Monday, June 23, 2014

BookExpo America 2014 Trip Report, TMI for One Post Edition

First things first: Yes, I did see Grumpy Cat at BookExpo America, though it was all a mistake because the Chronicle Books booth was in the middle of my path to New York Review Books, where I wanted to ask about 2015 translations from Russian… this during the crowded, sweaty BookCon day of BEA, the day when part of the book exhibit was open to the public, the day when big names like John Green, David Mitchell, and Stan Lee came, spoke, and signed books, the day when it was tough to walk five feet without a collision. But I did see Grumpy Cat.

But enough digression! The real highlight of BEA 2014 was a market focus on literature in translation rather than a single country—2012, for example, was Russia and 2015 will be China—which means there were panel discussions and even a venue, distant though it was, for presentations about translation and funding. The day before the book exhibit opened featured a full day of panels, beginning with “Mapping Translation Today: From Niche to Global Bestseller,” which included author Joël Dicker, who wrote The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, (translated from the French by Sam Taylor, published in the US by Penguin, and, I must say, less interesting as a novel than as a phenomenon), and Carol Brown Janeway, an editor, publishing executive, and translator who addressed topics like Alfred A. Knopf’s history of supporting translation and the smoldering question of “Who owns the English language?”

My notes trailed off after that first session, not so much for lack of interest but because so much of the material was familiar, albeit with a slight twist: it confirmed my feel that there’s an upswing in literary translations or, at the very least, that the community is growing and even, perhaps, beginning to thrive. As often happens when there isn’t talk about specific Russian books, I enjoyed hearing about translations from Polish: author Mariusz Szczygieł, his translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones, and editor Sal Robinson of Melville House spoke about Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia, which I made sure to get a copy of when Szczygieł signed books; I loved my visit to the Czech Republic years ago and could tell I’d enjoy Szczygieł’s humor. (Gottland got a good review in today’s New York Times.)… Two days later there was an entire panel devoted to Marek Hłasko that made it thoroughly worthwhile to trundle off to the Javits Center for a 9:30 arrival (on my birthday, no less!) when I was so tired I wanted to sleep in: David Goldfarb moderated a talk with Sal Robinson, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, and Ross Ufberg of New Vessel Press. There were lots of highlights there, including Lloyd-Jones’s account of visiting Hłasko’s grave and collaboration between Melville House and New Vessel when they released two books—The Graveyard, translated by Norbert Guterman for Melville House, and Killing the Second Dog, translated by Tomasz Mirkowicz for New Vessel—in fairly rapid succession. The happiest moment (for me) of the panel was probably Lloyd-Jones’s assertion that she sees new interest in, as I jotted down, “20th C (dead) classic writers.” Of whom I see an abundance in Russian literature. There is more Hłasko on the way from New Vessel: All Backs Were Turned, also translated by Mirkowicz, is coming late this year. Goldfarb was kind enough to give me copies of The Graveyard and Killing the Second Dog at the Polish Cultural Institute booth, which was nicely stocked with translated books to hand out (sadly, this is a rarity at booths that focus on promoting a country’s literature) and staffed by knowledgeable, very pleasant people.

In Russian book news, I had a nice visit with Mark Krotov of The Overlook Press: Mark was especially excited about Lilianna Lungina’s Подстрочник (Word for Word in Polly Gannon and Ast A. Moore’s translation), which Mark said truly is a transcript of Lungina’s life stories, as told to Oleg Dorman. Lungina was a translator, which means I’ve felt doubly guilty for not having read the book ever since someone insisted, during a snowshoe-and-ski outing several years ago, that I absolutely had to read it… something I’ve heard over and over ever since, even when walking on regular shoes. Overlook is also reissuing some Russian books this year: Gaito Gazdanov’s An Evening With Claire (Jodi Daynard’s translation of Вечер у Клэр) and Fazil Iskander’s Rabbits and Boa Constrictors (Ronald E. Peterson’s translation of Кролики и удавы). Bonus: I can’t wait for my copy of Christina Nichol’s Waiting for the Electricity, which takes place in Georgia and is reputed to be very, very funny.

