Thursday, May 21, 2015

The 2015 Read Russia Prize for Translations into English -- Shortlist

Ah, a week of prize news! Read Russia announced, yesterday, the shortlist for the 2015 Read Russia Prize for Russian-to-English translations. The award will be presented in New York on May 29: I’m doubly looking forward to attending because Gary Saul Morson, who taught me War and Peace twice, will be the guest speaker, with the lecture, “Because Everyone Needs a Little Russian Literature.” I’m not sure which came first, the title or the Read Russia bumper sticker, but I’ll see if I can clear that up next week.  

Be that as it may, here’s the shortlist, in alphabetical order by translator. Two finalists translated Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Oliver Ready deserves special recognition for having two books on the list, a particular achievement since one book is a classic, the other a contemporary novel. It’s a varied list all around, and the broad selection of publishers is encouraging. I’ve read two of the translations in full and both were very good. Congratulations to everyone!
  • Rosamund Bartlett’s translation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Oxford University Press.
  • Peter Daniels’s translation of Vladislav Khodasevich’s Selected Poems; Overlook Press (UK: Angel Books). 
  • Katherine Dovlatov’s translation of Sergei Dovlatov’s Pushkin Hills (Заповедник); Counterpoint Press (UK: Alma Classics). Katherine Dovlatov’s translation of her father’s Pushkin Hills is lots of fun: I was glad to have it on a stuffy, delayed flight last summer. Recently out in paperback. (There’s a bit more, here.)
  • Jamie Rann’s translation of Anna Starobinets’s The Icarus Gland; Skyscraper Press.
  • Oliver Ready’s translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment; Penguin UK.
  • Oliver Ready’s translation of Vladimir Sharov’s Before and During; Dedalus Books. With all its cultural references and dense monologues, I can only imagine that Before and During must have been very, very difficult to translate. (Particularly this well!) I wrote a bit about Before and During here.
  • Marian Schwartz’s translation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Yale University Press.
Up Next: BookExpo America (and Read Russia Award) trip report, National Bestseller Award. And two books: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which I’ll start translating this summer, and Sergei Nosov’s Член общества, или Голодное время (something like Member of the Society or A Time of Hunger), the sad-but-funny story of a man’s life after selling all his Dostoevsky.

Disclaimers: The usual, including work with Read Russia and my incredible good fortune to know most of the translators on this list.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Big Book Award Finalists

The Big Book Award announced its list of nine finalists yesterday. Nine feels a little like a miscount, though: some of this year’s titles contain multiple volumes or are very, very long. Here they are:

  • Anna Matveeva: Девять девяностых (Nine from the Nineties). Short story collection. Some stories, including (apparently) this one, were written for Snob. I thought some of Matveeva’s stories in an earlier collection were very decent. Also on the 2015 NatsBest shortlist.
  • Aleksei Varlamov: Мысленный волк (The Imagined Wolf, perhaps?). A novel set in the 1910s that involves some real-life figures, including our old friend Grigory Rasputin.
  • Igor Virabov: Андрей Вознесенский (Andrei Voznesenskii). A biography of the poet.
  • Viktor Pelevin: Любовь к трем цукербринам (Love for Three Zuckerbrins). Novel.
  • Boris Ekimov: Осень в Задонье (Autumn in Zadon’e). Novel.
  • Dina Rubina: Русская канарейка ((The?) Russian Canary). Trilogy, a family saga set in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  • Valerii Zalotukha: Свечка (The Candle). Novel. According to this piece from Novaya gazeta, in which Klarissa Pul’son makes predictions about (with pretty decent accuracy and some key details) the Big Book finalist list, this book covers just about everything, containing “полный русский набор (“the full Russian complement” has a nice ring to it), which probably explains why this two-volume set comes to 1696 pages. Gulp. I’m very much looking forward to this book, though: comparisons to War and Peace always catch me.
  • Guzel’ Iakhina: Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes). A historical novel that starts with a kulak woman being exiled: I’ve read the beginning of Zuleikha and look forward to reading more.
  • Roman Senchin: Зона затопления (Flood Zone). Novel with similarities to Valentin Rasputin’s Farewell to Matyora. (Big Book’s description calls it a “remake” but Klarissa says it’s not.)
All of which means I have a lot of reading to do before late November. Of course I’m excited to be a member of Big Book’s Literary Academy—the award’s large (around 100 members) jury—and can’t wait to get my books!

Disclaimers: The usual.

