Sunday, August 20, 2017

August Is Women in Translation Month: Translations of Russian Women

Looking back at my Women in Translation Month post from 2014 was an interesting exercise. For one thing, the blogger known as Biblibio, who started Women in Translation Month back in 2014, now uses her real name, Meytal Radzinski. And she continues to read and write about tons of books (do visit her blog!) and has generated tremendous awareness of and reactions to gender-based disparities in translated literature. According to the Women in Translation site (there’s a site now!), only about 30% of new translations into English are of books written by women. This year’s list of Russian-to-English translations (here) is in that range.

That’s a downer of a datum, but I’m happy there are books—meaning books translated into English—already available or on the way from some of the authors I mentioned in my old post. I’m working on Margarita Khemlin’s Klotsvog (previous post) for the Russian Library/Columbia University Press and my translation of Marina Stepnova’s Безбожный переулок (Italian Lessons) (previous post) is in process, too, for World Editions. Meanwhile, Carol Apollonio’s translation of Alisa Ganieva’s Bride and Groom (previous post) is coming this year, from Deep Vellum, and Melanie Moore’s translation of Khemlin’s The Investigator (previous post) is already available from Glagoslav. I’m also at various stages with two other books, both for Oneworld, written by women that I didn’t mention in that post because I hadn’t yet read them: Guzel Yakhina’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes (previous post) will soon be edited and I’ll be starting on Narine Abgaryan’s Three Apples Fell from the Sky (previous post) later this year.

Since I’m one to accentuate the positive—while simultaneously trying to find ways to counter the negative—I want to highlight three of the books on this year’s translation list that are written by women and that (bias warning!) particularly interest me:
  • Ksenia Buksha’s The Freedom Factory, translated by Anne Fisher (Phoneme Media). I’m embarrassingly long overdue to read this National Bestseller Award winner, which I’ve heard so many good things about over the years.
  • Polina Dashkova’s Madness Treads Lightly, translated by Marian Schwartz (Amazon Crossing). I read lots of Dashkova’s detective novels, including this one, in the early 2000s, when I got myself back into Russian reading: her writing and characters are clear, and she always seems to address social and political issues, too. Quality genre fiction like Dashkova’s deserves to be translated. Publishers Weekly gave Madness, in Marian’s translation, a starred review.
  • Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s City Folk and Country Folk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov (Russian Library/Columbia University Press). It’s great to see a translation of a nineteenth-century novel written by a woman… and this one sounds like particular fun. I’m looking forward to it! This translation also received a star from Publishers Weekly.
This year’s disappointingly all-male Big Book shortlist (the list) made me vow to seek out female authors’ books that made 2017’s Big Book longlist or National Bestseller shortlist. (I’m sure there are plenty of books that will keep me reading far longer than, say, Pelevin’s Big Book finalist Methuselah’s Lamp, or The Last Battle of the Chekists and Masons.) I mentioned a few candidates in my Big Book shortlist post: Anna Starobinets’s Посмотри на него (Look at Him, maybe?), Anna Kozlova’s NatsBest-winning F20, and Elena Dolgopyat’s short stories. Other candidates, whose authors are completely new to me, include Olga Breininger’s There Was No Adderall in the Soviet Union and Viktoria Lebedeva’s Без труб и барабанов (Without Trumpets and Drums). I’ll be interested to see what hits other award lists later this year—more lists, from the Yasnaya Polyana, Booker, and NOS awards are on the way—and what other books might find their way into English in the coming years.

More literature by women will make its way into translation one poem at a time, one story at a time, one book at a time… so I’m just going to keep on reading. And translating. And recommending good books to publishers. Translator recommendations, after all, are how some of the translations mentioned in this post got signed in the first place. And I know there are more on the way.

Disclaimers: The usual.

Up Next: Vladimir Medvedev’s Заххок (Zahhok), which has taken over my reading: this polyphonic novel set in Tadzhikistan is ridiculously suspenseful and absorbing. And more Big Book reading: Mikhail Gigolashvili’s Mysterious Year and Shamil Idiatullin’s Brezhnev City.


  1. I'm eager to hear your views on Brezhnev City. From what I read about it on here I thought it sounded great, and I managed to pick up a hard copy on a recent trip to Minsk and download a digital version which, for some reason, was free, but sadly my Russian just isn't up to it. Even with a dictionary I was completely lost by about page 20, and gave up.

    On the other hand, I'm ploughing through Gigolashvili's Чертого Колесо quite comfortably, even with all the drug slang. Go figure...

    1. Thank you for your comment, Philip! These are excellent observations about reading as a non-native speaker.

      I read about 50-60 pages of Brezhnev City before getting totally sucked into Заххок and agree about the language: it's more difficult for me than Чертово колесо, too. I think part of the difference for us as non-native readers is the language itself: the Idiatullin book feels slangier to me, in a more total or global way, though that may be partially because more of the slang in the Gigolashvili novel was familiar to me from other books, even back when I read it. I suspect that a difference in storytelling is at least as important, though. Gigolashvili really knows how to tell a story right from the first page but so far, even dozens of pages in, Idiatullin hasn't really started to do that for me. Other than the prologue! There's very strong atmosphere and I'm very interested, but I'm waiting for the/a story to come together. I think it will happen... and hope it's soon!

      Your choice of words, about "ploughing along," is just perfect: that's what I do, too, very happily, when a story is absorbing and vocabulary is difficult. Заххок is like that, though Medvedev divides the storytelling between lots of narrators, which mitigates the difficulty since he truly does create distinct voices, some of whom explain unfamiliar concepts and terms. It's still difficult but it's so suspenseful that it keeps me up at night... and it's one of the most consistently interesting books I've read in Russian (and English, too, maybe?) in a long time. I've abandoned a whole lot of books lately but that shouldn't be read as damning with faint praise! Anyway, happy reading, I'm glad you're enjoying the Gigolashvili. It's such a good book!

    2. Yep, when it comes down to it, it's all about hooking the reader from the first few pages (especially when you're reading in a foreign language!), and Gigolashvili was much more successful at that than Idiatullin, for me, at least.

      Anyway, I will be adding Заххок to my ever-growing pile of Russian-novels-I-might-but-probably-won't-read-despite-my-best-intentions, so thanks for that!

    3. Yes, the first pages are key... and they might just draw you in for Заххок, too!

  2. I thought you Brezhnev City readers might be interested in this post by Anatoly Vorobey, who grew up in the '80s; the novel resonated powerfully with him (and with commenters):

    1. Thank you for this link, Languagehat, the details in Brezhnev City are what I was enjoying most in the beginning. Before, that is, I interrupted my reading... I'm looking forward to getting back to it soon!