Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year! & 2018 Highlights

Happy New Year! С Новым годом! Wherever you are, whenever you read this, I hope the holidays have been enjoyable and I wish you lots of good reading in 2019!

Reading in 2018 followed the same pattern as the last several years, with good novels to translate but a dearth of satisfying new books to read. Although I don’t track the numbers, I’m certain I abandoned far more books than I finished. Despite that – and far too many pieces of sad news – there were some nice reading surprises this year, plus great travel and even some positive developments on the translation side of things. Here are some highlights:

Favorite book by a new author: One of my favorite reading highlights this year was Grigory Sluzhitel’s Дни Савелия (literally Savely’s Days) (previous post), which came highly recommended by Eugene Vodolazkin. Savely slinked his way into my heart thanks to his penchant for valerian, love for traipsing around Moscow, and smooth way with words. Savely’s Days would have been a favorite even in a good year but in this lackluster reading year, the book particularly stood out for its observations of people, cats, and Moscow.

Most enjoyable books written by authors I’d already read: Sergei Kuznetsov’s Учитель Дымов (Teacher Dymov), which, oddly enough, I haven’t written about, is a sort of ensemble family saga novel, a book where characters, psychology, and the little things in life are the focus, (generally) leaving historical crises of the Soviet and post-Soviet eras in the background. The book is vivid and detailed as it flows from generation to generation and it kept me up late reading. I also enjoyed Yulia Yakovleva’s Укрощение красного коня (Taming the Red Horse) (previous post), an atmospheric retro detective novel that plays with genre.

An unexpected achievement: I finally read and finished a Strugatsky Brothers novel, Град обреченный (available in English as Andrew Bromfield’s The Doomed City, Chicago Review Press) (previous post) in Russian! There are plenty of thoroughly repellant characters in the novel but it’s, hmm, intriguing in its own odd way so kept me reading and then thinking, too, as did Eduard Verkin’s Остров Сахалин (Sakhalin Island) (previous post), which got under my skin like some sort of stubborn rash or parasite. (Verkin’s Sakhalin still won’t quite let me go so I was glad that a visiting Russian friend had just read it, too, so we could talk.)

Favorite English-language reading: I seem to have read a higher percentage of satisfying books in English this year than in Russian: Janet Fitch’s The Revolution of Marina M. is the start of a big, thick novel about a young woman who comes of age at the time of the October Revolution. I also loved Curzio Malaparte’s The Kremlin Ball, translated by Jenny McPhee, a piece of writing (fiction? nonfiction? both? does it matter?) about Moscow in the late 1920s. (previous post on both) Another good one: Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s Городские и деревенские, known in Nora Seligman Favorov’s very pleasant English translation as City Folk and Country Folk. I described the book in a previous post as “a fun, smart nineteenth-century novel.”

Speaking of translations: I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this year’s list of Russian-to-English translations topped sixty entries (previous post). There’s something for everybody – we’ll see if the 2019 list can come close to 2018’s in terms of quality and quantity!

Happiest things while traveling: Despite seeming to have a reputation as a bit of a recluse (I think living in Maine and burning wood for heat gives that sort of impression automatically) I really do love going to translator conferences and book fairs. This year’s trips – to Moscow for a translator conference (previous posts 1 and 2) , Frankfurt for the book fair (previous post), and Boston for a Slavist convention (post coming soon!) – were especially enjoyable not just for my papers and presentations but for having the chance to see colleagues. Though I should really say that a good deal of this “seeing” colleagues is really the chance to “eat with” colleagues. Thanks to them, “the most important meal of the day” takes on new meaning, eating wurst and French fries in Frankfurt becomes something positively lovely especially under a warm (!) October sun, and late dinners are a perfect way to finally sit longer and, yes, eat slower (food) after rushing around all day. It’s the people I see at these events – translators, writers, publishers, literary agents, event organizers, and even a few people from my distant academic past – who make travel so enjoyable despite jetlag and packed schedules. I’m a very, very fortunate person.

Best acquisitions: My newish Kobo Aura One electronic reader makes it almost pleasant to read electronically even if the device doesn’t particularly like PDFs. And A History of Russian Literature by Andrew Kahn, Mark Lipovetsky, Irina Reyfman, and Stephanie Sandler is a great (and gigundo) addition to my library that the good people of Oxford University Press were only too happy for me to take off their hands toward the end of the Slavist conference. It’s already come in handy quite a few times and even the index is fun to page through! Special thanks to the nice Marriott employee who helped me cram it into my luggage for the ride home.

Final goodbyes: Sadly, 2018 brought the deaths of Vladimir Voinovich (previous post), Vladimir Sharov (previous post), and Oleg Pavlov (previous post), all of whom I’ve written about, as well as Andrei Bitov, whom I’ve read so little that I’m not even sure what to say other than something absurdly banal about recognizing his importance. (And that I need to buy a better, newer edition of his Pushkin House – the late Soviet-era edition I have is fuzzily printed on awful paper, making it painfully difficult to read.) The loss of Sharov still gives me no peace.

What’s coming up on the blog: Despite my complaints about 2018’s Big Book finalists (previous post) and the high ratio of “abandons” in my reading for much of the year, things are looking up: I loaded up on books in Moscow and Frankfurt, and have been a much happier reader since my required reading period ended. I’ll also be reading mostly books written by women until mid-March, when I’ll be participating in a panel at the London Book Fair about women in literature and translation. I have quite a shelf of recent Russian books, thanks to my own purchases plus gifts from authors, publishers, and the Russian stand in Frankfurt. My stack of English-language books written by women, many of which are translations from various languages into English, is even larger. Best of all is that I haven’t abandoned a book in weeks: I’m on a roll with Alisa Ganieva, Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Yulia Yakovleva, and Olga Stolpovskaya. On the English side, I’ve been reading Lara Vapnyar and just started Anna Burns’s Milkman today (a gift from one of those wonderful meal-time colleagues I mentioned above). I’m reading Milkman on the treadmill, which fits the heroine’s habit of reading while walking, not to mention Burns’s skazzy writing, with its momentum and flow, as well as plenty of sly humor and word play.

On that cheery note: Happy New Year! And happy reading!

Disclaimers: The usual. As noted above, I received copies of some of the books mentioned in this post from publishers, literary agents, and other sources. Thank you to all! And thank you to everyone who helped with my travel in various ways. Also: I’m translating Sergei Kuznetsov’s Kaleidoscope.

Image credit: Fireworks in Bratislava, New Year 2005, from Ondrejk, via Wikipedia.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Russian-to-English Translations for 2018

Well, I finally got a little smarter and decided not to post the year’s translation list until late December – it’s amazing how much cleaner the data are that way! I won’t be striking entries for years to come this time around. I can also say for certain that the list has hit an all-time high: 61 62 63 books. But watch for changes! I’m sure I’ve missed some books. As always.

