Sunday, June 14, 2015

New York Trip Report, Part One, Belated: Oliver Ready Wins 2015 Read Russia Prize

So much for timely trip reports about award ceremonies! That doesn’t mean I’m not still thrilled to say, more than two weeks later, that Oliver Ready received the 2015 Read Russia Prize for his translation of Vladimir Sharov’s До и во время, which Dedalus Books published with the title Before and During. I accepted the award for Oliver and am very excited for all involved: for Oliver, for Sharov, whom I met through Oliver, and for Dedalus Books.

Recognizing Oliver felt doubly appropriate because his Crime and Punishment translation was shortlisted for this year’s award, too. Given my interest in contemporary Russian literature, I’m especially happy Oliver won for the Sharov book—the decision came, by the way, through unanimous vote—both because I hope it draws attention to present-day writers and because I read and admired (previous post) Oliver’s translation.

Read Russia commended classics, too, by giving a special jury award to two new translations of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: Rosamund Bartlett’s translation was published by Oxford University Press and Marian Schwartz’s by Yale University Press. The jury’s statements on both awards are online here. I should note that this Read Russia Prize was for Russian-to-English translations only.

The Read Russia evening also included a talk from Gary Saul Morson, the man who taught me War and Peace twice: he spoke on the topic of “Because Everyone Needs a Little Russian Literature.” I’d wondered, in a previous post (about the Read Russia shortlist), if Dr. Morson took the title from a Read Russia bumper sticker. He did. My notes about his talk, alas, are even more inadequate than usual, most likely due to a combination of plain old tiredness after three days at BEA and excitement for Oliver.

I am happy to report, though, that, among other things, Dr. Morson quoted from a book by his pseudonym Alicia Chudo, noted the sense of moral urgency that Russian literature conveys, and spoke of literary characters as possible people, a formulation I like very much. Best of all, he read aloud, from translations: when I was a student, undergrad and grad, I didn’t understand why he read aloud to us, but have come to realize in recent years how much his readings helped me learn to hear the shadings of literary voices.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Alex Cigale gave me a copy of the spring/summer 2015 issue of Atlanta Review: Alex edited the issue and it includes four or five or six dozen translations of Russian poems. Alex pulled together a fantastic roster of fifty poets (Shamshad Abdullaev to Ivan Zhdanov, if taken in the Roman alphabet’s A to Z) and several dozen translators, many of whom I know and have heard read from and/or speak about their work. I’ve only read a small sliver of the issue—every time I open the journal, I get happily stuck on Alyssa Dinega Gillespie’s lush translation of a Polina Barskova poem that starts with “Sweetness of the sweetest slumber/Sweet is sweet is sweet is dream” because I love what Alyssa does with rhythm and rhyme—but I can’t wait to read more, poet by poet, translator by translator. Alex reminded me that readers can get tastes of the poems (as well as background) from the Atlanta Review Facebook group, where posts often include lots of links. If you’re looking for very short notes, there’s also Twitter!

Disclaimers: The usual, including work for Read Russia. Thank you to Alex Cigale for Atlanta Review.

Up Next: Trip report, Part Two, BookExpo America book fair and event report. And two books: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which I’ll start translating this summer, meaning soon, 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. And then: I’m currently reading Elena Minkina-Taycher’s The Rebinder Effect, which I’m enjoying very much. Rebinder didn’t catch me on several previous tries so I’m glad I kept trying because I’m finding it very, very readable. After that, I’ll be starting my Big Book Award finalist marathon, beginning with Guzel’ Iakhina’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, which I’ve already started…

Sunday, June 7, 2015

2015 NatsBest Goes to Nosov

Sergei Nosov won the 2015 National Bestseller Award today for his Фигурные скобки (Curly Brackets). Curly Brackets looked like a big NatsBest favorite after racking up a record-breaking 19 points in longlist tallies. Nosov felt due for a major award after having been a finalist for several prizes in recent years, with his Франсуаза, или Путь к леднику (Françoise Or the Way to the Glacier) and Тайная жизнь петербургских памятников (The Secret Lives of Petersburg Monuments).

After enjoying Nosov’s The Rooks Have Flown (previous post) and Member of the Society or a Time of Hunger (to come), I’m looking forward to Curly Brackets, which apparently concerns a Petersburg mathematician who goes to Moscow for a microwizard (micromagician?) convention. I'll add information on voting totals for the finals when the official report appears, but will note that three books shared second place in longlist voting, with six points: Oleg Kashin’s Горби-дрим (Gorby-Dream), Anna Matveeva’s Девять девяностых (Nine from the Nineties), and Alexander Snegirev’s Вера (Vera, a name and noun that translates as Faith).

I’ve only read one of the shortlisted books, and only in part: Snegirev’s Vera, which I liked very, very much but decided I’d rather read in book form, you know, with bound paper. Then again, reformatting might solve my problem, which involves an urge to take lots of notes: I’ve been increasing my electronic reading options and capabilities so I can read thousands of pages for the Big Book Award. One of those books is Matveeva’s Nine from the Nineties, which I’m already looking forward to after reading, last year, several stories from her previous collection, which was also a Big Book finalist.

Disclaimers: The usual.

Up Next: New York trip report, covering BookExpo America and the Read Russia Award. And two books: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which I’ll start translating this summer, and the afore-mentioned 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.

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.