K is yet another strange letter in my alphabetic reading: I’ve read lots and lots of K writers but not many seem truly special. Here are a few, though, that I’ve enjoyed and/or want to read more:
Historian and fiction writer Nikolai Karamzin is a big sentimental favorite because his Бедная Лиза (Poor Liza) is the first work of Russian literature that I read in the original. Being a Liza/Leeza myself, if only in Russian, the story has been following me around for years. This teary piece of work still resonates in Russian fiction, too, with echoes in, among others, Boris Akunin’s Fandorin series, where characters in the first book share names with Karamzin’s. I was also reminded of Karamzin’s Liza a couple weeks ago when I went back to my piece about Viktor Martinovich’s Paranoia, which features a Liza.
A Soviet-era near-favorite is Valentin Kataev, whose Белеет парус одинокий (A White Sail Gleams) I remember as blending political activism, adventure, and coming of age, an odd but interesting mixture. I also enjoyed Kataev’s comic Растратчики (The Embezzlers) and Время, вперёд! (Time, Forward!), an especially energetic piece of socialist realism. A plus: all these Kataev titles (and others) have been translated into English. Dina Kalinovskaia’s О, суббота! (Oh, Shabbat!), a wonderful short novel, is another Soviet-era favorite (previous post). Alas, I don’t think much more of her work is available.
I’ve had mixed luck with contemporary writers whose last names begin with K. Evgenii Kliuev’s Андерманир штук (Something Else for You) was charming and mysterious on some levels (previous post) but not quite “there,” though I want to try more from Kliuev. And Aleksandr Kabakov’s Невозвращенец (No Return) was also just okay (previous post), though I’ve kept Kabakov on my “sooner” shelf because I’m still curious.
Near-future forays into K writers include Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, whose Клуб убийц букв (The Letter Killers Club) I’m very much looking forward to after hearing and reading many, many positive comments about Krzhizhanovsky’s work. I looked for his books in Russian, on and off, for several years and feel very fortunate to have found a used copy of a collection that includes Club, so I can read it before New York Review Books releases Joanne Turnbull’s translation later this year. There’s an excerpt of Club, translated by Turnbull, in Counterfeits, this year’s edition of Two Lines, from the Center for the Art of Translation. I’m exited to write that I have a story in Counterfeits, too, my translation of Margarita Khemlin’s “Третья мировая Баси Соломоновны” -- “Basya Solomonovna’s Third World War.”
Up Next: Iurii Buida’s Дон Домино (Don Domino, known in Oliver Ready’s translation as The Zero Train) and Viktor Astaf’ev’s Печальный детектив (The Sad/Mournful Detective). Then Dmitrii Danilov’s Горизонтальное положение (Horizontal Position). A nonfiction roundup post should also be on the way soon, if I ever read the second half of Rachel Polonsky’s Molotov’s Magic Lantern.
Disclosures: I always enjoy speaking with New York Review Books about translations.
Image credit: Soviet stamp from 1991 uploaded to Wikipedia by Mariluna