As in past years, I have to credit ongoing grant programs from the Institute of Translation and the Prokhorov Fund’s Transcript Program for helping to fund many new translations on the list. Sometimes a listing from grant reporting leads to lots more books, as happened with a title from Holy Trinity Publications that received funding from Transcript: I checked Holy Trinity’s site for that book and found several more that came out this year. Checking a title on the University of Wisconsin Press’s site also started a chain reaction; they published three translations this year.

I think what’s most encouraging about this year’s list is that it’s the most varied I’ve seen since I started keeping track of new translations. There’s a nice blend of fiction and nonfiction, with some children’s books and art books thrown in. Another positive bit of news: I’m already seeing lots of listings for 2019.

Since I’m posting so late in the year, I’ll modify my caveats from years past. This list is just a start; I’m always happy to add books I’ve missed. Please e-mail me with changes/errors or additions; my address is on the sidebar. As last year, this is a global list that includes new translations and some retranslations. I’ve linked titles on the list to publishers’ pages wherever possible. I’ll place a link to this post on the sidebar of the blog for easy reference. I’m taking names and titles for 2019 now, so please start sending them in. Finally, don’t forget the Self-Published Translation post: If you have a book to add, please add it in a comment on that page, here, and I’ll approve it.

All that’s left to say now is happy holidays – enjoy the list and your reading!

Akunin, Boris: Black City, translated by Andrew Bromfield; W&N, November 2018.

Amelin, Maxim: The Joyous Science: Selected Poems of Maxim Amelin, translated by Derek Mong and Anne O. Fisher; White Pine Press, September 2018.

Arseniev, Pavel: Reported Speech, translated by Thomas Campbell, Cement Collective, Jason Cieply, Ian Dreiblatt, Ronald Meyer, Ainsley Morse, Ingrid Nordgaard, Anastasiya Osipova, and Lia Na’ama Ten Brink; Cicada Press, late 2018. I enjoyed Arseniev’s Slavist convention reading very much and am looking forward to reading more.

Averky (Taushev): The Epistles and the Apocalypse, translated by Nicholas Kotar and Seraphim (Rose); Holy Trinity Press, 2018.

Aylisli, Akram: Farewell, Aylis: A Non-Traditional Novel in Three Works, translated by Katherine E. Young; Academic Studies Press, 2018.

Belyaev, Roman: How Does a Lighthouse Work?, translated by Maria Kulikova; b small publishing, 2018. For ages 4-12.

Berggolts, Olga: Daytime Stars: A Poet's Memoir of the Revolution, the Siege of Leningrad, and the Thaw, translated by Lisa A. Kirschenbaum; University of Wisconsin Press, August 2018.

Buksha, Ksenia: The Freedom Factory, translated by Anne Fisher; Phoneme Media, December 2018. This novel won the 2014 National Bestseller Award.

Chekhov, Anton: Chekhov: Stories for Our Time, translated by Constance Garnett, Ilan Stevens and, Alexander Gurvets, illustrated by Matt McCann, with an introduction by Boris Fishman; Restless Books, June. (previous post) I liked this edition a lot!

Chizhova, Elena: Little Zinnobers, translated by Carol Ermakova; Glagoslav Publications, December 2018. (Note: I didn’t find this book on Amazon.com on 12/22/2018 so am unsure about the actual release date.)

Chudakova, Marietta: Mikhail Bulgakov: The Life and Times, translated by Huw Davies; Glagoslav Publications, December 2018. (Note: I didn’t find this book on Amazon.com on 12/22/2018 so am unsure about the actual release date.)

Dorosheva, Sveta: The Land of Stone Flowers, translated by Jane Bugaeva; Chronicle Books, 2018. This is a beautiful, fun, and funny book – I very much enjoyed translating excerpts of this book but am thrilled that Jane Bugaeva translated the whole thing!

Dyachenko, Sergey and Marina: Vita Nostra, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey; Harper Collins, November 2018.

Eisenstein, Sergei: Beyond the Stars: 1. The Boy from Riga, translated by William Powell; Seagull Books, 2018.

Eisenstein, Sergei: Beyond the Stars: 2. The True Paths of Discovery, translated by William Powell; Seagull Books, December 2018.

Ganieva, Alisa: Bride and Groom, translated by Carol Apollonio; Deep Vellum, April 2018. (previous post)

Gazdanov, Gaito: The Beggar and Other Stories, translated by Bryan Karetnyk; Pushkin Press, April 2018.

Gnedov, Vasilisk: Alphabet for the Entrants, translated by Emilia Loseva and Danny Winkler; Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018.

Gnilorybov, Pavel: Moscow Grows: A Book about Moscow -- Past, Present, and Future, translated by Elizabeth Adams, Shelley Fairweather-Vega, Jesse Irwin, and Katherine E. Young, with a foreword by Mikhail Afanasyev; B.S.G.-Press, 2018.

Golomstock, Igor: A Ransomed Dissident: A Life in Art Under the Soviets, translated by Sarah Jolly and Boris Dralyuk; I.B. Tauris, 2018.

Gorenstein, Friedrich: Redemption, translated by Andrew Bromfield; Columbia University Press/Russian Library, 2018.

Grinëv, Andrei Val’terovich: Russian Colonization of Alaska: Preconditions, Discovery, and Initial Development, 1741-1799, translated by Richard L. Bland; University of Nebraska Press, November 2018.

Gumilev, Nikolai: Nikolai Gumilev’s Africa, translated by Slava I. Yastremski, Michael M. Naydan, and Maria Badanova; Glagoslav, August 2018.

Ivanov, Andrei: Hanuman’s Travels, translated by Matthew Hyde; Vagabond Voices, October 2018.

John of Tobolsk: The Sunflower: Conforming the Will of Man to the Will of God, translated by Nicholas Kotar; Holy Trinity Publications, 2018.

Kabakov, Ilya: On Art, translated by Antonina Bouis; University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Kabysh, Inna: Blue Birds and Red Horses, translated by Katherine E. Young; Toad Press, 2018.

Krzhizhanovsky, Sigizmund: That Third Guy: A Comedy from the Stalinist 1930s with Essays on Theater, translated by Alisa Ballard Lin; University of Wisconsin Press, August 2018.

Kudryavitsky, Anatoly: The Flying Dutchman, translated by Carol Ermakova; Glagoslav Publications, 2018.

Mandelstam, Osip: Journey to Armenia, translated by Sydney Monas, Clarence Brown, and Robert Hughes; Notting Hill Editions, September 2018.

