finishes writing Dead Souls. An epistolary novel. (8 points)
  • Marat Basyrov: Печатная машина (The Typewriter). A novel with story-like chapters; this one sounds difficult to describe, with (to summarize vague summaries) existential suffering. (6 points)
  • Vladimir Sorokin: Теллурия (Tellurium). On my NatsBest long list post, I wrote: A polyphonic novel in 50 highly varying chapters. I read about 150 pages before setting Tellurium aside: Sorokin’s use of a futuristic medieval setting, tiny and huge people, kinky stuff, sociopolitical observations, and a novel (ha!) psychotropic agent all felt way too familiar after Day of the Oprichnik, The Blizzard, and The Sugar Kremlin. (6 points)

The NatsBest-Beginning shortlist
  • Valerii Airapetian: Свободное падение (Freefall) Short stories. (6 points)
  • Ksenia Buksha: Завод “Свобода” (The “Freedom” Factory) About a factory called Freedom that was founded in 1920 then fails in a later era; based on real events. (4 points)
  • Kirill Ryabov: Сжигатель трупов (The Corpse Incinerator/Burner) A debut novel with stories that NatsBest secretary Vadim Levental says fit the book’s title, which is also Ryabov’s pseudonym. Hmm. (2 points)
  • Anna Starobinets: Икарова железа (The Icarus Gland) This book, “a collection of speculative stories,” will be coming out in English translation in 2014, from a new publisher, Skyhook Press. (2 points)
  • Sergei Shargunov: 1993. This novel calls itself “a family portrait against the backdrop of a burning house”… 1993 was the year of the “October events,” when tanks shelled the Russian White House. (2 points)

Disclaimers. The usual.

Up Next. Oh my! There’s a lot… The Big Book long list is coming very soon. Then we have: Soviets, another wonderfully produced book from Fuel; this one has drawings by Danzig Baldaev and photos by Sergei Vasiliev. And Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes. And, later still, Mikhail Bulgakov’s White Guard.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

General Hospital: Motorov’s Male Nurse

I finally read Aleksei Motorov’s Юные годы медбрата Паровозова (Male Nurse Parovozov’s Young Years), which I’d been curious about ever since it won the readers’ prize in the 2013 NOSE competition; Male Nurse Parovozov was clearly popular with readers and sounded like very decent mainstream reading. Motorov’s book did, indeed, turn out to be decent mainstream reading, albeit autobiographical fiction that doesn’t feel especially fictionalized because apparently it’s mostly the names that have been changed… but fine, it was just the thing for yet another stretch of tired evenings. The heaviest lifting here was picking up the book itself, which weighs in at over 500 pages, though I’m certainly not complaining: Parovozov’s first-person narrator is engagingly genial and his stories generally held my attention. 

Юные годы медбрата ПаровозоваThe gist here is that male nurse Aleksei Motorov, our humble first-person narrator, works in emergency medicine at a Moscow hospital during the 1980s, as the Soviet Union is falling apart. Though Motorov is clearly a gifted nurse—doctors seem to trust him with a fair number of procedures—he’s tried and failed to get into medical school quite a few times. Male Nurse Parovozov’s Young Years strings together tales of hospital-based medicine during the ‘80s, describing Motorov’s work as well as a self-inflicted accidental injury that proves, yet again, that no good deed goes unpunished. The injury lands him a bed in his own hospital, and he later applies to med school, yet again, toward the end of the book.

Motorov is at his best when he simply tells stories and describes people at the hospital. Blurbs from writers Lev Rubinshtein and Linor Goralik on the back of my book refer to Motorov’s success in (Here, I’ll mash up their blurbs for you!) combining real life, convincing storytelling, and the everyday. And they’re right. Motorov describes his co-workers with humor and affection—I particularly enjoyed Tamara from Sukhumi and can just hear a sharp voice goadingly calling Motorov a conman at every possible opportunity—and talks about their work in such a perfectly matter-of-fact way that it almost gave me the illusion of being there.