Up Next: Read Russia Award finalists, BookExpo America (and Read Russia Award) trip report, National Bestseller Award. And two books: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which I’ll start translating this summer, and Sergei Nosov’s Член общества, или Голодное время (something like Member of the Society or A Time of Hunger), the sad-but-funny story of a man’s life after selling all his Dostoevsky.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Slow Boat: Eltang’s Cartagena

It took me a long time to read Lena Eltang’s Картахена (Cartagena), a detective novel (of sorts) set in Italy. It’s not just that the book is 541 pages of not-so-large type. Or that I was busy and distracted by work and snow in mid-winter. Some books just demand slow, deliberate readings, and Cartagena is so filled with textured landscapes, nuanced characters, plot twists, and lovely turns of phrase that even my multi-month reading felt a little too fast.

Cartagena begins like this, with a murder:

Брата убили на рассвете, а нашли в восемь утра, когда открылся рыбный рынок. Его тело лежало в корыте с солью.
My brother was killed at dawn and found at eight in the morning, when the fish market opened. His body was lying in a large basin with salt.

The victim is Brie (yes, like the cheese) and the narrator is his sister, Petra, a law student who just happens to have been on her way to her hometown that same morning. Petra decides to stay, to try to figure out what happened to her brother; she ends up getting a job at the Briatico, a curious old waterfront hotel/nursing home with a troubled history that includes (but of course) other mysterious deaths.

Eltang shifts her narration between several figures, all of them unpleasant and/or unreliable in their own ways. Petra gets the most ink, though I had a particular affection for The Gardener’s brief passages: this may be partly because I so enjoyed his early discussion of eating mussels during a camping trip, describing, among other things, how his girlfriend (who later dumps him) “pricked them with a pin, sniffed them, counted the rings.” As a coastal Mainer who eats a lot of seafood and has friends who own a lobster pound, I’m a sucker for bits of information like this: I’d never heard of testing mussels with a pin. But I digress! Another narrator is a mysterious blogger with the name Flautista_libico, who’s obviously come to the Briatico to try to take possession of the place. Those characters’ passages are written in the first-person,.though Markus’s travels are presented in the third-person: Markus has returned from London after writing a book about a woman he’s lost.

Cartagena covers a lot more in its 540 pages: a chapel fire, rehashings (and rehashings of rehashings) of old murders, family conflicts, Brie’s ambition for quick money, a priceless stamp, romances, Petra’s visits to the police with theories, a young woman’s disappearance, and the workings of the Briatico itself, which feels almost like a hermetically sealed murder setting… I could go on and on.

What fascinates me most about Cartagena, though, is Eltang’s ability to boil nearly everything in the novel down to identity, secrets, family, and masks. She gives us Brie, Petra, and their ailing mother, but she also gives us the family that’s owned and run the Briatico, as well as characters who—as is obvious, based on the names I listed a paragraph above—hide under nicknames, professions, and dye jobs. They wear costumes, too: the play the staff stages at the Briatico even plays a role in the real-life drama in Cartagena. When I look back at my notes, many of which question whether some Character X might be some Character Y’s relative, I realize how many hints Eltang plants throughout the book, placing them in various strata of characters’ truths and lies. Of course I’m not going to spill the details so will just say that Cartagena is wonderful slow reading. As I read, I kept thinking back to how Eltang mentioned in a Facebook comment that the devil is in the details in Cartagena. It’s tremendous fun to sort through—slowly, of course—all the details and stories, that her devilish characters present under various guises.

Up next: I’m very excited about this year’s Big Book Award finalists, which will be announced on Tuesday: I’m a brand-new member of Big Book’s Literary Academy and will have a vote this year. This means that, yes, I’ll be reading all the finalists this time around. Read Russia Award finalists come later in the week. And then, two books: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which I’ll start translating this summer, and Sergei Nosov’s Член общества, или Голодное время (something like Member of the Society or A Time of Hunger), the sad-but-funny story of a man’s life after selling all his Dostoevsky.

Disclaimers: I read Cartagana after translating excerpts last fall and would, yes, love to translate the entire book and sort through all its devilish details. Lena Eltang was tremendously helpful in answering my questions about the excerpts: a brief list of questions generated some fun local specifics about mussel selection, crab fishing, and olive growing.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Russian-to-English Translations for 2015

Compiling annual lists of Russian-to-English translations has grown into a big job! That, of course, is good news, as is the fact that the 2015 list has around 35 entries already and I’m still waiting for information from several translators about books that are coming out this year. This year’s list seems to have a particularly nice blend of genres: there’s lots of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as two children’s books.

