Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year! & 2015 Highlights

It’s a mystery to me how 2015 managed to slip by so quickly, but here I am, yet again, with holiday greetings. Happy new year! С Новым годом! For at least the third year in a row, the reading situation has been quality over quantity with lots of abandonments but also a fair number of books I’ve enjoyed. It’s been another busy year of translation, too. Here are a few highlights in categories that I’ve (as always!) fashioned to fit what I enjoyed most:

Favorite debut novel. Guzel Yakhina’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes (previous post) was one of my favorite books of the year and, as I’ve noted before, my enjoyment of the book only grew when I translated excerpts for Elkost, Yakhina’s literary agency. I still don’t quite understand how Yakhina makes a book about the exile of a kulak woman into such a lovely, affecting novel, but I’m going to just chalk that up to the magic of fiction. As I’ve said before, Zuleikha certainly deserves the praise and awards—the Yasnaya Polyana and Big Book—that it has won. It was a pleasure to rank Zuleikha highest on my Big Book ballot in my first year as a voting jury member.

Favorite book by a writer I’d already read. Marina Stepnova’s Italian Lessons (Безбожный переулок in Russian) (previous post), which I’m happy to say I’ll start translating in March for World Editions, publisher of my translation of Stepnova’s The Women of Lazarus, released this September. (You can read about Stepnova and The Women of Lazarus here, in a comprehensive piece by Phoebe Taplin.) Anyway! Italian Lessons tells of a love triangle but is, more than anything, put broadly, hmm (particularly since I might change my mind after translating), a novel about the difficulties of contemporary Russian life. With background, food, travel, and lots of literary references I can’t wait to sort through.

Favorite children’s book. I don’t read many children’s books but I did read two this year… and I enjoyed Anna Starobinets’s Catlantis (previous post) so much that I had to mention it, particularly since Pushkin Press recently published Jane Bugaeva’s English translation. I read the Russian but—knowing Jane, her love for cats, and her love for linguistic fun—I’m certain the translation is just as much fun as the original. If you’re looking for a chapter book about a love-struck, time-traveling cat, search no further than Catlantis!

Favorite book I haven’t finished. Valerii Zalotukha’s The Candle (Свечка), my second-place Big Book book. Weighing in at about 1,850 pages, I admit I still haven’t finished the book, though with its combination of the Moscow nineties, references to War and Peace, and themes of criminal activity and sociocultural wreckage, I might love to be stuck in The Candle for years. I’ve read at least one novel’s worth already, in binges and in small bits, and love how easy it is to enjoy The Candle however I read. A post will be coming whenever.

Signing books at The Strand!
Favorite travel. This is tough because I always enjoy the American Literary Translators Association annual conference… but I think Russian Literature Week, which brought me to New York earlier this month, had that beat. Not only did I love being part of a Bridge Series event with Eugene Vodolazkin, about Лавр/Laurus, at BookCourt in Brooklyn, and moderated by Sal Robinson, but it was fun moderating a roundtable at the Brooklyn Public Library with Vodolazkin, Vladimir Sharov, and Dmitry Petrov, too. Of course it was great to just have a chance to spend time in balmy New York (60 degrees F!) with them, Leonid Yuzefovich, translators Marian Schwartz and Oliver Ready, and many, many other translators, writers, readers, publishers, and other colleagues from New York, Moscow, and beyond. My memories of the week are so horribly skewed from being a part of two events—even when I attended events I wasn’t involved in, I was thinking about how anything Sharov and Vodolazkin said might apply to our roundtable—that I’m thoroughly incapable of writing a trip report, so I’ll just say here that it was all great fun. And that sitting under a warm December sun in the middle of Broadway or walking around Central Park talking about Russian books is pretty nice.

Happiest mood. What seems to stick most about 2015 is how good the year was to me and my books. Three of my translations were released—Vladislav Otroshenko’s Addendum to a Photo Album, Stepnova’s Women of Lazarus, and Vodolazkin’s Laurus—and all have had nice reviews on reader blogs, in publications like The TLS, and even in the wonderfully hybrid New Yorker Page-Turner blog, where Ken Kalfus’s “Holy Foolery,” about Laurus, helped the book find many, many readers. And that, I have to say, is one of the reasons I love this translation thing so much to begin with: beyond the fun of translation itself and the very humbling honor of becoming a writer’s English-language voice, I love being able to help books reach new readers. And that, I think is the perfect place to end 2015, though only blog-wise since there is still a little food, wine, and reading to go. And I do want to say how much I’m looking forward to next year’s books, too: Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina and Vodolazin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which, like Laurus, will be published by Oneworld Publications.

More finally: another thank you! Thank you for visiting the blog, whether you come by regularly or occasionally. I hope you continue to enjoy it and I wish you a very happy, healthy, and book-filled 2016!

Up Next: Sergei Nosov’s Curly Brackets, Yurii Buida’s Ceylon, and who knows what else… there are shelves and shelves of books hanging around, waiting to be read!

Disclaimers: The usual.

Image credit: Fireworks in Bratislava, New Year 2005, from Ondrejk, via Wikipedia. Book signing, publicist Becky Kraemer.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lisa,
    I've been an avid reader of your blog for a while now, so I think it's time to come out of the woodwork and tell you how much I enjoy it, as an avid fan of Russian literature, a (now, sadly, very rusty) Russian speaker, and a fellow translator (mostly Japanese but also a little Georgian, mostly technical stuff but also a little literature).

    I'll be traveling to Moscow for the first time in 7 years next month, and Thanks to your blog I already have a book list as long as my arm. I'm not sure my Russian is good enough any more to get through any of them, but browsing the bookshops, buying the books, and looking through the first few pages is half the fun in itself, right?