Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year! & 2014 Highlights. The Footnotes Have It!

Happy new year! С Новым годом! I wish everyone an extraordinarily happy, healthy 2015 with an abundance of good, (whatever that may mean to you), fun, enjoyable books. This year, like last, turned out to be all about quality over quantity, with, alas, a plethora of abandoned books… fortunately, the good books more than made up for the books I didn’t finish. Here are some highlights.

Favorite book by an author I’d already read. I still haven’t posted about Evgeny Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, which I finished several months ago. But a post is on the way. Seriously. In brief, though, Solovyov is a Petersburg historian who goes to Crimea for a conference about Larionov, a White Army general. Much academic hilarity ensues. Some of it in footnotes. Of course there are many, many more elements--like timelessness and some malfeasance involving a document--to this fun novel, a big reason why it’s so difficult to write about…

Favorite book by an author I’d never read. This one has to be Evgeny Chizhov’s Translation from a Literal Translation, (previous post), which I loved for Chizhov’s grace in mixing genres, making an invented country work for this skeptical reader, and effectively describing all sorts of heat. I was glad to see that Translation won the Venets award last week from the Moscow Union of Writers.

Favorite book read in English. I admit that, as per the usual, I didn’t read as many Russia(n)-related books in English during 2014 as I might have... but that doesn’t mean Soviets, by Danzig Baldaev and Sergei Vasiliev, (previous post), isn’t worthy of another mention. The combination of detailed caricatures, black and white photos, and pointed captions is well worth reading and studying. This must be my year of loving footnotes: Soviets, translated by Polly Gannon and Ast A. Moore, contains lots of helpful explanatory notes. The publisher, Fuel, continues to produce beautiful books: I’ve been saving their Soviet Space Dogs, another attractive book, as a treat. The New Year holiday may be just the right time…

Favorite travel. Everything was good this year—BookExpo America in New York, the American Literary Translators Association conference in Milwaukee, and the Congress of Literary Translators in Moscow—but I have to vote for the Congress. Not much beats a trip to Moscow that includes a visit to Andrei Platonov’s grave, speaking about translating old language in contemporary novels, and having an opportunity to see so many of “my” writers, not to mention translator colleagues from all over. It was especially fun and helpful to meet the afore-mentioned Evgeny Vodolazkin and talk about his Laurus, which I’m busily working on now…

What’s coming up in 2015? Top blogging priority is to get caught up on posts. And I’m still trying to figure out ways to capture notes and comments about some of the books I abandon. Often hundreds of pages in, like, let’s say, Zakhar Prilepin’s The Cloister, a book that offers a new aesthetic for prison camp novels but just wasn’t going anywhere for me, or Vladimir Sorokin’s Tellurium, which seemed to rehash too many Sorokin books I’d already read. I suppose one way to capture this information is to write by-the-by notes, or add a “Biggest Disappointment of the Year” paragraph to my year-end posts. I could have written that paragraph this year about Prilepin’s book, which won the Big Book Prize. I could say that Konstantin Milchin sums up my problems with The Cloister beautifully here, noting, among other things, (and I’ll paraphrase) that the novel, which is a bit lacking on the plot side, could have been 300 pages or 1,000 pages long, all to, roughly the same effect. (For the record, I read around 270 pages so didn’t come up very short on that 300 figure...) I was very happy that Milchin mentions Prilepin’s language, which hardly seems to vary among his 1920s characters, who speak in suspiciously (my word!) modern terms. I’d wondered about this but, as a non-native reader of Russian, thought maybe I was too demanding, particularly given my work on Laurus, where it’s an understatement to say the dialogue sure does vary.

A reading priority for 2015: I’m hoping to keep reminding myself to look for more books published by smaller publishers and literary journals…

Thank You! Finally, another big thank you to everyone who visits the blog, whether regularly or occasionally. Happy New Year to everyone! And happy reading!

Up Next: Vodolazkin’s Solovyov and Larionov, Marina Stepnova’s The Italian Lessons (Безобжный переулок), and Alexey Nikitin’s Victory Park, which is off to a great start… Also, a list of translations coming out in 2015. I’m taking names and titles, so send them on in now!

Disclaimers. The usual.

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


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