Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2015 Yasnaya Polyana Award Winners

The winners of the 2015 Yasnaya Polyana Award were announced today in Moscow. Here, quickly, and from breakfast at the Atlanta airpirt--I'm on my way to Tucson for the American Literary Translator Association conference--are the winners. Apologies for the cut and paste work!

For the “XXI Century”award:
Guzel’ Yakhina’s Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes). Also my favorite Big Book finalist. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and translating excerpts. A lovely historical novel in which a kulak woman is exiled and finds a new life.

For the “Childhood, Adolescence, Youth” prize:

Valerii Bylinski’s Риф (Reef). A collection of stories and a novella.

Finally, Andrei Bitov won the prize I don't remember the name of. But will add later from Arizona!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Final Goodbye to Margarita Khemlin

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.)

Past posts:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Happy Birthday to the Bookshelf: The Blog Turns Eight

It’s October 16, so the cupcake is back! If there’s a cupcake to eat this year, it’ll be eaten in Florida… and since I’m writing this post before I travel, I can’t be sure whether to say it’s hot, sunshiny, humid, beautiful, or something else (thunderstormy?) in Naples, but I can be sure it will be nice to see my parents, aunt, and cousins, for a family wedding.

No matter what the weather, I send a big thanks to all of you who read the blog, whether regularly or occasionally. I’m glad so many of you seem to find it helpful and/or enjoyable! Thank you.

The big theme for the last year is that work has been super-busy (understatement!) with translations: editing and revising Eugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus (previous post), turning in a draft of Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina (previous post), and getting started on Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov (as a 2014 highlight). I’m also excited that three translations were released this year: Vladislav Otroshenko’s Addendum to a Photo Album (favorite review), Marina Stepnova’s The Woman of Lazarus (a lovely review), and Laurus (reviews: RBTH, Asymptote, Complete Review), which was released in the U.S. this Tuesday.

I intend no self-indulgence whatsoever in posting the reviews: what’s most important is that non-Russian readers really, truly can understand and appreciate Russian fiction in English translation. I already knew that and you probably already knew that, too, if you’re reading this blog post, but I keep running into stereotypes about Russian fiction that you probably hear, too: the books are (too) long, (too) serious, (too) heady, and (too) all sorts of other things. Though I think this is slowly changing, sometimes it feels to me like there’s some sort of Pavlovian response: hearing "Russian fiction" triggers thoughts of Heavy, Unreadable Stuff that’s just way too serious for mere mortals to finish a book in one lifetime. (Hmm, maybe this has been bothering me?!) The responses to Laurus have been especially heartening, not just because there’s been a fair number of reviews—Oneworld Publications, who just so happened to publish Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings in the UK, knows its books and its readers and does a fantastic job getting its books out—but because the reviewers (and not just these but others, from trade publications) are so appreciative of Vodolazkin’s play with time and language. I’m glad that came through in the translation.

All “my” translations are, of course, group efforts that involve my colleague Liza Prudovskaya, who checks a draft for each of my books, plus head editors, copy editors, proofreaders, and friends and colleagues with specific knowledge of specific related subjects. It’s also wonderful to work with authors—all the above—who are so patient in answering my odd questions about the horizons and flexibility of the words and expressions they use. Thank you to everyone who’s helped and thank you to all of you who have bought and/or asked about my translations. I appreciate your trust! Literary translation is not (not always, anyway) the lonely profession it’s imagined to be.

Moving on to blog stats, I’ll start by repeating last year’s line. “Google Analytics provides fewer interesting data about searches these days but there’s still plenty about geography and popular posts”:

Geography. As in years past, the United States continues to lead in visitor sessions, followed by United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, and Germany. In the top ten countries for visitorship, though, it’s readers from The Netherlands and France who read the most, with 2.02 and 1.84 pages/session, respectively, and over two minutes for average time length, too. By city, the top five are New York, (not set), London, Moscow, and Oxford, with Arlington Heights not far behind; I’ll list it to compensate for (not set).

Popular Posts. The most popular landing pages again this year “other than the home page, [are] Russian Fiction for Non-Native Readers, followed by Top 10 Fiction Hits of Russian Literature.” (Cut and paste is a marvelous thing.) I’m happy that the new translations list for 2014 is next, followed by my posts on Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and Sologub’s The Petty Demon. The most popular post about a contemporary book concerns Pelevin’s Omon Ra, at number nine; Pelevin’s the only contemporary writer in the top ten.

Common and Odd Search Terms. This used to be my favorite category, but this year it’s “(not provided)”, which leads by many, many, many thousands over the next term, which is “(not set)”. The rest of the top ten is pretty dull, with variations obviously created by people looking for easy Russian-language reading. I’m happy to say, though, that the only name in the top ten is one I know: “marina stepnova.” A few terms that made me happy: denisov’s pronunciation, best compromise in the compromise dovlatov, cat manhattan high line, fur hat symbolism in dr zhivago, i don’t like Russian winters, and war and peace Natasha famous passages flirtation. I’ll stop on that happy note!