Mandelstam, Osip: Concert at a Railway Station. Selected Poems, translated by Alistair Noon; Shearsman Books, 2018.

Mandelstam, Osip; Mayakovsky, Vladimir; Vinokur, Val: Relative Genitive, translated by Val Vinokur; Poets & Traitors Press, 2018. This edition also includes original poems by Vinokur as well as his translations of Mandelstam and Mayakovsky. The description sounds very interesting.

Nikolaeva, Olesia: Ordinary Wonders: Stories of Unexpected Grace, translated by Alexandra Weber; Holy Trinity Publications, 2018.

Novikova, Liudmila: An Anti-Bolshevik Alternative: The White Movement and the Civil War in the Russian North, translated by Seth Bernstein; University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.

Ozerov, Lev: Portraits Without Frames, translated by Maria Bloshteyn, Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk, and Irina Mashinski; New York Review Books, November 2018.

Rzhevskaya, Elena: Memoirs of a Military Interpreter: From the Battle for Moscow to Hitler’s Bunker, translated by Arch Tait; Greenhill Books, 2018. This sounds especially interesting.

Sergiev, Ivan Ilyich: My Life in Christ: The Spiritual Journals of St John of Kronstadt, translated by E. E. Goulaeff, revised by Nicholas Kotar; Holy Trinity Publications, 2018.

Shalamov, Varlam: Kolyma Stories, translated by Donald Rayfield; New York Review Books, May 2018.

Sharov, Vladimir: The Rehearsals, translated by Oliver Ready; Dedalus Books, 2018. Oliver won the 2018 Read Russia Award for contemporary literature for this translation.

Shrayer-Petrov, David: Doctor Levitin, translated by Arna B. Bronstein, Aleksandra I. Fleszar, and Maxim D. Shrayer; Wayne State University Press, fall 2018. (Aleksandra Fleszar was one of the group/faculty leaders for the summer study abroad program that brought me to the USSR in 1983!)

Smoliarova, Tatiana: Three Metaphors for Life: Derzhavin’s Late Poetry, translated by Ronald Meyer and Nancy Workman, edited by Workman; Academic Studies Press, 2018.

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr: Between Two Millstones, Book 1, Sketches of Exile, 1974-1978, translated by Peter Constantine; Notre Dame Press, October 2018.

Starobinets, Anna: In the Wolf’s Lair: A Beastly Crimes Book; translated by Jane Bugaeva; Dover Publications, September 2018.

Strugatskys, Boris and Arkady: The Snail on the Slope, translated by Olena Bormashenko; Chicago Review Press, 2018. (Total tangent: I couldn’t help but notice that this translation is part of a Rediscovered Classics series that also includes Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber, a huge 1940s bestseller that was banned in Boston – I particularly loved it for including plague.)

Sverdlik, Anna: How Our Emotions and Bodies are Vital for Abstract Thought, translated by Shelley Fairweather-Vega; Routledge, 2018.

Tarkovsky, Andrei: Time within Time: The Diaries, 1970-1986, translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair; Seagull Books, December 2018.

Tolstaya, Tatyana: Aetherial Worlds, translated by Anya Migdal; Knopf, March 2018. Longlisted for the 2019 PEN Translation Prize; fingers crossed for the shortlist!

Vail, Pyotr and Genis, Alexander: Russian Cuisine in Exile, edited and translated by Angela Brintlinger and Thomas Feerick; Academic Studies Press, 2018. (There’s even a chapter called “Salad and Salo,” making this almost sound like a “don’t miss it” sort of book.)

Vakar, Irina: Black Square, translated by Antonina Bouis; Buchhandlung Walther König, 2018.

Various: Ten Poems from Russia, edited and introduced by Boris Dralyuk, translated by Dralyuk, Peter France, and Robert Chandler; Candlestick Press and Pushkin Press, May 2018.

Various: Slav Sisters: The Dedalus Book of Russian Women’s Literature, please click through for the list of writers and translators!, edited by Natasha Perova; Dedalus Ltd., January 2018.

Various: Four Russian Short Stories: Gazdanov & Others, translated by Bryan Karetnyk; Penguin, February 2018. Stories by Gaito Gazdanov, Nina Berberova, Galina Kuznetsova, and Yury Felsen. Émigré stories.

Various: Russian Cosmism, edited by Boris Groys, translated by Ian Dreiblatt and others; MIT Press, February 2018. (Please click through on the title link for the list of article authors.)

Various: Russians On Trump, edited by Laurence Bogoslaw, translated by what I am told is a band of scrappy, valiant, and conscientious, but anonymous translators; East View Press, 2018.

Various: Mirror Sand: An Anthology of Russian Short Poems in English Translation, edited and translated by Anatoly Kudryavitsky; Glagoslav, 2018. A bilingual edition.

Various: Fabergé: Treasures of Imperial Russia: Faberge Museum, St. Petersburg, translated by Antonina Bouis; Rizzoli, 2018.

Various: A Smolny Album: Glimpses into Life at the Imperial Educational Society of Noble Maidens, edited by Nancy Kovaleff, translated by Karen L. Freund and Katherine T. O’Connor; Academic Studies Press, 2018. Bilingual edition. The six photos on the Web page make me want to buy the book. (!)

Various: The Tchaikovsky Papers, edited by Marina Kostalevsky, translated by Stephen Pearl, adapted from the Russian edition, compiled, and edited by Polina E. Vaidman; Yale University Press, 2018.

Vodolazkin, Eugene: The Aviator, translated by Lisa Hayden; Oneworld Publications, April 2018. (And I just noticed that the paperback comes out in early January in the UK!)

Vodolazkin, Eugene: Solovyov and Larionov, translated by Lisa Hayden; Oneworld Publications, November 2018 in the UK; May 2019 in the US.

Yakovleva, Yulia: The Raven’s Children, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp; Puffin Books, May 31, 2018.

Yuzefovich, Leonid: Horsemen of the Sands, translated by Marian Schwartz; Archipelago Books, 2018.

Zoshchenko, Mikhail: Sentimental Tales, translated by Boris Dralyuk; Columbia University Press/Russian Library, 2018.

!*!*! And a bonus book, because I loved the Georgian pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair so much, because there was an event there about this author, and because so little literature is translated from the Georgian into the English:
The Death of Bagrat Zakharych & Other Stories, by Vazha-Pshavela, translated by Rebecca Ruth Gould, available from Paper + Ink. 

Up next: Alisa Ganieva’s Offended Sensibilities, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s Kidnapped. The History of Crimes, and Yulia Yakovleva’s most recent detective novel. Plus a trip report from the ASEEES/Slavist convention, which was ridiculously fun.