My use of “matter-of-fact” here also functions almost like synonym for “not naturalistic”: though there are mentions of car accidents and brake fluid as a beverage, and Motorov’s hospital takes in refugees from Chernobyl, the point of the book isn’t to tell societal or medical horror stories. His reality finds a peculiarly gentle balance—I’m sure this is a huge part of its appeal to readers in this age of dark, dreary “chernukha” realism—because Motorov invokes successes, failures, and humiliations along with humor and sincerity. There’s nothing extreme other than the book’s humanity and optimism, even when Motorov himself is injured and facing absurd inconveniences during his recovery, like regular post-hospital check-ins with an oblivious policlinic doctor. Of course there’s also the absurd convenience of being able to smoke in the ward!

The majority of Parovozov is set at the hospital, which is good because that’s where the book feels most fluid and energetic, seguing from one chapter to the next almost like oral storytelling. My interest flagged in chapters about Motorov’s childhood and about shopping during the Soviet era, where I had the feeling I was rereading familiar background from other books and even newspaper articles; the account of his final attempt at getting into med school (e.g. witnessing his oral exams) seemed horribly anticlimactic even if chemistry went well. In the end, Male Nurse Parovozov’s Young Years left me with a rather amorphous impression—loosely veiled autobiographical writing often leaves me feeling that way since the narratives are modeled so closely on reality that they lack the intangible organic drive that my memory and readerly instincts thrive on—but Motorov’s geniality, love for medicine, and yes, things like Tamara’s needling jokiness certainly stuck with me, just as they seem to have stuck with readers who voted in the NOSE competition.

Level for non-native readers of Russian: 2.5 out of 5. Not particularly difficult; a conversational, friendly narrative voice. I’d particularly recommend Parovozov to medical interpreters.

Disclosures: The usual.

Up Next: Iurii Mamleev’s The Sublimes and Mikhail Bulgakov’s White Guard. And perhaps The Letter T.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Russian Literature Awards News: Rossica Prize Awarded and New Direction for Compass Award

The Rossica Prize was awarded last week to Angela Livingstone for her translation of a collection of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems, published by Angel Classics: Phaedra; with New Year’s Letter and Other Long Poems. I’ll add a link with further information when Academia Rossica has posted full information on their Web site. (I learned of the results on Facebook, from Rossica finalist Peter Daniels, translator of Selected Poems by Vladislav Khodasevich, also on the shortlist and also published by Angel Classics.) I blogged, briefly, about this year’s Rossica Prize shortlist here.

Academia Rossica’s announcement of the award.

Monday Morning Update: Here’s a Russian-language article from RIA Novosti with full Rossica Prize information. This piece notes that Laura Thomas won the Rossica Young Translators Award; she translated an excerpt from Sergei Shargunov’s 1993. And here’s an English-language piece from Russian Mind that quotes from judges’ comments about Angela Livingstone’s translation of Tsvetaeva.

File:Переделкино могила Арсения Тарковского.jpgIn other award news, Cardinal Points announced that writer and translator Alexander Veytsman is the new director for the Compass Translation Award. This is as good a time as any to mention that this year’s Compass Award will be accepting entries until July 31, 2014: this year’s poet is Arseny Tarkovsky. The choice of Tarkovksy is great: I can only second Compass’s hope that the contest will help more readers discover Tarkovsky and his poems. I discovered Tarkovsky because he’s buried in the same cemetery as Boris Pasternak in Peredelkino, chanced upon a nice, compact three-volume set of his poetry soon thereafter, and then began bringing him flowers, too, on my annual trips for poetry readings at Pasternak’s dacha on the anniversary of his death.

Disclaimers: The usual.

