Learning yesterday morning that Margarita Khemlin had died during the night, apparently after her heart stopped, made for a horribly sad wakeup and some unsteady days. She was only 55; I will miss her and her writing. Rita was more than just a favorite writer: she was also the first author I chose, myself, to translate, and it was a treat to see her at Russian literature events in various places over the last several years. I feel tremendous respect, affection, and gratitude to her, as a writer and as a person.
Rita was funny (she loved calling me “Becky” because I reminded her of Becky Thatcher) and she was generous (she let me translate her when I had no translation credits whatsoever) but of course it was her writing that endeared her to me first, long before we corresponded or met. The initial appeal of her writing was in its humor and generosity, too, but her books grew on me because of Rita’s ability to describe the long-term effects of World War 2, things Rita grew up with in her native Ukraine. I love her use of skaz technique, I love her complex characters, I love the amber necklace she made for me (it’s a sort of good luck charm for my readings), and I love remembering the time I spent with her.
I’m going to list, below, Rita’s works that have been translated into English and links to previous posts about her books. Before I do that, though, here’s a lovely piece for Izvestia written by Evgenia Korobkova that speaks of Rita’s achievements and character. Among other things, Korobkova mentions that Rita was to have been jury chair for the Russian Booker next year.
Works translated into English:
- The Investigator (Дознаватель), translated by Melanie Moore, was published on October 15, 2015.
- “Shady Business” (“Темное дело”), translated by me, was published in the journal Subtropics, Issue 17, winter/spring 2014. (A brief description here.)
- “Basya Solomonovna’s Third World War” (“Третья мировая Баси Соломоновны”), translated by me, was first published in Two Lines XVIII/Counterfeits and reprinted in the Read Russia! anthology, available free, in PDF form, here. (The Russian originals of both the stories I translated are here.)
- Novellas – the first of Margarita’s books that I read, her debut book, which I learned about when it was a finalist for the Big Book Award in 2008.
- Klotsvog – my favorite, a wonderful novel.
- The Investigator – The Investigator won the Inspector NOSE Award in 2014 as well as the Booker translation prize that covered Melanie’s translation.
- Women in Translation Month – a cross-post for Bibliobio, in which I list Rita as one of my favorite Russian female authors.
- London Book Fair Notes – a quick mention of Rita’s talk about family objects.