Sunday, June 16, 2013

Favorite Russian Writers A to Я: S Is Splendid


The Russian letter С—S in the Roman alphabet—is a bit of a traffic jam for good writers. Though I don’t seem to have any S-starting favorites that I’d defend to the last letter, there are lots and lots of writers I’ve read in moderation and enjoyed enough that I look forward to reading more of their work. I’ll list some of them here. NB: I’ll address the letters Ш and Щ, which transliterate as sh and shch, later in their own posts.


Saltykov-Shchedrin
Classics first, where Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s Господа Головлёвы (The Golovlyov Family or The Golovlyovs) is one of the most supremely painful and masterfully claustrophobic books about family I’ve ever read. It was almost physically difficult to read. Highly recommended! Then there’s Fedor Sologub, whose Мелкий бес (The Petty Demon) I’ve enjoyed twice, first in translation, later in Russian. It’s a wonderfully fun and diabolical symbolist novel (previous post) with characters who enjoy, among other things, tearing at wallpaper. I also remember enjoying some of Sologub’s poetry in grad school.

As for contemporary writers, there are so many S scribes I’m not sure where to start. Roman Senchin comes first, I think: everything I wrote above about The Golovlyovs applies to Senchin’s The Yeltyshevs (previous post), a novel about a family that moves to a village from a regional center. Senchin’s The Information, about a young superfluous man in Moscow, is also painful and claustrophobic, good in a different way even if it takes some time to engage with. Then there’s Marina Stepnova, whose Lazar’s Women (previous post), a family saga with twists of пошлость (poshlost’) and postmodernism, was a finalist for last year’s major awards, winning two third prizes from Big Book. I’ve also enjoyed some of Stepnova’s short stories and am looking forward to her Surgeon.

Though it feels strange, I have to acknowledge Vladimir Sorokin, whom I’ve come to appreciate, though we got off to a bad start with Ice not long after I start writing the blog (previous post). I pretty much swore then that I wouldn’t read more of the Ice trilogy… but I broke down and read the next book, Bro, (previous post) and am now even curious about the third. As I wrote at the end of my post on Bro, “It’s taken me a few years and a few books to edge into Sorokin’s world.” My favorite Sorokin book is A Day in the Life of an Oprichnik (previous post), a short novel that describes a future Russia that feels rather like the Middle Ages.

I’ve enjoyed lots more books by S-starting writers, from Olga Slavnikova’s 2017 (previous post) to Aleksandr Snegirev’s Vanity (previous post) and Petroleum Venus (previous post)… and I have lots more books by writers with names beginning in S on my shelves, notably from the Brothers Strugatsky, whose world I have yet to find a way to edge into. As always, I’m open to reading ideas.

Compass Translation Award Announcement: For all you poetry translators out there, the Compass Translation Award has extended its 2013 deadline for entries to July 15. This year’s poet for translation is Maria Petrovykh. Information about the award is here. If you’re as unfamiliar with Petrovykh as I, Wikipedia can help, thanks to Languagehat, who wrote the Petrovykh entry after enjoying reading her work.

Disclaimers: The usual, for writers and agents. I’ve translated a Senchin story and excerpts from The Yeltyshevs.

Up Next: A trip report about the Translators’ Coven in Oxford and poetry translation events in London. And I’m finally reading Maya Kucherskaya’s Тётя Мотя, which literary agency Elkost is calling Auntie Mina. I loaded Auntie on the Nook for my trip but already started reading: I’m finding it perfect for my scattered frame of mind because it’s an old-fashioned long novel focusing on characters and their situations in life. That feels soothing right now, with so much going on.

12 comments:

  1. I love your letter posts! I'd add Osip Senkovsky (whom I wrote about here and here), Vladimir Solovyov (I've only read him in bits and pieces, but have liked what I've read), Konstantin Simonov (LH post), Andrei Sinyavsky (LH post), and Solzhenitsyn (LH post); I haven't read Sukhovo-Kobylin, but his plays are supposed to be very good and he had a remarkable beard.

    I very much hope you do come to enjoy the Strugatskys (I link to a couple of posts about them here); I consider them amazing writers who just happened to choose sf as their field, and I'm only sorry I came to them so late in life.

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  2. Thanks, Languagehat! I enjoy these posts very much, too, largely because so many of you add comments with more reading ideas... I'll take a look at all your links when I return from London and have a whole computer on which to read... I particularly want to reread your Brothers S posts. I have their Piknik and keep intending to read it... for now, off for a poetry translation event. Thank you!

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  3. I was just thinking, what about Shishkin and all the others on Ш/Щ, and then saw your qualifier, with which I agree.
    In addition to LH recommendations, which I support,
    there is the 18C poet and playwright Alexander Sumarokov, who contributed immensely to the development of Russian language, literature and theatre; a good post-war lyrical poet Vladimir Sokolov; a classic of socialist realist military-naval writing Leonid Sobolev and military writer Sergei Sergeevich Smirnov, who was phenomenally popular in 1960-70s as someone who specialised in discovering unknown heroes of the second world war and presented the 'Soldiers' Letters' programme on TV; Mikhail Slonimsky was a member of the most influential Russian writers group in 20C, the Serapion Brothers; Lidiya Seyfullina, who flourished in 1920s with hard-line proletarian works, including the play 'Fellow-travellers.'
    S is immensely rich. If I had to choose a 'must read', I'd recommend ABS, the Strugatsky brothers, Arkady and Boris.

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    1. Thank you for this list, Sashura! I look forward to sorting through some of these names when I get home and have a big screen (and my books!) again! I have the most experience thus far with Sumarokov, thanks to a great 18th C Russian lit course. As for ABS, yes, I'm still looking for that "right" thing to get me started, betting on an enjoyable picnic.

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  4. It was so good to see you!

    Your question re the Strugatsky brothers seems like a wink of fate -- they have written an amazing play (the only one, nothing to do with sci-fi, quite different from the rest of their oeuvre), bits of which I've translated, for fun, into both German and Russian. It is one of my favourite plays ever, and very difficult to translate (the title alone is challenge enough) -

    http://lib.ru/STRUGACKIE/vidypitera.txt

    Would you like to try and translate it together? Email me! (and please don't hesitate to say no, if that's not your cup of vodka)


    Do novykh vstrech!

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    1. Аля, I was very happy to see you, too, and meet (most of) your family! I hope the trip home went smoothly. Hello to all!

      As a drama queen, I do love these winks of fate, particularly when someone tells me a piece is difficult, so will email you about the Brothers' play when I know where my head is... I'm starting to think it left the plane somewhere around Iceland. About the play: I am nearly certain I saw it performed somewhere in Moscow. I'll have to dig through my old papers. (This is the advantage of not throwing anything away!)

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  5. Sigh. More to add to my wish list. To which I say thanks!

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    1. Yes, these are the problems we love to have... Happy reading!

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  6. Ha, I missed this! How on earth did you manage to post this on 16 June? I am amazed!

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    1. Hi, Ani! I pre-posted it before I left home!

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  7. Lisa, have you ever read Mamleev?

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    1. Only a brief story or two. I have Шатуны and should read it one of these days, particularly because it's being translated! Let me know if you have other recommendations.

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