Sunday, January 26, 2014

News Digest: NOS(E) Award, Lists, UK Events, a Finnish Book &tc.

So many bits of news have accumulated over the last couple weeks that I think a news digest post is in order…

This year’s NOS(E)award went to Andrei Ivanov for Харбинские мотыльки (The Moths of Harbin), a novel about Russians in Estonia during 1920-1940. The novel will be released in book form at the end of February from Elena Shubina Editorial, an imprint of AST. (Unfortunately, only the first half of the book, published by the journal Znamia, seems to be available,officially, online.) Readers voting online opted for Mikhail Elizarov’s Мы вышли покурить на 17 лет (something like We Went Out for a Seventeen-Year Smoke). The short list for this past NOS(E) season is here.

There are (occasionally) times when I wish I lived in New York so I could attend certain readings and literary events and there are (occasionally) times when I wish I lived in London so I could attend certain readings and literary events. Right now I’m wishing for London, where Pushkin House will host two events with translator Oliver Ready. The subject on February 5 will be Vladimir Sharov’s Before and During, published by Dedalus; Sharov will participate, as will Philip Ross Bullock. On February 19, the topic is Crime and Punishment, published by Penguin Classics. Russian Dinosaur has already written a wonderful “Digested Dostoevsky” post about Oliver’s introduction to Crime and Punishment. I haven’t read Crime and Punishment since high school so all this makes me wonder about a reread, something I half-heartedly attempted years ago, before I started the blog… and before Oliver’s essay.

Speaking of new translations, it’s list time! I’m already working on the 2014 list of new translations, so I’d love to hear from translators and publishers with Russian-to-English translations coming out in 2014. For some instant list-induced gratification, here’s a link to a link where you can download the 2013 translation database, courtesy of Chad Post/Three Percent/Open Letter Books. As Chad notes, this is the first year the database, which covers all-languages-into-English, has listed more than 500 books.

I won’t write a full post about Daniel Katz’s novelish book Kun isoisä Suomeen hiihti, which I read in Vladimir Smirnov’s Russian translation, Как мой прадедушка на лыжах прибежал в Финляндию--the book is known as When Grandfather Skied to Finland in English--but I do want to mention it. Alas, the book doesn’t seem to exist in English translation, which is too bad because it’s a beautifully concise family saga of sorts telling the story of a Jewish family in Finland. Katz focuses largely on Benya, who’s originally from Polotsk, Belarus, and serves in the imperial Russian Army. Katz works a lot into this small book, covering Benya’s military school experiences and trumpeting mess-ups, World War 2 in Finland, and Jewish life in Finland. Though the book leans a bit more toward novel-written-in-stories than I generally prefer, I thoroughly enjoyed it thanks to Katz’s blend of dark humor (nicely rendered by Smirnov), Jewish storytelling, and aspects of Russian and Soviet life overlaid on a Finnish setting. The book has been translated into a bunch of languages (apparently nine?), including Polish, German, and Spanish.

A few other random items… I always enjoy the XIX век blog (which is, BTW, written in English) but especially lapped up two posts about the recent AATSEEL conference: one’s about Gothic novels, the other is about Russian biographies… I was pleasantly surprised a couple weeks ago to find not one but two pieces about Russian literature in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal: first there was Sam Sacks’s lengthy review of Andrew Bromfield’s translation of Mikhail Shishkin’s Письмовник, known in English as The Light and the Dark; Sacks also mentions Shishkin’s Maidenhair (Венерин волос), which Marian Schwartz translated into English. After reading Sacks on Shishkin, I found Leon Aron’s “Learning to Love Life on the Downslope,” about Pushkin’s “Elegy”. Weeks like that make me sorry my free six-month subscription to the WSJ will soon end… Finally, if you’ve always itched to read Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s Что делать? (What Is to Be Done?) but just never seem to get around to it, well, you have no more excuses. Just drop by Wuthering Expectations and tell Amateur Reader (Tom) you’d like to join in his readalong, which looks set to begin in late April. I read an abridged translation of What Is to Be Done? back in grad school because the book was on my reading list. I remember rather enjoying it (despite numerous warnings) during a heat wave but have to admit I’m not sure if I’m ready to commit to reading the whole thing this spring. We’ll see!

Up Next: Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina. Marina Stepnova’s The Surgeon. Denis Gutsko’s Beta Male, though I may set this one aside until I can get a paper version of the book: not all books lend themselves to electronic reading.

Disclaimers: The usual.


  1. That Aron piece is nice (though I wonder if all Russians would agree that "Pushkin is first and foremost the author of short lyrical poems"). I think he should have looked twice, though, at his rendition "I want to live to think and to suffer" and noticed how awkward and ambiguous it is; English demands a connective: "I want to live in order to think and to suffer" or "I want to live so that I can think and suffer."

  2. Thanks for your comment, Languagehat. It's funny: it's short lyrical poems that dominated my grad school experience with Pushkin and that feels very proper in its own way. And I enjoyed the poems, which feels very proper, too. Still, it's the Belkin Tales I've always loved most, partly because they're the first Pushkin I read in Russian, partly because they were fun and memorably, and partly because of my prose bias.

    As for Aron's translation, yes, that line feels a little clipped!

  3. Lots of good reads coming, must dust off my Crime and Punishment for reading this year, looking forward to the reviews, like you, it's rare to get to the events, but still good to know about them.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, clairemca! I see you've been reading Onegin... that's another one I've been meaning to dust off for years!

  4. It's funny: it's short lyrical poems that dominated my grad school experience with Pushkin

    Oh, sure, we mostly encounter Pushkin first through those poems; I certainly did, and I imagine Russians do to. But I question the "foremost," since I would think the first thing that would pop into a Russian's head if you asked "What did Pushkin write?" would be Onegin. But maybe I'm wrong!

    1. I have no idea... so just for fun I searched the terms опрос любимое произведение Пушкина. I only looked at a few results but I certainly got a full spectrum of Pushkin! One survey had Onegin in the lead but another went for short poems, plus there was an article listing a few writers' favorites; some chose prose.

      One other note: Aron was born in Moscow but came to the US when he was 24.

  5. (Er, "do too." The preview is there for a reason!)