Disclaimers: The usual.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Putting the Apocalypse in the Post-Apocalyptic: Verkin’s Sakhalin Island

Back in mid-November, I noted that Eduard Verkin’s Остров Сахалин (Sakhalin Island) was confounding me – a month later, with the passage of time, I can’t say I see things much differently. Sakhalin Island is imaginative, action-packed (much of the time), and absorbing, though on a structural level it’s an unholy mess, with an uneasy blend of genres, tropes, motifs, characters, disasters, and just about everything else. Of course I’m more than capable of enjoying and even loving overstuffed books that I describe with terms like “diabolical” and “unholy mess,” so I’m not surprised I never considered abandoning Verkin’s Sakhalin, though the book is trying my meager patience today, as I attempt to mentally list the many plot threads running through the book. And, oops, I didn’t pull nearly hard enough on a key plot thread, the one I found least interesting. Underrating that story line resulted in my feeling a bit lost when I reached the twist-and-everything-changes ending and came up short on meaning. (The twist ending, by the way, reminded me of another island novel, Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, which also rankled.) I won’t reveal the twist in Sakhalin Island but I will include some minor spoilers in my descriptions of the book.

Yuzho-Sakhalinsk, a favorite place.
So what did I catch and what did I miss? Well, in this world after nuclear war (North Korea started it, the U.S. responded, horror ensued), Japan is the world’s remaining bastion of relative calm and industrialization, and beautiful Sakhalin Island essentially serves as a combination of buffer zone and giant refugee and prison camp. Population: around twenty million. A young woman named Lilac, a student of applied futurology who lives in Japan and is part Russian and part Japanese, travels to Sakhalin to have a look around. She’s armed with pistols, prepared to visit prisons, and planning to somehow learn something about the future, based on the past and present. (Confession: applied futurology and Lilac’s instructions from and discussions of her professor are the plot thread I should have paid more attention to.) Most of the book is told in Lilac’s first-person narrative; her voice is calm, assured, and generally logical, even after she’s begun using those pistols. Seeing that Verkin’s book follows in Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island tracks – many of the same prisons are mentioned and at least one reviewer has noticed similar wording in the two books – it’s only fitting that guns will be fired. Since the island is dangerous, Lilac is assigned a fellow traveler and body guard, Artyom, who is from the “chained to a hook” caste – he carries a large and very lethal weapon. (Verkin also borrows “chained to…” from Chekhov’s findings.)

During their travels together – which begin on a rather luxurious train and end in a stolen boat, with a lot of walking in between – Lilac and Artyom meet some curious figures, including an inmate Lilac remembers hearing at a poetry reading when she was younger, a crawling radical vegan who’s likened to an insect, and a little boy with albinism who has had his tongue and digits removed. Lilac and Artyom take the boy with them on their journey. Verkin also offers up disturbing race-related incidents, descriptions of crazy-making prison architecture, and accounts of what happens to corpses. Though these episodes, many of which are very odd, are important to the story, there’s often too much background information, slowing the pace in a book where seismic activity is most important because it triggers the arrival of a human-made disease known as mobile rabies, MOB, which puts victims into a zombified state that lasts implausibly long.

So, yes, the earthquakes are crucial here, which is why I mentioned “apocalypse” in my title. Not only does earthquake damage release prisoners (including the poet) from jail, it also enables MOB’s zombified (I love that word) victims to cross from the mainland to Sakhalin – on a side note, MOBsters have hydrophobia and avoid stairs, too, which can make retreat easy for the healthy. And so Lilac, Artyom, and the boy are running from rioting prisoners, the MOB ill, and crews they’re sure will come to clean things up after an invasion of zombified MOBsters. If all this sounds like a bit (or a lot) too much, you’re right, it is. And this isn’t the half of it. Even so (or maybe “thus”?), Sakhalin Island got under my skin and by its end, after mentions of an Edenic garden, earthquakes, hellfire, purification, and a second coming, not to mention a unicorn, Sakhalin brought me back to the Bible, to my beloved Book of Revelation. It also brought me to thoughts of innocence (and its loss) among the orphaned – including the maimed boy as well as other children and even adults, including Artyom – plus prisoners, and even Lilac, whose name is so fresh and springy, who wears a protective inherited mackintosh for most of the book, and who almost seems to become a trained assassin. An imperturbable one, too, and no wonder, since danger always lurks and, as a doctor tells her, “Sakhalin is fear. We’re afraid.”

Verkin achieves a lot with Sakhalin Island and my emotions loved it, thanks to my fascination with the Book of Revelation, the very concept of incarceration on an island, the poet (he’s a key figure, pull that thread if you read the book), the various figures chained to objects, the heavy debt to Chekhov (whose Sakhalin I haven’t read but paged through quite a bit), the MOBster zombies who shrink from the stairs our heroes conveniently manage to find, and the awfulness of a world with so much death, doom, destruction, and roasted rat meat. None of that will let me go and, good gracious, part of me wants to reread the book to decipher it. My brain, though, wishes Verkin’s editors hadn’t deserted him: despite her vividness, Lilac’s many prison visits and observations start feeling repetitious and many scenes could have been pared down, while other aspects of the book, like the Japanese poet, the “chained to…” figures, and the relationships between characters felt like they could and should have been given more attention. I realize that Lilac – a social scientist who’s ostensibly writing a trip report but may well be the ultimate unreliable narrator – probably didn’t have enough spare time or emotional energy to take much of that down (even mentally) while escaping earthquakes, riots, and a killer clean-up crew, but a little more balance from Lilac would have meant a better work of fiction for Verkin. I also admit to a bias against being presented with big twists in epilogues – I tend to see them as manipulative. But damn that Verkin, who’s packed so much into this book that I still can’t stop thinking about it, which is, I suppose, a sign that something worked pretty well in Sakhalin Island if the manipulative epilogue trick sucked me in this time around.

Up next: Alisa Ganieva’s Offended Sensibilities and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s Kidnapped. The History of Crimes. Plus a trip report from the ASEEES/Slavist convention, which was ridiculously fun, and a list of translations that came out this year. I’m still taking entries for the list so translators and publishers, please send me a note if you have something to report.

Disclaimers: The usual. I received a copy of Sakhalin Island from Verkin’s literary agency, BGS, with whom I often converse and sometimes collaborate, and whose authors I often seem to translate.

Photo credit: btibbets, via Wikipedia. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

2018 Big Book Award Winners

The Big Book Award announced this year’s winners yesterday evening. The point totals from the jury’s voting were almost shockingly close. Here are some rather rambling (I’m a little distracted as I get ready for a Slavist convention!) thoughts on the winners.