Up Next: Aleksei Motorov’s amiable Male Nurse Paravozov’s Young Years and then something completely, totally, and absolutely different: Yuri Mamleyev’s Шатуны, which will be known in Marian Schwartz’s translation for Haute Culture Books as The Sublimes. No matter what the title, this is one of the most peculiar (I lack a better word at the time being…) books I’ve read in a long time.

Image credit: Tarkovsky’s grave in Peredelkino, A. Savin, Creative Commons.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Russian-to-English Translations for 2014

I’m a terrible bean counter but it sure feels like my annual lists of Russian-to-English translations are growing. I’m sure one reason is that I now know better where to look for listings but I also think grants—notably from the Institute of Translation and the Prokhorov Fund’s Transcript Program—have contributed, both directly and indirectly, to greater publisher interest in Russian-English translation.

A few caveats. This list is just a start—I’ll be happy to add books throughout the year and make corrections, as necessary. As last year, this is a global list that includes fiction and nonfiction, new translations, and retranslations, though I’ve limited re-releases to fiction titles. I’ve linked titles on the list to publishers’ pages wherever possible. Publication dates are notoriously subject to slippage; I have not included books that appeared on the 2013 list but were not/will not be published until 2014. I’ll place a link to this post on the sidebar of the blog for easy reference. Finally: I’m taking names and titles for 2015 now, so please feel free to send them in.

Happy reading!

Alexandrova-Zorina, Liza: The Little Man, translated by Melanie Moore; Glas, April 2014.

Basinsky, Pavel: Leo Tolstoy: Flight from Paradise, translated by anonymous; Glagoslav, April 2014. This book won the 2010 Big Book Award.

Boyadzhieva, Lyudmila: Andrei Tarkovsky: A Life on the Cross, translated by Christopher Culver; Glagoslav.

Bulgakov, Mikhail: Black Snow, translated by Roger Cockrell; Alma Classics, June 2014.

Bulgakov, Mikhail: Morphine, translated by Hugh Aplin; New Directions, September 2014.

Chekhov, Anton: The Little Trilogy, translated by Boris Dralyuk; Calypso Editions. “Gooseberries” has always been a favorite…

Dostoevsky, Fyodor: Crime and Punishment, translated by Oliver Ready; Penguin Classics.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor, The Idiot, translated by Ignat Avsey; Alma Classics, April 2014.

Dragomoshchenko, Arkadii: Endarkenment, translated by Lyn Hejinian, Genya Turovskaya, Eugene Ostashevsky, Bela Shayevich, Jacob Edmond, and Elena Balashova; Wesleyan University Press. Edited by Ostashevky with introduction by Hejinian. Wesleyan sent me a copy of this book: it’s a lovely bilingual edition.

Elizarov, Mikhail: The Librarian, translated by Andrew Bromfield; Pushkin Press. 

Erofeev, Venedikt: Walpurgis Night, or the Steps of the Commander, translated by Marian Schwartz; Yale University Press, June 2014. I read parts of this play years ago—a friend gave me a copy of the journal Teatr back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s—and found it enjoyable for its oddities.

Erofeyev, Victor: Good Stalin, translated by anonymous; Glagoslav, March 2014.

Gelasimov, Andrei: Rachel, translated by Marian Schwartz; Amazon Crossing, July 2014.

Glukhovsky, Dmitry: Metro 2034, translated by Andrew Bromfield; Gollancz/Orion/Hachette, February 2014.

Gogol, Nikolai: Petersburg Tales, translated by Dora O’Brien; Alma Classics, 2014. Includes “Diary of a Madman.”

Gogol, Nikolai: The Nose, translated by Ian Dreiblatt; Melville House, August 2014. One of my favorite Gogol stories. From Melville House’s “Art of the Novella” series.

Goncharov, Ivan: Oblomov, translated by Stephen Pearl; Alma Classics, April 2014.

Ismailov, Hamid: The Dead Lake, translated by Andrew Bromfield; Pereine Press.

Kapitsa, Sergei: Paradoxes of Growth, translated by anonymous; Glagoslav, November 2014.

