Saturday, January 29, 2011

Awards, Awards, Awards, January 2011 Edition

The end of the week brought announcements on several Russian literary awards:

The 2011 NOSE Award went to Vladimir Sorokin for Метель (The Blizzard). A jury and experts publicly debated three finalists – The Blizzard, Pavel Nerler’s The Word and “Deed”, and Viktor Pelevin’s T – but reported that viewers chose the winner because the vote was tied after the jury and experts voted. Though I’m not a big fan of The Blizzard (previous post), I think its many literary references give it a certain homey appeal. I posted brief descriptions of NOSE Award longlisters here.

The Yury Kazakov Prize for best short story of the year went to Maksim Osipov for Москва-Петрозаводск (“Moscow-Petrozavodsk”), published in the journal Знамя. Osipov’s collection, Грех жаловаться (which I like thinking of as Can’t Complain), which looks like it mixes fiction and nonfiction, has been nominated for other awards, including the afore-mentioned NOSE Award. Other shortlisters for the Kazakov prize were Iurii Buida, Alisa Ganieva, Artur Kudashev, and German Sadulaev. Links to their stories are on here.

Finally, the Belkin Prize announced the shortlist for its annual award, which recognizes the best повесть of the year. A brief digression since the “povest’” category is a little tricky: a loose translation of my Ozhegov dictionary definition calls a povest’ a narrative literary work that’s less complicated than a novel. When I write about povesti, I usually call them short novels or novellas. For reference, Sorokin’s Blizzard is a povest’ but his Oprichnik book is a novel, at least according to the books themselves. Related words include повествование/povestvovanie, which is storytelling, narrative, or narration.

So… the Belkin nominees are Anna Nemzer for Плен (Captivity), Sergei Krasil’nikov for Critical Strike (love those English titles!), Afanasii Mamedov for У мента была собака (The Cop Had a Dog), Ivan Naumov for Мальчик с саблей (The Boy with the Sabre), and Alisa Ganieva (Gulla Khirachev) for Салам тебе, Долгат! (Salaam, Dolgat!). The only writer I’ve read thus far is Mamedov, whose Фрау Шрам (Frau Scar) I enjoyed last fall (previous post). As you can see from all the links, the shortlisted works are all available online in literary journals... this is where my new electronic reader will come in very handy!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Notable New Translations: What Happened in 2010 and What's Coming in 2011

I’ve finally compiled – with lots of help from Chad Post’s databases of new translations – a list of Russian-English translations published in 2010 and scheduled for publication in 2011. As always, I wish the list were longer but I was glad to see a fair bit of variety in 2010. I’m sure I’m missing books planned for 2011, so please let me know, through a comment or e-mail note, about books to add. Like Chad, I’m focusing on new translations, not retranslations of classics.

Note: I’ve used publishers’ release dates, when possible; in their absence, I’ve used Amazon’s. Some 2011 titles seem a bit fluid right now, too.

Here you go…

The Chukchi Bible, written by Yuri Rytkheu, translated by Ilona Yazhbin, and published by Archipelago Books, will be out in February. The publisher describes it as “a collection of the myths and tales of Yuri Rytkheu’s own shaman father.” An excerpt and review are available online, on the Archipelago site.

Vladimir Sorokin is having a big year in English translation. The Ice Trilogy, translated by Jamey Gambrell and published by New York Review Books, comes out on the ides of March, as does Day of the Oprichnik, also translated by Gambrell, and published by FSG. I thought Oprichnik was interesting (previous post), but the only early review I’ve seen of the translation, from Complete Review, was middling, a B-. Orthofer’s conclusion sums up my own feelings about much of Sorokin’s writing: “Too much in the novel – from Komiaga onwards – is merely representative; too little actually conveys Sorokin’s vision with any art.” Oddly, though, Sorokin’s approach started to work for me when I read Oprichnik, and I’m even looking forward to the next Ice Trilogy book, Путь Бро, known in translation as Bro. I wonder if Sorokin’s books have a cumulative effect…

Overlook will release two Russian translations in 2011. Daniel Stein, Interpreter, by Ludmila Ulitskaya and translated by Arch Tait, comes out March 31. Daniel Stein is one of my favorite books from recent years (past post), and I’ve received quite a few messages from readers inquiring about an English version. Also from Overlook: a second book in Max Frei’s Labyrinths of Echo series, translated by Polly Gannon and Astamur Moore, on June 9, 2011; the book follows up on Frei’s The Stranger, from 2009. I read a few of the first novellas in this series and thought they were okay, albeit with some fun passages. Frei’s books sell very well in Russia but the genre isn’t my thing: I’d recommend Frei most to readers who enjoy cozy fantasy-science fiction reading with an edge. Another fantasy-science fiction book coming this year is Alexey Pehov’s Shadow Chaser, due on April 21, 2011, from Tor Books, a division of Macmillan; WorldCat lists Andrew Bromfield as translator.

Andrei Kurkov is also having a big year: Melville House will publish Kurkov’s Death and the Penguin and Penguin Lost, both translated by George Bird, in June, and Harvill Secker will release The Milkman in the Night, Amanda Love Darragh’s translation of Kurkov’s Ночной молочник, in August. Kurkov seems quite popular in Europe… but I’ve never read any of his books.