The jury’s top prize (493 points) went to Maria Stepanova for Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory or Post-Memory). I seem to recall admitting to a certain trepidation about reading this book, largely thanks to hearing colleagues’ strong opinions: some loved it (the pedestal factor for books deemed “very important” can be difficult to surmount) but others hated it and claimed their eyes glazed over (I was also warned, as if to doom, that there was no plot… and I do love plot). I read a decent chunk and suppose it’s most accurate to say I fall somewhere in the middle, admiring the quality of the writing but not always fully appreciating the detail and density of what Stepanova writes. Despite that downside – and please note that I wrote “not always fully” – I found something very comforting about the pages that I read, both because of the very fact that Stepanova writes about memory, history, and family, things that are, indeed very important, and because she writes about them in a way that’s both elevated and very engaging. I ended up ranking it in my top clump of books. I plan to read more, very slowly – although sometimes the book feels almost addictively readable, it’s better to read in very small doses, to absorb, even try on, levels of meaning and significance. Post-Memory is painfully difficult to describe – I appreciated a tweet calling it a “meta-novel” – so I’ll leave you with Suhrkamp’s summary and a link to Cynthia Haven’s interview with Stepanova for Los Angeles Review of Books. As well as congratulations to Maria Stepanova and a note saying the book is on the way in English, published by Fitzcarraldo in the UK and New Directions in the US; I’ll see if I can find out who’s translating. Edit: Translator friend and colleague Ian Dreiblatt reports that Sasha Dugdale, who has translated some of Stepanova’s poetry, is translating.

In my biggest personal surprise of the ceremony, Alexander Arkhangelsky won second prize (486 points) for Бюро проверки (Verification Bureau or something of the sort), a novel set in 1980 Moscow (think: Olympics), a time that certainly interests me, though Arkhangelsky’s meandering, slow-burn narrative fizzled, failing to fire my imagination. (Sorry but it’s wood-burning season.) I’d like to say that’s despite Arkhangelsky’s vivid description of Moscow life at the time but I’m afraid it’s because of it: any sense of plot or forward motion gets lost in details, details, details and so much atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere (not to mention an irritating girlfriend who’s not irritating in a good “unlikeable character” way) that I stopped reading at about 75 percent (reading that far was thanks to inertia and misplaced optimism that the book would improve), after nearly drowning in familiar reminiscences that felt more unsatisfying than leftover champagne – structure (or even anti-structure, depending on the book) is as important to a novel as bubbles are to champagne. As so often happens, Konstantin Milchin’s review for Izvestia discusses many of the problems I found with the book.

Dmitry Bykov took third prize (473 points) with his Июнь (June), a novel composed of three very loosely connected stories (long, medium, and shorter). The first piece in June was, by far, my favorite reading on the entire Big Book list: it often felt jarring, disturbing, and uncomfortable to read this novella about war-era sexual misconduct (I’ve purposely chosen a broad term here) during our #Metoo times, particularly since I was reading June during the Kavanaugh hearings. Bykov’s primary characters felt almost universally unappealing to me and the love (?) triangle he draws feels both schematic and real but this long story moves along at a quick clip, with a fair bit of psychological suspense. Alas, I found the second piece dully typical and nothing grabbed me about the third, either, though I may attempt them again later, though that would already be a third or fourth try. No matter, part one of June was good enough reading to land this book in my top picks.

People’s choice voters awarded first prize to Dmitry Bykov’s June; no surprise there. Same for second prize going to Andrei Filimonov’s Рецепты сотворения мира (World Creation Recipes), an often humorous novel that describes family history and is so short that finishing it took minimal effort, even though the novel petered out toward the end and concluded with what felt more like vignettes about Soviet life than episodes in a novel. That may have been the point but, for me, anyway, it didn’t make for especially good fiction. Finally, Oleg Yermakov’s Радуга и Вереск (the one with the difficult title that’s probably not really Rainbow and Heather in English) won third prize. The Yermakov book started off okay enough (despite far too many mentions of Richard Ashcroft and The Verve), with a wedding photographer going on a reconnaissance trip to Smolensk. Mysterious things happen that send the reader back a couple centuries but I grew impatient in the past because of a mishmash of languages that felt rather overdone (so many footnotes!), history, and a lack of steady plot drive. Since this book is so long (736 pages), my “quickly” is relative – I skipped and skimmed my way through several hundred pages before giving up, despite understanding the book’s homey appeal for many readers.

This year’s Big Book finalists were the weakest bunch I’ve seen since I joined the Literary Academy (the award’s jury) several years ago. Is this a statement on the state of current fiction? Did some good books go unnominated? Answers: I’m not sure and I don’t know. Beyond Post-Memory and June, there was only one other book that I thought was at all prize-worthy: Olga Slavnikova’s Прыжок в длину (Long Jump) is well-constructed, though, for my taste, it’s overly burdened with metaphors (some of which feel pretty forced) and detail, which means that I’ll confess to not finishing that one, either, despite appreciating Slavnikova’s discipline in creating such a consistent and well-imagined set of contemporary characters and circumstances, qualities that landed the book in my top clump.

In other news, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, an author well-known in English translation, won a special award for her contributions to literature. And I’m excited that Big Book began recognizing literary bloggers this year: Yevgenia Lisitsyna, who writes as @greenlampbooks on Telegram, is the winner. I’d love to read her work but oh my, am I ready for another platform?! I may just have to try.

Up Next: Eduard Verkin’s Sakhalin Island, Alisa Ganieva’s Offended Sensibilities, the ASEEES (Slavist!) conferenceconvention I’m about to go to (hence my addled post, hope it makes sense!), and who knows what else.

Disclaimers: The usual. I received Big Book finalist books in electronic form, though colleagues gave me a couple in hard copy at various times, for various reasons.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

English-Language Reading Roundup

This post has been incubating for months so I’ll get right to some quick notes on a few books I read in English in recent and not-so-recent months.

I’ll be honest: I requested a copy of Chekhov: Stories for Our Time from Restless Books because of the art, drawings by Matt McCann. Considering the book’s subtitle, I was also interested in Boris Fishman’s introduction, which does, indeed, address what I think of as the stereotypical Chekhov, plus the earthy Chekhov, with a bit of analysis of Chekhov’s writings (which Fishman confesses he didn’t always particularly love), as well as the relevance of Chekhov’s work in our current troubled times. Fishman wonders what Chekhov might have written about people living under certain political leaders. Ouch, ouch, and ouch.