Lavrinenko, Anna: Yaroslavl Stories, translated by Christopher Tauchen and Amanda Love Darragh; Glas, April 2014.

Loginov, Vladlen: Vladimir Lenin: How to Become a Leader, translated by anonymous; Glagoslav, May 2014.

Lorchenkov, Vladimir: The Good Life Elsewhere, translated by Ross Ufberg; New Vessel Press. (excerpt)

Lotman, Yuri and Pogosjan, Elena: High Society Dinners: Dining in Tsarist Russia, translated by Marian Schwartz; Prospect Books, May 2014. Darra Goldstein edited this book and wrote an introduction; I love her Russian and Georgian cookbooks. This book sounds like lots of fun.
Mamleyev, Yuri: The Sublimes, translated by Marian Schwartz; Haute Culture, April 2014.

Mandelstam, Osip: Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated by Peter France; New Directions, June 2014. Peter France’s personal selection of poems.

Medinskiy, Vladimir: Myths about Russia, translated by anonymous; Glagoslav, May 2014.

Pavlov, Oleg: The Matiushin Case, translated by Andrew Bromfield; And Other Stories, July 2014. The second book in Pavlov’s Tales from the Last Days trilogy.

Prilepin, Zakhar: Sankya, translated by Mariya Gusev and Jeff Parker with Alina Ryabovolova; Disquiet International/Dzanc Books and Glagoslav, April 2014. With a foreword by Alexey Navalny. I have an advance copy of this book and like its glossaries very much: a few expressions and proper names in the front and a listing of historical and cultural figures in the back.

Pushkin, Alexander: Belkin’s Stories, translated by Roger Clarke; Alma Classics, May 2014. Some of my very favorites from Russian literature.

Pushkin, Alexander: The Captain’s Daughter, translated by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler; New York Review Books, summer 2014. Another novella I’ve always loved. With an introduction by Robert Chandler.

Sharov, Vladimir: Before and During, translated by Oliver Ready; Dedalus Books.

Shishkin, Mikhail: Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories of Mikhail Shishkin, translated by Marian Schwartz, Leo Shtutin, Mariya Bashkatova, and Sylvia Maizell; Deep Vellum Publishing, late 2014.

Soloviev, Vladimir: Empire of Corruption: The Russian National Pastime, translated by anonymous; Glagoslav, May 2014.

Strugatsky, Arkady and Strugatsky, Boris: Hard to Be a God, translated by Olena Blumberg; Chicago Review Press, June 2014. With an introduction by Hari Kunzru.

Strugatsky, Arkady and Strugatsky, Boris: Definitely Maybe, translated by Antonina Bouis; Melville House.

Teffi, Nadezhda: Subtly Worded, translated by Anne Marie Jackson and Robert Chandler; Pushkin Press, December 2014. Short stories.

Tolstoy, Lev: Anna Karenina, translated by Marian Schwartz; Yale University Press, August 2014. This tome will include an introduction by Gary Saul Morson, a professor at Northwestern: Dr. Morson taught War and Peace to me twice, which is, I’m certain, one of the reasons I love W&P so much. All of which is to say that one of these days I’ll finally read Dr. Morson’s book about Anna Karenina along with the novel…

Tolstoy, Lev: Anna Karenina, translated by Rosamund Bartlett; Oxford University Press, est. August 2014. This will be the August of Anna Karenina! I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Rosamund Bartlett speak about her translation at the Translator’s Coven last summer.

Tsvetaeva, Marina: Moscow in the Plague Year: Poems, translated by Christopher Whyte; Archipelago Books, August 2014.

Ulitskaya, Ludmila: The Big Green Tent, translated by Bela Shayevich; FSG, December 2014.

Various: Russian Drama: Four young Female Voices, translated by Lisa Hayden; Glas, April 2014.