I’ll recap 2010 translations, too, since I missed a couple last year. I’ve mentioned some of these books in the past… Olga Slavnikova’s 2017, translated by Marian Schwartz and published by Overlook (previous post); Moscow Noir, a very good collection of very dark stories, translated by “various” and published by Akashic (previous post); Squaring the Circle, a collection of young Debut prizewinners’ stories, translated by “various” (including me) and published by Glas; Dmitrii Bykov’s ЖД (Living Souls), translated and shortened by Cathy Porter and published by Alma (previous post); German Sadulaev’s Я – Чеченец! (I Am a Chechen!), translated by Anna Gunin and published by Harvill Secker; and Petr Aleshkovskii’s Рыба (Fish), translated by Nina Murray and published by Russian Life (previous post).

I know little about two others: Alexey Pehov’s Крадущийся в тени (Shadow Prowler), translated by Andrew Bromfield and published by Tor, which one Amazon reviewer calls “epic fantasy adventure,” and Sherlock Holmes in Russia, with stories from P. Orlovetz and P. Nikitin, translated by Alex Auswaks and published by Robert Hale.

That’s it… Enjoy!

Up Next: A few of Fazil’ Iskander’s wonderful stories about a boy named Chik, then Belarusian writer Viktor Martinovich’s Паранойя (Paranoia), which Timothy Snyder wrote about (here) in The New York Review of Books in October 2010.

Disclaimer/Disclosure Corner: I received copies, electronic or paper, of several of the translated books listed above: Living Souls, Fish, 2017, Moscow Noir, and Squaring the Circle. I’ve discussed various aspects of publishing and translation with a number of people and publishers mentioned in this post. I’ve written a blanket disclaimer/disclosure statement that’s available here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Alekseev’s Underground Moscow, My New E-Reader, &tc.

I think I’m finally over the holidays! Here, at last, is a very brief account of Gleb Alekseev’s Подземная Москва (Underground Moscow), a 1924 novella, plus a few bits of news…

Gleb Alekseev’s Underground Moscow is a short novel about two groups competing to find Ivan the Terrible’s underground library. Underground Moscow is a moderately entertaining blend of underground adventure, Ivan’s terribleness, and a satirical depiction of Western involvement in Russian affairs. There’s even a method of hiding old regime diamonds that makes caching gems in upholstery, as in The Twelve Chairs, look downright pedestrian.

Moscow’s underground tunnels have popped up in lots of other fiction I’ve read, including one of Boris Akunin’s Fandorin novels and Aleksandr Ilichevskii’s Matisse, plus I remember reading about Moscow’s diggers when I lived in Russia… which is to say I think Underground Moscow must be the earliest piece I’ve read about the subterranean city. I should add that Gleb Alekseev seems little-known; he died in 1938, a victim of the Stalin-era terror. My collection of Alekseev’s work contains other novellas that I’m looking forward to trying. The History Channel has an almost hilariously sensationalist short segment about Ivan’s alleged library here.

I bought an electronic reader, an Ectaco Jetbook Lite: it’s low-cost ($85 from Newegg for the reader with a case and ear light), uses regular or rechargeable AA batteries, and reads Cyrillic without any coaxing. It’s very easy to load files to the reader from a computer; it seems to prefer text format (where it can even search for Russian words) but PDF and other formats work, too. Reading on the Jetbook is far more pleasant than I’d expected. The screen is sharp with good contrast, font size is adjustable, and there’s no flash when the pages turn. One downside is that the device seems to love deleting bookmarks; it didn’t like trying to search for a word on a PDF either.

One of you recommended Vsevolod Benigsen’s ГенАцид to me… my two usual book sites don’t have it in book form, so I timed myself downloading it to my Jetbook. It took a total of five minutes to copy and paste the journal version of the text from the journal Знамя’s page on Журнальный Зал to Word, then load and open the file on the Jetbook. I may be a big spender, though, and pay $1.54 to download the full book from Though my strong preference is to read books on paper contained within a cover, transferring legal copies of books from the Internet to the Jetbook is a great alternative to, well, nothing.

Speaking of Знамя, the journal honored winners of its annual awards on January 13, 2011. (news item) The fiction winners were: Timur Kibirov for his novel Лада или радость. Хроника верной и счастливой любви (Lada or Joy. A Chronicle of True and Happy Love), German Sadulaev for his novel Шалинский рейд (The Raid on Shali) (beginning) (end), Sergei Samsonov for his long story/novella Зараза (literally contagion, but something like Scum might work here…), and Olga Slavnikova for her novel Легкая голова (A Light Head) (beginning) (end).

Finally, the new Books from Russia site offers, among other things, writer biographies and book lists, plus several sample translations from the Rossica journal. Books from Russia is an Academia Rossica site/project produced with support from the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications.

Up next: New translations, 2010 and 2011. And some of Fazil Iskander’s Детство Чика (Chik’s Childhood) stories, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.