The upcoming titles from New York Review Books that took me to the borders of Grumpy Cat’s territory are Alexander Boguslawski’s new translation of Sasha Sokolov’s Школа для дураков (A School for Fools) and A Prank, a collection of early stories by Anton Chekhov, translated by Marina Blitshteyn. NYRB has been on a roll with translations from Russian: Joanne Turnbull won the Read Russia Prize for her translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse: Turnbull was a finalist along with Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, who translated An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman (previous post). Both those books are also finalists for the PEN Translation Prize, along with another NYRB title: Anna Seghers’s Transit, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo, whom I know a bit from the American Literary Translators Association.
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The High Line at 10th Ave. & 17th St.
Other highlights and books included meeting with Skyscraper Publications, which is publishing Anna Starobinets’s short story collection Икарова железа (The Icarus Gland), in Jamie’s Rann’s translation, later this year. Skyscraper also published Anna Arutunyan’s The Putin Mystique: Inside Russia’s power cult… I picked up a copy of Brian Moynahan’s Leningrad: Siege and Symphony, which will be out from Atlantic Monthly Press in October: it looks like a promising blend of cultural, military, and political history… The nice people of Duke University Press gave me a copy of The Russia Reader, edited by Adele Barker and Bruce Grant: The Russia Reader is a wonderful brick of a book that contains dozens of pieces and excerpts of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, beginning with Aleksandr Blok’s “The Scythians” and ending with Irina Sandomirskaia’s “Return to the Motherland,” with wonderful stuff like anecdotes about New Russians and a brief bit from Elena Molokhovets’s A Gift to Young Housewives; or a Means of Reducing Household Expenses in various places in between. It’s fun to just pick up and read. And it makes me want to plan imaginary college courses again!… Counterpoint was kind enough to send me a copy of Pushkin Hills, Katherine Dovlatov’s translation of Sergei Dovlatov’s Заповедник, which I’m especially interested in reading after meeting Katherine at two literature and translation events… It was great to see relatively new publishers Stefan Tobler, from And Other Stories, and Will Evans, from Deep Vellum: each is bringing out a Russian book this year. AOS will release Oleg Pavlov’s The Matiushin Case, translated by Andrew Bromfield, this summer in the US; Matiushin is the second book in Pavlov’s Tales from the Last Days trilogy. The first book in the trilogy, known as Captain of the Steppe, was translated by Ian Appleby, and Anna Gunin is working on the third book. Deep Vellum has a collection of Mikhail Shishkin’s works, translated by various translators, coming out late this year… In looking through catalogues, I see a reissue of Michael Glenny’s translation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard on its way from Melville House as well as Ian Dreiblatt’s new translation of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose.” As luck would have it, I met Ian, who works at Seven Stories Press, at the Melville House booth, and thoroughly enjoyed speaking with him about Gogol, retranslation, and lots of other random things that tired translators talk about. Translators seem to enjoy cooking so I’ll mention that I also paged through a copy of The Old World Kitchen: The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking and need to order a copy… On a historical note, Serhii Plokhy’s The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union will be out on in early July from Oneworld Publications, the publisher for two of my works in various stages and states of progress: Eugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus and Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina… To end on a very happy note, one of the most fun meetings during my days at and around BEA happened by chance: my translator friend and colleague Olga Bukhina introduced me to Eugene Yelchin, author and illustrator of Breaking Stalin’s Nose, a Newbery Honor Book that Olga translated into Russian (as Сталинский Нос) with Eugene. Eugene’s new book about Russia, also written for children, Arcady’s Goal, which I’m reading slowly in PDF as I wait for a paper copy, will be out this fall. I can’t believe how much emotion and subtext Eugene manages to work into relatively simple language that tells the story of a boy who’s the son of enemies of the people. Olga, who seems to know all the best places to visit and eat on any Manhattan street or avenue, brought us out-of-towners to the High Line—somehow I’d never been!—and then for snacks. A wonderful time was had by all… To end on another happy note, I also want to thank Read Russia and the Institute of Translation for some books! I just started the book known in English as Children of Rogozhin, by Nadia Guerman (the Russian book’s cover carries the title Рыбы молчат по-испански and the name Nadezhda Belen’kaia), which is about international adoption, a world I’ve seen a bit of in the US and Russia, and I enjoyed reading some of the stories in Anna Matveeva’s story collection Подожди, я умру — и приду (Hold on, I’ll Die and Come Back), a 2013 Big Book finalist. It was also great to find a copy of Masha Regina, which on my to-be-translated list, at the booth: thank you to everyone for the hospitality, events, tasty food from Mari Vanna, and books during BEA!
Disclosures: The usual, including Read Russia and publishers I've worked with.
Up Next: It remains to be seen… but probably Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Inspector NOSE: From Whodunnit? to Whowunnit?

Watching last Tuesday’s Webcast of debates for the Prokhorov Foundation’s special Inspector NOSE award offered up far more suspense than I’d expected. I came in a little late thanks to my ongoing post-BookExpo America haze (now, thankfully, departed), picking things up during jury discussions about which books to put on the shortlist but apparently missing (thankfully, I suspect) some sort of discussion about what to do with some of the biggest names in post-Soviet detective novelry: Boris Akunin, Leonid Yuzefovich, and Alexandra Marinina.

And then, all of a sudden, after several jurors had listed their three favorites from the Inspector NOSE long list (previous post), the Webcast cut out for good, never to return. Despite some evening Googling, I didn’t learn the name of the winner until I opened my e-mail the next morning and read a note from Margarita Khemlin, who’d written to say she’d won, for her novel Дознаватель (The Investigator) (previous post)… I’d written to her on Tuesday saying I was going to watch the Webcast and hoped to at least catch a glimpse of her on my computer. Which I didn’t!