Various: Heroes of the 90s: People and Money: The Modern History of Russian Capitalism, translated by William Keenan; Glagoslav, August 2014.

Wilke, Daria: Jester’s Cap, translated by Marian Schwartz; Arthur A. Levine, late 2014.

Disclaimers. The usual since there are far too many to mention.

Up Next. Alexei Motorov’s Male Nurse Paravozov’s Young Years, which is still engaging. The first post in a new series with brief takes on (relatively) new translations… it’s time to finally start writing more about all the translations I receive.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Awards, Awards, Awards! (Pushkin’s Ghost Is Everywhere…)

A flurry of award activity crept up on me this week…

First off, critic Irina Rodnianskaia won this year’s Solzhenitsyn Prize. Rodnianskaia has been writing as a critic since 1956.

A little later in the week, Tatyana Tolstaya won the Belkin Award—which recognizes fiction that’s not to short and not too long—for “Лёгкие миры (“Light Worlds,” perhaps?), which she wrote for the magazine Snob. Maksim Osipov won Belkin’s “teachers’ jury” award for his Кейп-Код (Cape Cod); that jury was composed of high school teachers and upperclassmen. The other writers on this year’s Belkin shortlist were: Ilya Boiashov for Кокон (Cocoon), Iurii Buida for Яд и мед (Poison and Honey), and Denis Dragunskii for Архитектор и монах (The Architect and the Monk). I’ve only read Buida’s Poison and Honey, which I wrote about last week, here. Two other awards—each named for a story in Pushkin’s Belkin Tales—were also given: Yana Zhemoitelite won the “Squire’s Daughter” award for Недалеко от рая (Not Far from Paradise) and Aleksandr Kirov won the prize called “The Shot” for his Давай расстанемся на лето (Let’s Say Goodbye/Part for the Summer).

Finally, Academia Rossica announced the shortlist for the 2014 Rossica Prize for translation. I’ll list the nominees alphabetically by translator surname; the entire Rossica Prize longlist is online here.

Anthony Briggs for The Queen of Spades, a collection of works by Alexander Pushkin that includes the title story, “The Stationmaster,” “The Bronze Horseman,” and a selection of excerpts and poems. I’ve always particularly loved The Queen of Spades.” Publisher: Pushkin Press, appropriately enough!

Andrew Bromfield for Happiness Is Possible, a translation of Oleg Zaionchkovsky’s Счастье возможно, a book I enjoyed very much several years ago. Publisher: And Other Stories.

Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Sibelan Forrester, Anna Gunin and Olga Meerson for Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov. This sounds like a wonderful anthology of stories: you really can’t go wrong with Pushkin, Platonov, Teffi, and Bazhov. Publisher: Penguin Classics.

Peter Daniels for his translation of Selected Poems by Vladislav Khodasevich. Publisher: Angel Classics (UK)/The Overlook Press (US).

Angela Livingstone for Phaedra; with New Year’s Letter and Other Long Poems, a collection of poems by Marina Tsvetaeva. Publisher: Angel Classics.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the judges for this year’s Rossica Prize are Donald Rayfield, Andrew Kahn, and Oliver Ready. And that the award ceremony will be held on March 20 at The London Library; Oliver Ready, a past Rossica winner himself, whose new translation of Crime and Punishment was just released, will speak about “Cat and Mouse with Dostoevsky: The Translator as Detective.” I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Rossica Award event is listed on Academia Rossica’s schedule for yet another busy Slovo Festival, which will open on March 8 with a talk from Mikhail Shishkin on “Gogol’s Dead Souls and Living Noses.” If only I had an unlimited travel budget!

Disclaimers: The usual.

Up Next: List of new translations for 2014. Alexey Motorov’s Юные годы медбрата Паровозова, fictionalized autobiography that won the 2013 NOSE reader prize. When the book was shortlisted for NOSE, I wrote that it sounded like “very decent mainstream”… and I’m now finding out I was correct.