A few caveats, as always. This list is just a start—I’ll be happy to add books throughout the year and make corrections, as necessary. Please e-mail me with any changes; my address is on the sidebar. As last year, this is a global list that includes 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 transferred a number of books that appeared on the 2014 list to this post. I’ll place a link to this post on the sidebar of the blog for easy reference. I’m taking names and titles for 2016 now, so please feel free to send them in. Please note, too, that I have crossed out titles on the 2014 list that weren’t actually published in 2014; I may have missed some. Finally, don’t forget the Self-Published Translation list: If you have a book to add, please add it in a comment.

Happy reading!

Aristov, Vladimir: Selected Poems of Vladimir Aristov, translated by Julia Trubikhina (Kunina), Betsy Hulick, Gerald Janecek, Helga Olshvang (Landauer), and Donald Wesling; Ugly Duckling Presse, Spring 2015.

Baratynsky, Yevgeny: A Science Not for the Earth: Selected Poems & Letters, edited by Ilya Bernstein, translated by Rawley Grau; Ugly Duckling Presse, Spring 2015.

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

Chekhov, Anton: The Prank: The Best of the Young Chekhov, translated by Maria Bloshteyn; New York Review Books, July 2015. Illustrations by Anton Chekhov’s brother Nikolai.

Elizarov, Mikhail: The Librarian, translated by Andrew Bromfield; Pushkin Press. A Russian Booker Prize winner that I enjoyed. (previous post)

Ganieva, Alisa: The Mountain and the Wall, translated by Carol Apollonio; Deep Vellum, June 2015.

Hellbeck, Jochen: Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich, translated by Christopher Tauchen; Public Affairs, 2015. (A portion of this book, which sounds very interesting, was written in German and translated by Dominic Bonfiglio.)

Kapitsa, Sergei: Paradoxes of Growth, translated by Inna Tsys and edited by Scott D. Moss and Huw Davies; Glagoslav, 2015.

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

Mukhina, Lena: The Diary of Lena Mukhina: A Girl’s Life in the Siege of Leningrad, translated by Amanda Love Darragh; Macmillan, 2015.

Otroshenko, Vladislav: Addendum to a Photo Album, translated by Lisa Hayden; Dalkey Archive Press, March 2015.

Pavlov, Oleg: Requiem for a Soldier, translated by Anna Gunin; And Other Stories, July 2015.

Pavlov, Oleg: Asystole, translated by Arch Tait; Glagoslav, April 2015. (previous post)

Pushkin, Alexander: Eugene Onegin, translated by Roger Clarke; Alma Press, May 2015. (rerelease)

Rybakova, Maria: Gnedich, translated by Elena Dimova; Glagoslav, fall 2015.

Shishkin, Mikhail: Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Storiesof Mikhail Shishkin, translated by Marian Schwartz, Leo Shtutin, Mariya Bashkatova, and Sylvia Maizell; Deep Vellum Publishing, May 2015.

Sokolov, Sasha: A School for Fools, translated by Alexander Boguslawski; New York Review Books, July 2014.

Sorokin, Vladimir, The Blizzard, translated by Jamey Gambrell; FSG, late 2015. (previous post)

Starobinets, Anna: Catlantis, translated by Jane Bugaeva; Pushkin Children’s Books, fall 2014. (previous post)

Stepnova, Marina: The Women of Lazarus, translated by Lisa Hayden; World Editions, fall 2014. (previous post)

Strugatsky, Boris and Strugatsky, Arkady: The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, translated by Joshua Billings; Melville House Press, March 2015.

Tarkovsky, Arseny: I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev; CSU Poetry Center, May 2015.

Tolstoy, Leo: The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, translated by Roger Cockrell; Alma Press, April 2015.

Tolstoy, Leo: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories, translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater, with notes by Andrew Kahn; Oxford University Press, 2015.

Tsvetaeva, Marina: The Essential Poetry, translated by Michael M. Naydan and Slava I. Yastremski; Glagoslav, May 2015.

Ulitskaya, Ludmila: The Big Green Tent, translated by Bela Shayevich and Polly Gannon; FSG, 2015.

Vinogradova, Lyuba: Defending the Motherland, translated by Arch Tait; MacLehose Press, April 2015.

Various: The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, ed. Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski; Penguin Classics, February 2015.

Various: Hit Parade: The Orbita Group, edited by Kevin Platt; Ugly Duckling Presse, Spring 2015. Multiple authors and many translators represented in this bilingual Russian-English collection. An article from The Calvert Journal.

Various: Late and Post Soviet Russian Literature: A Reader, Vol. II, edited by Mark Lipovetsky and Lisa Ryoko Wakamiya. Poetry, prose, and scholarly texts; Academic Studies Press, September 2015.

Various: Russian Silver Age Poetry: Texts and Contexts, Sibelan E.S. Forrester and Martha M.F. Kelly; Academic Studies Press, May 2015.

