Saturday, March 28, 2015

Trip Report: Peaks Island. In Praise of Close-to-Home Travel. A List of Russia’s Open Book Books.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2e/Peaks_Island_Maine_landing%2C_11-11-2004.jpgI generally only write reports about big trips with overnight stays—New York for BookExpo America, other American cities for American Literary Translators Association conferences, Moscow for translator congresses…—but a recent three-hour trip to Peaks Island, where I helped host a screening of the documentary Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin at the Peaks Island branch of the Portland Public Library, made for an enjoyable evening. It also brought some realizations about how important it is to get out and tell the public about Russian literature and literary translation.

First, a bit of background, presented rather inelegantly, to save space… “Russia Resurgent” was the topic for this year’s Camden Conference, fwhich is held annually in Camden, Maine, a couple hours up the coast from where I live. Though a three-day conference in Camden is the centerpiece, there’s also a huge multi-month schedule of community events around the state. I was involved with three: I read excerpts from some of my translations at libraries in Scarborough and Kennebunk (a third event, in Brunswick, was cancelled because of bad weather), and helped host a screening of Russia’s Open Book at the Scarborough Public Library, attended by the film’s co-directors, Sarah Willis and Paul Mitchell. Though the Peaks Island trip wasn’t part of the Camden Conference schedule, it came out of the Scarborough screening.

Every event was fun. I love reading from my translations—these readings included excerpts from works by Margarita Khemlin, Vladislav Otroshenko, Eugene Vodolazkin, and Marina Stepnova—and the audiences in Scarborough and Kennebunk were wonderful. People asked questions about everything from how I got started in translation to how I work and how I know my translations are correct. It’s a big plus that public readings can be a great way to gauge your success in conveying humor. And people ask where and how they can find and buy the translated books.

The two screenings of Russia’s Open Book took a little less energy—reading for an hour is tiring even when Q&A is interspersed!—but were at least as rewarding. People engage well with the film’s excerpts from four novels, which are read by Stephen Fry and accompanied by animation. There’s context-setting talk with Russian critics. The ending, with Vladimir Sorokin’s comments about the future, chills my spine (and yes, I mean that literally) every time, even though I know what’s coming. And an hour is perfect to present detail about six writers without putting anyone to sleep. Lots of questions come up: do Russian writers often create parallel universes, do these writers make a living from their fiction, what’s the situation for Russian bookstores. And people ask where and how they can find and buy the translated books.


The audience at the Peaks Island screening even asked if I could create a list of books in English translation by the six writers in Russia’s Open Book. I can. And it’s below. I didn’t see much of Peaks Island during the three hours I was there (particularly since it was dark when I left) but I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the couple dozen people who came to the library on a cold and very windy night. Meeting them—and the people who came to my events in Scarborough and Kennebunk—feels like a perfect antidote to complaints that translators (and even translated literature) are invisible and go unrecognized. People do care about translation, readers are interested in Russian fiction in translation, and I’m glad so many translators make the effort to read from and speak about their work in their communities. The more I get out, the more I realize how important that is.

Without further ado, here’s the list I promised to the Peaks Island audience. Perhaps it will be helpful to other libraries and institutions that screen the film. And please do let me know if I missed anything! Two notes. First, five of the six writers in the film have books available in English translation; Mariam Petrosyan is the exception. Second, I’ve linked each writer’s name to the bios I wrote for the Read Russia site, in preparation for BookExpo America 2012. The publication and awards lists there aren’t all up-to-date, but the bios still provide a fair bit of background on the writers as well as lists of some of the writers’ short fiction available in translation. And a third note: my “previous post” posts are written about the Russian originals, not the translations.

Zakhar Prilepin 
  • Sankya (Disquiet International/Dzanc Books, 2014, tr. Mariya Gusev and Jeff Parker with Alina Ryabovolova. This book makes great use of glossaries.) (previous post)
  • Sin (Glagoslav, 2012, tr. Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas) (previous post)

Ludmila Ulitskaya 
  • The Big Green Tent (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, tr. Bela Shayevich)
  • Daniel Stein, Interpreter (The Overlook Press, 2011, tr. Arch Tait) (previous post)
  • Sonechka (Schocken, 2005, tr. Arch Tait), novella and stories
  • Medea and Her Children (Schocken, 2002, tr. Arch Tait)
  • The Funeral Party: A Novel (Schocken, 2001, tr. Cathy Porter, edited by Arch Tait)

  • Living Souls (Alma Books, 2011, tr. Cathy Porter) (previous post)

  • Catlantis (Pushkin Children’s Books, fall 2015, tr. Jane Bugaeva). Cat humor, romance, and adventure for children nine and up, plus cat lovers of all ages… more soon on Catlantis.
  • The Icarus Gland (Skyscraper Publications, 2014, tr. James Rann). Short stories.
  • The Living (Hesperus, 2012, tr. James Rann)
  • An Awkward Age (Hesperus, 2011, tr. Hugh Aplin). Short fiction. (previous post)

  • The Blizzard (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, late 2015, tr. Jamey Gambrell), (previous post)
  • Day of the Oprichnik (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, tr. Jamey Gambrell) (previous post). My favorite Sorokin book.
  • The Ice Trilogy (New York Review Books, 2011, tr. Jamey Gambrell) (previous posts: first book and second book)
  • The Queue (New York Review Books, 2008, tr. Sally Laird, first published in English in 1988 by Readers International Inc.). I’ve heard lots of great things about this book over the years… I’ve been saving The Queue for a cranky day!
You can screen Russia's Open Book, too, here or through Intelligent Channel's YouTube channel.

Disclaimers and disclosures: The usual and much more, for my work with Read Russia, talks with Sarah and Paul about the film…

Up next: Eugene Vodolzakin’s Solovyov and Larionov and Lena Eltang’s Cartagena, a complex murder mystery of sorts that I’m still reading slowly to appreciate all the details. Plus maybe a novella or two… Also, translators and publishers, please do send me titles and dates for this year’s releases: I’m hoping to post the 2015 translation list soon!

Photo: Econrad, creative commons, via Wikipedia

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