Which is how I felt when I read the first clump of stories – “Stories of Love,” which included “The Darling,” “Anna on the Neck,” “About Love,” and “The Kiss,” plus “The House With the Mezzanine,” from the “Slow Fiction” section – and felt an old funny sadness and sad funniness all over again. Chekhov often makes me feel like I’m being pricked by a pin, like I’m deflating, but I somehow enjoyed that odd sensation when reading these translations by Constance Garnett, which felt just as decent for the purpose now as they did when I read them in college. (I also learned from this book that Garnett considered her mode of dress “unambitious;” perhaps this is an area where she and I truly are peers.) The book also contains a mouth-watering version of “The Siren,” specially translated for this volume by Restless Publisher Ilan Stevens and Alexander Gurvets: Stevens apparently doesn’t know Russian so Gurvets served as his “informant” and the resulting descriptions of hungry people and food, particularly lots of fish, including sterlet, carp in sour cream… In any case, this volume would make a lovely holiday gift, one I’d especially recommend for readers new to Chekhov, for the stories as well as McCann’s evocative illustrations and Fishman’s gentle, humorous guidance.

I probably would have bought Curzio Malaparte’s The Kremlin Ball, translated by Jenny McPhee for New York Review Books, for a picture, too, if I hadn’t already known I wanted to read the book: I’ve always loved the painting on the cover, Yuri Pimenov’s New Moscow. Although The Kremlin Ball was never finished (something McPhee mentions in the first sentence of her foreword) I have to wonder if Malaparte’s account of Moscow in the late 1920s feels particularly honest and scathing – even voyeuristic in his gossipy accounts of famous personages, many from the “Marxist aristocracy” – because he never smoothed it. I’m not a big nonfiction reader but The Kremlin Ball (a title that tosses me back to Bulgakov’s account of “Satan’s Ball” in Master and Margarita every time I read or type it) sure kept me interested. How could I not want to read a book where Chapter 4 begins with “One Sunday morning I went to the flea market on Smolensky Boulevard with Bulgakov”? Or where there’s an account of requesting Lunacharsky’s permission (granted) to visit the apartment where Mayakovsky had committed suicide? McPhee’s translation read very nicely (I didn’t feel the anxiety about Russian material that I sometimes sense when I read translations about Russia that weren’t made from the Russian) and the book’s ten pages of endnotes contain some helpful background information.

Finally, there’s Janet Fitch’s The Revolution of Marina M., which I finished late last winter but which still feels unusually vivid. This eight-hundred-page story of young Marina Makarova’s experiences during and after the October Revolution follows Marina through a storm of personal and public events, beginning with her comfortable upbringing and first love, and moving on to her second love and the collapse of both her country – she supports the revolution – and her relationship with her family. Fitch subjects Marina to ordeals that often correlate in some way to what’s happening around her – there’s violence that made me feel physical pain, for example, and she’s often in near-seclusion – but she also finds love and poetry. (Fitch’s acknowledgements note that translator Boris Dralyuk created “original translations for much of the Russian poetry that appears in this book.”) There’s lots more, including a snowy journey that felt cold, cold, cold and a semi-finale involving mysticism. I write “semi-finale” because I’m waiting for the sequel, which will apparently be out in July 2019.

Coming of age novels are pretty common but Fitch does a beautiful job pushing the genre’s boundaries – I meant what I said about feeling physical pain while reading – by serving up elements of high and low, poetry and the basest of behavior, vermin and astronomy, in a way that remind me of Marina Stepnova’s The Women of Lazarus, which critic Viktor Toporov so memorably called «высокое чтиво» (which I translated as “high-class pulp” when I blogged about the Stepnova book here). “High-class pulp” is probably one of my favorite categories (if that’s possible to say) of fiction because I so enjoy reading about the contrasting elements of the earthy (which often includes disturbing scenes) and the cerebral that these books so often seem to present. I should also note that The Revolution of Marina M. is very much a St. Petersburg/Petrograd novel so I particularly appreciated it after spending a short week in Petersburg last November. I’ve gone a bit light on details because I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who’d like to read it. For more: The Los Angeles Times ran a nice piece by Fitch last November that offers detail on the book and her travel to St. Petersburg for research.

I’ve also amassed a small pile of other books – all translations – that I’ve read in part and enjoyed very much in recent years but intend to read more of now that I have them in printed book form:
  • Horsemen of the Sands, by Leonid Yuzefovich, translated by Marian Schwartz, contains two novellas, Песчаные всадники (Horsemen of the Sands) and Гроза (The Storm), which I described in brief in an old post. I read a large chunk of Horsemen last year before Marian and I participated in a roundtable discussion during Russian Literature Week and am looking forward to reading the whole thing in print, in a lovely edition from Archipelago Books.
  • The Land of the Stone Flowers: A Fairy Guide to the Mythical Human Being (Книга, найденная в кувшинке), by Sveta Dorosheva, translated by Jane Bugaeva, is exactly what the title says it is and chapters like “What is a Human?” and “About Human Objects and Residences” are illustrated by Dorosheva’s stylish and humorous drawings, many of which are in full color. Jane told me that Dorosheva even changed a few illustrations to fit the English translation: the book’s text (from which I translated excerpts some years ago) contains lots of idioms that can’t be rendered literally. This one’s a lot of fun and I am very happy that Jane had a chance to translate it. From Chronicle Books.
  • Blue Birds and Red Horses, by Inna Kabysh, translated by Katherine E. Young, is a chapbook containing five poems. I’ve heard Katherine read many of her beautiful Kabysh translations at conferences and am glad some of them have made their way into this chapbook from Toad Press.

Disclaimers and disclosures: The usual. I received two review copies: the Chekhov book from Restless Books and the Yuzefovich book from Archipelago Press. Jane sent me a copy of The Land of the Stone Flowers and Katherine sent me a copy of Blue Birds and Red Horses. I bought the Fitch and Malaparte books at a local bookstore. Thanks to Restless and Archipelago for the review copies as well as, respectively, bonus books that look great: David Albahari’s Checkpoint, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać and Willem Frederik Hermans’s An Untouched House, translated by David Colmer. I’m wondering if the universe is telling me to resurrect my Other Bookshelf blog. I do think about that. It may happen.

Up next: Russian reading roundup, Big Book Award results and roundup, and Eduard Verkin’s Sakhalin Island, which confounds me in some ways because Verkin piles on plot line after plot line but yet the story is so absorbing and Verkin’s post-apocalyptic future is so imaginative that I can’t help but keep reading.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

2019 NOS(E) Award Finalists

The NOS(E) Award announced a ten-book short list on November 1 in Krasnoyarsk during public debates at the annual Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair. This year’s list seems a bit unusual. For one thing (I’ll go for the personal first!), it’s unusual that five of the books are already on my shelves. And then seven of them (!) were written by women. Beyond that, it’s particularly unusual that almost all these books sound interesting, stylistically and/or thematically, and that I’ve read and heard so many very complimentary comments about the majority of them. Winners will be announced in late January or early February 2019.