Despite the technical difficulties, I saw enough of the debate to know Margarita had a good chance of winning and understand that Inspector NOSE truly did intend to recognize fiction that expands on the detective genre’s literary conventions. Scholar and writer Andrei Astvatsaturov, for example, noted The Investigator’s stylized skaz writing and appealing characters, as well as the novel’s ability to interest him in far more than who’d committed murder. Linguist Maxim Krongauz put the book on his shortlist, too, saying The Investigator is more than a detective novel and citing the novel’s characters plus its mix of languages and peoples: much of the dialogue is in surzhik, a blend of Ukrainian and Russian. Alas, due to my own tardiness and the etherealness of the Internet itself, I didn’t hear all the jurors discuss their choices for the shortlist.

In any case, these five books ended up on the shortlist:

  • Arsen Revazov’s Одиночество -12 (Solitude 12), which is on my shelf.
  • Boris Akunin’s Азазель (The Winter Queen), which I enjoyed many years ago. (Available in Andrew Bromfield’s translation.)
  • Dem’ian Kudriavtsev’s Близнецы ((The) Twins), which I’m going to get, thanks to Astvatsaturov’s recommendation (I scribbled down words like narcotic, psychedelic, and strong text).
  • Margarita Khemlin’s Дознаватель (The Investigator), which won!
  • Oleg Dark’s На одной скорости (At One Speed (?))

Disclaimers: I’ve published translations of two of Margarita Khemlin’s short stories and am currently working under two translation grants from the Prokhorov Foundation’s Transcript program.

Up Next: BookExpo America trip report. Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes is still waiting for me to finish its post, I’m almost done with Irina Ratushinskaya’s The Odessans, Bulgakov’s White Guard is still “in progress,” and I’m zigging and zagging my way through Anna Matveeva’s story collection Подожди, я умру — и приду (Hold on, I’ll Die and Come Back).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Yet More Award News, Part 10,223: NatsBest & Read Russia

Newest news first: Ksenia Buksha won the National Bestseller Award yesterday for her novel Завод “Свобода” (The “Freedom” Factory) and Anna Starobinets won National Bestseller’s “Beginning” award for her story collection Икарова железа (The Icarus Gland).

Buksha’s writing is pretty much unknown to me, other than a tiny book, a long story/novella called Inside Out (Наизнанку) that, alas, I couldn’t quite get into. I’ve read many good things about her work, though, and may order up a copy of Factory. Peculiarly enough, Starobinets, the alleged beginner, is far more familiar: in fact Starobinets’s literary agency, Banke, Goumen & Smironova, says The Icarus Gland is Starobinets’s seventh published book of prose. The Icarus Gland is even being translated, by Jamie Rann, for Skyscraper Publications and should be out this fall; Skyscraper founder Karl Sabbagh, whom I met last week at BookExpo America, formerly worked for Hesperus Press, which published Starobinets’s An Awkward Age (translated by Hugh Aplin) and The Living (translated by Jamie Rann). My favorite Starobinets (so far!) is still Sanctuary 3/9, a wonderfully creepy novel with lots of themes from folktales (previous post).

Sanctuary 3/9 makes a nice segue since the book was, in its own way, a part of the program at the Read Russia Prize ceremony on Friday night: the evening included a screening of the documentary film Russia’s Open Book, which features Starobinets and a brief excerpt from the book. (You, too, can watch Russia’s Open Book  right here. It’s well worth watching.)

As for the Read Russia Prize itself, Joanne Turnbull won for her translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse, published by New York Review Books. The late Peter Carson’s translation of Lev Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Confession, published by W.W. Norton, received a second prize commendation. The list of nominees, available here, shows the contenders were a combination of classic and contemporary books.

Ellendea Proffer Teasley’s presence on Friday made the evening particularly memorable: Ardis books and Russian Literature Triquarterly were a crucial part of my Russian literature education, so it was a pleasure and, really, an honor to have a chance to meet Teasley.

Disclaimers: The usual for my work for/with Read Russia and several other entities and individuals mentioned in this post.

Up Next: Inspector NOSE results. Report on last week’s trip to New York for BookExpo America: it was lots of fun despite my unusually sore feet! And the books are piling up: Yuri Mamleyev’s The Sublimes is still waiting for its post, I’ve almost finished Irina Ratushinskaya’s The Odessans, Bulgakov’s White Guard remains “in progress,” plus I picked up a copy of Anna Matveeva’s story collection Подожди, я умру — и приду (Hold on, I’ll Die and Come Back) at the Read Russia booth. I read and enjoyed the first story in the collection on the plane ride home and (whoa!) am wondering if I might be in a short story frame of mind right now. That might be a very good thing, considering all the wonderful collections I rarely seem to get to…