Vodolazkin, Eugene: Laurus, translated by Lisa Hayden; Oneworld Publications, October 2015. (previous post)

Wilke, Daria: Playing a Part, translated by Marian Schwartz; Arthur A. Levine, spring 2015.

Woolf, Oleg: Bessarabian Stamps, translated by Boris Dralyuk; Phoneme Media, March 2015. I have a copy of Bessarabian Stamps and hope to read it soon.

Up Next: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov and Lena Eltang’s Cartagena.

Disclaimers: The usual.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

One Shortlist (NatsBest), One Long List (Big Book)

Last week was so packed with work that I came close to missing the National Bestseller Award (NatsBest) shortlist: thank goodness for some somnambulant scrolling on Facebook! To make this a double-your-pleasure week, the Big Book Award’s long list was released, too. Here are highlights:


The NatsBest shortlist came, as usual, with the point totals each finalist gathered during first-round voting. I’ll rework some of my own descriptions from my post about the long list.

  • Sergei Nosov’s Фигурные скобки (Curly Brackets) (19 points): Described by fellow finalist Anna Matveeva as magical realism about a mathematician who goes from Moscow to Saint Petersburg for a conference of микромаг-s. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that Matveeva Googled “congress of micromagicians”—that’s what the word looks like, though for some reason I like the sound of “microwizard” better—and found several thousand links to appearances by various sorts of magicians. Some English-language Googling brought up the term “micromagic,” a word I’d never heard, though of course I know very little about magic in general. Point of interest: according to Wikipedia, “micromentalism is mentalism performed in an intimate session.” I enjoyed one of Nosov’s books but abandoned another, and this one sounds just crazy enough that it might work. Apparently the 19 points Nosov’s book earned is a NatsBest record.
  • Oleg Kashin’s Горби-дрим (Gorby-Dream) (6 points): Yes, a book about Gorbachev by a journalist.
  • Anna Matveeva’s Девять девяностых (Nine from the Nineties) (6 points): Short stories. Some, including (apparently) this one, were written for Snob. I thought some of Matveeva’s stories in an earlier collection were very decent.
  • Alexander Snegirev’s Вера (Vera, a name and noun that translates as Faith) (6 points): A short novel about a forty-year-old woman who is unmarried. Snegirev’s Facebook description, posted at the time of the NatsBest long list, includes words like dramatic, comic, erotic (a bit), and political (a little). I’m looking forward to reading it. Starting tonight.
  • Vasilii Avchenko’s Кристалл в прозрачной оправе (Crystal in a Transparent Frame) (5 points): This book’s subtitle is “lyrical lectures about water and stones,” and Avchenko apparently covers many aspects of life in Vladivostok, including fish(ing), as in this excerpt.
  • Tatyana Moskvina’s Жизнь советской девушки (Life of a Soviet Girl) (5 points): Apparently a memoir about life in Leningrad during the 1960s through 1980s, with lots of detail. 

As for the Big Book’s long list, well, it is long, weighing in at 30 books, so I’ll just pick out a few points, though they’re probably the dullest points since they leave out the writers who are new to me: I’ve only read about half the writers on the list.

  • Four authors are on the afore-mentioned NatBest shortlist, for the same books: Sergei Nosov, Anna Matveeva, Alexander Snegirev, and Tatyana Moskvina.
  • There are several authors I’ve read in the past, beyond Nosov, Matveeva, and Snegirev: Elena Bochorishvili (Только ждать и смотреть/Just Wait and Watch), Alisa Ganieva (Жених и невеста/Bride and Groom), Andrei Gelasimov (Холод/Cold), Eduard Limonov (Дед. Роман нашего времени/Grandfather. A Novel of Our Time), Viktor Pelevin (Любовь к трем цукербринам/Love for Three Zuckerbrins), Dina Rubina (Русская канарейка/Russian Canary), Sergei Samsonov (Железная кость/Iron Bone), Roman Senchin (Зона затопления/Flood Zone), and Aleksei Slapovskii (Хроника № 13/Chronicle No. 13).
  • There’s also one book I’m reading, albeit very slowly, in spurts: Guzel Yakhina’s debut book, Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes), a historical novel about a kulak woman who, in my reading, currently appears to be on her way to exile.

Disclaimers: The usual, with knowing a few of the writers on the lists and having received books from them or their agents.

Up Next: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov and Lena Eltang’s Cartagena, which is winding down with a surprise ending. The 2015 translation list and perhaps even, hmm, the first in a series of “Translation Notebook” posts, though I’m still working out that idea in my head.