Here are the ten finalists in the order they’re listed on the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund site:

  • Denis Gorelov’s Родина слоников (Motherland of Little Elephants) is a nonfiction collection about Soviet cinema and the Soviet Union itself.
  • Yury Leiderman’s Моабитские хроники (Moabit Chronicles) is set in Moabit, the region of Berlin where Leiderman has his art studio.
  • Natalya Meshchaninova’s Рассказы (Stories) is a familiar title: it was a 2018 NatsBest nominee and is on one of critic Galina Yuzefovich’s lists of books she recommended at the September translator Kongress in Moscow. (a story)
  • Anna Nemzer’s Раунд (Round, probably like a “round” of talks or negotiations, though we’ll see) is described as an “optical novel” (different points of view?) that’s based on conversations. Publisher Elena Shubina especially recommended it to me; it’s on my shelf. Galina Yuzefovich added this one to her list of recommended books for a Frankfurt Book Fair presentation. (a sample)
  • Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory) is already a finalist for the Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards. I’ll be starting this one any day now. (An interview.) (A description.)
  • Ksenia Buksha’s Открывается внутрь (Opens In) also comes recommended by Galina Yuzefovich. Linked stories. (A story)
  • Yevgenia Nekrasova’s Калечина-Малечина (Kalechina-Malechina, referring to a game) is yet another Yuzefovich pick. Shubina suggested this one to me, too; it’s on my shelf. (A sample)
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s Нас украли. История преступлений (Kidnapped. The History of Crimes) is set in the 1980s and 1990s; click on the English language title link for a full summary from Petrushevskaya’s literary agency. Also on my shelf.
  • Alla Gorbunova’s Вещи и ущи (hmm, this is kind of like Thing Things and Idea Things but even the author seems to prefer leaving that a mystery…) is a collection of stories. (One story) (Another story)
  • Viktor Pelevin’s iPhuck 10 is a nice way to finish the list, given that it’s the only title that needs no translation. No matter what it’s about.


Disclaimers: The usual. I know and/or collaborate with some of the people and entities mentioned in the post. I have received some of these books from various parties. The Mikhail Prokhorov Fund’s grant program – Transcript – for translations from the Russian helps pay my fees. And, thus, my bills.

Up Next: English-language reading roundup, a brief Russian-language reading roundup, and Big Book finalists, most of which I’m finding very (okay, extraordinarily!) difficult to read in full, thanks to structural problems, lack of editing, and mission drift. Those problems frequently pile up, creating amorphous, bloated texts. There are far too many books these days (not just written in Russian) that seem to require readers to edit the books in their heads as they attempt to read. It’s especially hard to stick with some of big books of the Big Book when I have so much on my shelves that I can’t wait to try, particularly the Nekrasova and Nemzer titles on this list!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Olga Slavnikova Wins 2018 Yasnaya Polyana Award

The Yasnaya Polyana Award announced 2018 winners last week. Olga Slavnikova’s Прыжок в длину (Long Jump) won the jury award and Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory or Post-Memory, as foreign rights holder Suhrkamp calls it) won the readers’ choice prize. Amos Oz and his Russian translator, Viktor Radutskii, won international literature honors for Иуда, which is known as Judas in Nicholas de Lange’s English translation.

Although I was surprised when Long Jump leaped its way to the three-book Yasnaya Polyana shortlist in September, my surprise faded quickly. Long Jump may not be calling out to me from the shelf, begging (Lisa! Lizok, read more of me!) for attention – it’s very densely populated with metaphors, something I find wearying in any language, and the book lacks the sparkle of Slavnikova’s 2017 (previous post) – but I will finish it. And that’s not just because rumor has it there’s a big plot twist on the way. I may not love Long Jump but the book has plenty of interesting elements, including some sharp social commentary. Vladislav Otroshenko, a Yasnaya Polyana juror, has mentioned in award announcements that Long Jump offers a lens for looking at the world and I certainly can’t argue with that. Vlad’s statements last week also assert that Slavnikova’s book (I’ll paraphrase) is the only [award candidate] written as a novel rather than as primitive self-expression and he adds that Slavnikova wrote a book that makes a statement that’s important for humankind. There’s something – a lot, really – to be said for that, and I can’t quibble with his statement, given that he’s looking at universality, something I also value very highly and found way too little of in the books on the YP longlist that I read or (far more frequently) attempted to read.

Even if I have misgivings about Long Jump, they feel purely technical and very overcomable, and they don’t prevent me from respecting Slavnikova’s achievement, which I can sense even without finishing the novel. I feel something more akin to trepidation about the prospect of reading Post-Memory, which I seem to either hear praised as a Very Important Book or dissed as a long and plotless snoozer. I’ve tried, though/therefore, to avoid reading detailed commentary about Post-Memory, lest I be swayed too far in either direction, particularly since I know good readers from both camps. No matter what I end up thinking of Post-Memory – which, of course I’m hoping to enjoy or at least appreciate, something that, yes, can occasionally be possible even with plotless snoozers – I need to get reading it and finishing Long Jump, too. For now, though, I’m feeling pretty entertained by Alexei Vinokurov’s People of the Black Dragon, a novel in stories that’s also a Big Book finalist.

Up Next: Reading roundups for English-language books and Big Book finalists.

Disclaimers: The usual, for the fact that I’ve translated books by two YP jury members and know Slavnikova a bit.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Blog Turns Eleven – Belated Happy Birthday to the Blog & Frankfurt Book Fair Notes

The blog turned eleven on Tuesday but I was still a bit out of focus after my trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair so decided to wait on festivities until the weekend. As I noted last year, those posts are less interesting to compile now anyway since there’s no point in looking at readership statistics these days. Even so, what’s most important about readership now is what’s always been most important about these posts: thanking you, the readers, for visiting, whether you do so occasionally or regularly. One of the biggest surprises of this blogging endeavor is that people continue visiting, reading, and (apparently) finding useful information on the blog, something that I think of as a sort of online filing cabinet, as, really, an extension of my brain, which is ever more stuffed with details I need to offload.