Finally, another huge and hearty thank you very much to all of you for your visits, comments, notes, and love of Russian literature. See you again next year for another cupcake! For now, signing off from Florida.
File:Historic Naples FA.JPG
"The historic centre of Naples, Florida"
Disclaimers. The usual.

Photo Credits: MJJR for Naples, via Creative Commons; nazreth, via stock.xchng, for the cupcake.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The 2015 Russian Booker Shortlist & a Nobel Note

The Russian Booker Prize jury announced the 2015 Russian Booker shortlist on Friday. What feels most notable this year is that the writers are so young: Pokrovsky, born in 1954, has been on the planet the longest, Senchin is in his mid-forties, and the rest are in their thirties. The list also feels pretty varied and appealing (!). The (!) is because some Russian Booker shortlists have seemed a bit, hmm, dry. Here you go:
  • Alisa Ganieva’s Жених и невеста (Bride and Groom), which Carol Apollonio is currently translating for Deep Vellum Publishing, for release in 2017. The novel apparently looks at the institution of marriage (including tradition and superstition) among young people in rural Dagestan.
  • Vladimir Danikhnov’s Колыбельная (Lullaby). This book’s description says it’s a noirish novel set in a nameless southern city beset with serial killings. It also indicates the writing reminds of Platonov’s. An excerpt is available on; epigraph from Mickey Spillane.
  • Yuri Pokrovsky’s Среди людей (Among People) is set in the 1970s, also in a nameless city (top secret military stuff), and is composed of 49 connected “fragments” related to nine main characters.
  • Roman Senchin’s Зона затопления (Flood Zone) examines what happens when everyone’s forced out of a village to make way for a hydroelectric plant. Not my favorite Senchin—I couldn’t bring myself to finish it and my favorite is still The Yeltyshevs—but Flood Zone is on this year’s Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana shortlists, too. I have to think it will win a major award as a sort of “makeup call” after The Yeltyshevs didn’t win. Excerpts available on Журнальный зал; I read more than half the book and thought “Чернушка” was one of the best chapters I read.
  • Alexander Snegiev’s Вера (Vera or Faith, depending on whether you’d like to translate the meaning of the name or not…). Either way, Vera was on the NatsBest shortlist, too; I’ve seen Snegirev’s writing in Vera compared to Platonov’s, too (for example here). I enjoyed reading the beginning of Vera on an electronic reader but was just jonesing to take real notes in the margin, with a real pencil…
  • Guzel Yakina’s Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes) is also a finalist for the Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards. I very much enjoyed reading Zuleikha and translating excerpts was at least as much fun (previous post). An excerpt is available on

In other news, I’m sure everybody already knows that Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature last week. With my big old fiction bias, I haven’t read any of her books but thought I’d note current translations in English. (Thanks to a project for the Institute of Translation last week, I just happen to know what’s on the list!) I’ll just mention the English-language titles here, without the original Russian. There may be more excerpts of various works available online: they aren’t easy to track down due to varying spellings, titles, and multiple versions. These variables make my poor, addled head spin. Please note, too, that the author’s last name is sometimes spelled Alexievitch. Here’s her page on the site of her literary agent, Galina Dursthoff so you can keep track of new books on the way. I welcome any and all corrections and additions to this list—I’m sure there are other pieces available!

I think the Nobel Prize’s site has the best listing of current translated books so will send you there rather than retype book information. Time Second-Hand, which was a Big Book Award finalist last year and won the reader award, will be out from Fitzcarraldo Editions next year, in Bela Shayevich’s translation.  

Shorter Pieces and Excerpts that I believe are from the same cycle or collection:

There are also several pieces in various issues of Autodafe: The Journal of the International Parliament of Writers; some pages are blocked so I’m not always sure exactly what’s where or there.

Disclaimers: Having translated work by Senchin and Yakhina, and met Ganieva and Snegirev multiple times.

Up Next: So many books! Narine Abgaryan’s People Who Are Always With Me.
Lots more books from the Big Book finalist list, including Boris Yekimov’s Autumn in Zadon’e, which I finished but didn’t like very much (at all), some books I didn’t finish, plus the ones I’m working on now: Alexei Varlamov’s The Imagined Wolf (it really is “imagined”), Valery Zalotukha’s super-long but ridiculously mesmerizing The Candle, and Igor Virabov’s “biography” of Andrei Voznesensky that I might want to call “kitschy” or “tacky,” though/therefore that factor does keep me turning the pages. And there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages, all with very small type. We’ll see if I tire…