I’ve started considering my trip to Frankfurt as a sort of birthday present to my professional self since, after all, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now – translating Russian fiction – if it weren’t for the blog. (This is good justification to go back again next year, too.) So here, in lazy listicle form, are eleven things I particularly enjoyed about this year’s Frankfurt fair.
  • No Wifi at the Messe! I’ll start with something that brought joy. The book fair promises wifi but my devices this year and last failed to accept it. People with lots of Frankfurt experience told me this is an eternal problem and not a device-specific issue. (Some kind people from the Uzbek stand, for example, had a theory that the wifi doesn’t like Samsung, which is what I have.) Whatever the wifi issue, it was a treat not to have Internet access during the days. Next year I’ll just print out my calendar and leave the device in the safe.
  • Book Surprises. I never quite know what Russian-to-English translations I’ll find at book fairs. Of course I already have Oliver Ready’s translations of Vladimir Sharov, published by Dedalus Books, and was happy to see them, thanks to my friendships with both Sharov and Ready. And I knew of Tatyana Tolstaya’s Aetherial Worlds, published by Knopf, translated by Anya Migdal, and prominently displayed on The Wylie Agency’s stand. I was, thus, far curiouser about a few translations on the shelves at the Seagull Books stand: a clutch of books by Sergei Eisenstein, translated by multiple translators, The Prison Poems of Nikolai Bukharin, translated by George Shriver (!), and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Time within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986, translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair. Seagull kindly gave me Eisenstein’s On the Detective Story, translated by Alan Upchurch, and just paging through has been interesting: there’s a cast of thousands, thanks to references to Lenin, Hitchcock, Pushkin, Gogol, and many more.
  • Other Books I Brought Home. I received books at various other stands, too. There’s Yulia Yakovleva’s The Raven’s Children, the first book in a trilogy (from Samokat) for kids that discusses the Stalin era; Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp has already translated the book into English for Penguin. I’m especially excited to give Eduard Verkin’s Sakhalin Island a try (I love a good post-apocalyptic novel), and was happy to find copies of Ksenia Buksha’s Opens In and Yuri Buida’s The Fifth Kingdom after hearing good things about them and forgetting to pick them up in Moscow. There’s also an English-language treat from Maclehose Press: Frank Wynne’s translation of Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex 1, a finalist for this year’s Man Booker International Prize, still unavailable in the U.S.
  • Speaking About Books. I talked about books at the Russia stand, largely basing my comments on some lists – of authors I think have done particularly well in translation and books I consider big favorites – that I’d come up for a panel on contemporary novels with Maya Kucherskaya, Natalia Osipova, Maria Tsiruleva, and Galina Yuzefovich. The lists also came in handy for a talk with Anne Coldefy-Faucard about translation in France and the U.S., moderated by Evgeny Reznichenko. The lists certainly wouldn’t hold any surprises for regular blog readers (and even if you’re not, you can find a favorites list on the sidebar as well as year-end posts that mention reading highlights) so I’ll just say that I was happy to hear that Maria and I share a love for Dmitry Danilov’s Description of a City (previous post) and Horizontal Position (previous post).
  • An Award to Katharina Raabe. I don’t know a lot about what gets translated from Russian into German but I do know that Katharina Raabe, a literary editor at Suhrkamp, is a major force in bringing Russian and Eastern European literature to German-language readers. Knowing her dedication, I was very happy to see that the German Literary Translators’ Association recognized her work with the Übersetzerbarke (“Translators’ Barque”) award. When we talked a bit later about Suhrkamp’s list, she mentioned Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory), a Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana finalist (Suhrkamp’s description, including English translation information) that I’ll be reading soon. Raabe was Katja Petrowskaja’s editor for Vielleicht Esther, which I enjoyed in Shelley Frisch’s translation from the German, Maybe Esther (previous post).
  • The Serendipity Factor. The serendipity factor is part of what gives book fairs – and even travel to and from Frankfurt – their energy. Last year, a woman asked me in the subway if she was on the correct platform to catch a train to the airport; we were both at the right track, then figured out we were both Buchmesse attendees so talked the whole way to the airport… and ended up meeting this year, on purpose, to talk about books and translation. Beyond running into people I wasn’t expecting to see and being introduced to lots more people I was glad to meet, wandering the fair’s food section (which I hadn’t planned on doing) brought me a bag of nice Georgian tea as well as a stop at a Russian cookbook publisher’s stand – their painfully beautiful books drew me. (And then we talked about food translation issues!)
  • Georgia Stories. Georgia was the guest of honor at this year’s fair – the tagline was “Georgia – Made by Characters” – and about seventy authors were listed in the thick (nearly a hundred pages) catalogue for the Georgian program at the Georgian national stand and pavilion. The Georgian pavilion was a stylish and otherworldly place: dark, uncrowded, a bit hushed, and almost eerie, in part thanks to a mesmerizing and mysteriously moving installation with slow-motion video of authors’ faces. I loved the pavilion so made daily visits. I especially enjoyed hearing Shota Iatashvili, a friend from translation congresses in Moscow, speak about his story in collection The Book of Tbilisi, along with fellow author Zviad Kvaratskhelia, editor Becca Parkinson, and moderator Gvantsa Jobava. I need to order up the book! And look up other Georgian books that have been translated into English.
  • Georgian Music & Poetry. Shota and I went to the Georgian café in the pavilion after the story event: I was in serious need of coffee but they’d run out (!) so, well, what was I to do but settle for a glass of Georgian red wine? Which, of course, tasted very nice. The wine turned out to be for the best because it fit so well with an electronic poetry performance from Rati Amaglobeli and Gogi Dzodzuashvili on the nearby large stage. I loved it. Here’s a sample.
  •  Being Part of Something Bigger. Getting a sense of my tiny place in the book world – with the emphasis on “world” – and learning a little about how the book industry works is why the Frankfurt Book Fair feels so important to me. I’m not sure how the book fair counts visitors but 285,024 is a lot, even if it’s not unique visitors, and I’m glad I got out of my quiet home office for a few days to make sure the visitor count reached 285,023 + 1. (Or 285,020 +4 if the stats are per visit!)
  • Next Year. I’m already looking forward to next year when Norway – one of my favorite places on earth – will be the guest of honor. Time to take out all the Norwegian books I’ve accumulated but haven’t read.
  • Glad I Made It at All! Finally, travel being what it is these days, with so many indignities even on a good day and then unusual delays on bad ones, I’m glad I made it to Frankfurt as scheduled! (Doubly glad because I’d co-organized a dinner gathering with colleagues for that night!) I arrived at Logan Airport only about forty-five minutes before my flight because my bus was delayed for more than an hour on the highway thanks to a car fire in New Hampshire. The good people at the Aer Lingus desk told me I could make it – I’d checked in online and could carry on my tiny suitcase – and then they expedited me through security, watching to make sure I got through. I wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t already checked in (something I often slack on) and packing light meant no luggage complications (plus plenty of room to bring home books). Lessons learned!
I hadn’t meant to write an epic – so much for that “lazy listicle”!

Thank you again for your visits and kind words!

Up Next: Yasnaya Polyana Award winner. Reading roundups for English-language books and Big Book finalists.

Disclaimers: The usual. Although I went to Frankfurt on my own this year, I thank the Institute of Translation for helping me out in several ways in Frankfurt. Huge thanks, too, to everyone else who treated me to books, happy hour wine, and lovely meals!