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!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Goodbye to Oleg Pavlov

I’d been planning to write a light, easy post today but I’m writing instead about the death of writer Oleg Pavlov. He died this Moscow afternoon, of a heart attack. He was only 48 and his death saddens me tremendously. 

Pavlov won the 2012 Solzhenitsyn Prize (previous post) and received the 2002 Russian Booker for his Карагандинские девятины, или Повесть последних дней (Requiem for a Soldier, in Anna Gunin’s translation for And Other Stories). Requiem for a Soldier is the final book of a trilogy that And Other Stories has published in full: the other two books are Казенная сказка (Captain of the Steppe in Ian Appleby’s translation) and Дело Матюшина (The Matiushin Case in Andrew Bromfield’s translation). Arch Tate translated Pavlov’s Асистолия (Asystole or Flatline) for Glagoslav; here’s a sample.

I’ve read only Captain of the Steppe (previous post, where I called it A Barracks Tale) and Flatline (previous post). Neither is cheery but both inspired tremendous respect for Pavlov’s writing. He was a very good writer. I’ve been intending to read the second two books of the trilogy for all too many years now.

Pavlov’s death brought back memories of meeting him at the London Book Fair in 2011, particularly debating the ultimate fate of Flatline’s main character with him and two other readers. I didn’t know him well at all, but Phoebe Taplin’s article for The Calvert Journal covers a great deal about Pavlov’s life and reminds me of my exchanges with Pavlov, too, in which he also described catching a cold in London and, among other things, told me I worked too hard and recommended books to read. I’m very sorry to learn of his passing.

Two other articles on Pavlov’s life and writing:

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The 2018 NOS(E) Award Longlist

The NOS(E) Award longlist – 22 books – was announced last week and for some crazy reason, I’m going to follow what’s more or less become a (personal) tradition and list all the books with brief (okay, often micro-) descriptions. The list will be debated and discussed, culminating in a shortlist announcement, on November 1. Readers may vote on the longlisted books on the Prokhorov Foundation Web site beginning October 15.

I’m not sure what order the Prokhorov Foundation used when they compiled this list but I’ll follow it. I’ve included links to samples, stories, and Журнальный зал listings for many entries – for many, a quick glance will give a sense of the book.

  • Denis Gorelov’s Родина слоников (Motherland of Little Elephants) is a nonfiction collection about Soviet cinema and the Soviet Union itself.
  • Vladimir Danikhnov’s Тварь размером с колесо обозрения (Beast/Creature the Size of a Ferris Wheel) is, sadly, a posthumous entry since Danikhnov, who was only 37, died earlier this month of the beast he writes about in the book: cancer.
  • Zinovy Zinik’s Ермолка под тюрбаном (A Yarmulke Under the Turban) concerns the life of Shabtai Zvi, offering parallels to (our) contemporary life.
  • 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 to translators at the recent translator conference 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. (a sample)
  • Maria Stepanova’s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory) is already a finalist for the Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards. (An interview.) (A description.)
  • Eduard Verkin’s Остров Сахалин (Sakhalin Island) is described as containing post-apocalyptic adventure, a love story, lost hopes, and shades of Chekhov. (!)
  • 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)
  • Olga Beshlei’s Мой дикий ухажер из ФСБ (My Savage Suitor from the FSB, with “FSB” being the state security agency) is apparently a collection of stories; this one’s billed as literature about the young.
  • Grigory Sluzhitel’s Дни Савелия (Savely’s Days) is the novel about a cat that I loved so much earlier this year. (A sample.)
  • Alexander Arkhangelsky’s Бюро проверки (Verification Bureau or something of the sort) is set in 1980 Moscow and feels like a sociocultural catalogue of the age. A Big Book finalist; I’ve read a large chunk (72% according to my reader – a new Kobo that I pretty much do truly love, as much as I can love an ereader, anyway) but the bureau just doesn’t call out to me.
  • Pavel Peppershtein’s Предатель ада (Hell’s Traitor) is yet another collection, though this one gets a “psychedelic” tag on the LitRes site, where there’s an illustrated sample.
  • Yulia Yakovleva’s . Жуки не плачут (literally Beetles Don’t Cry) is the third installment in Yakovleva’s series of books about Leningrad during World War 2, following on The Raven’s Children, which Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp has already translated into English.
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskayas 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.
  • Dmitry Garichev’s Мальчики (Little Boys) is a novella that appears to have only been published thus far in a literary journal; it’s a tough one for a quick study given a lack of dialogue and a plethora of long paragraphs.
  • 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)
  • Polina Zherebtsova’s 45 параллель (The 45th Parallel) is a “documentary novel” about Stavropol, where the author lived after leaving Chechnya in 2004. (an excerpt)
  • Lev Rubinshtein’s Целый год (An Entire Year) looks like it’s a lot of brief texts about events that took place throughout history, organized in calendar order by day but mixing years. (a sample)
  • Sergei Kuznetsov’s Учитель Дымов (Teacher Dimov) looks at three generations of a family in a sort of ensemble piece, making it a quiet and calm sort of family saga. I found it pretty absorbing and enjoyable.
  • 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.
My conclusions on this list: very few traditional novels, lots of collections, a fair bit of nonfiction, blends of genre, and one of the most balanced Russian lists I’ve seen in terms of gender, with ten books written by women and twelve written by men.

Disclaimers: The usual. I know and/or collaborate with some of the authors, publishers, and literary agents mentioned in the post. I have received some of these books from various parties.

Up next: English-language reading roundup, a brief Russian-language reading roundup, and Big Book finalists, where I’ve had an odd start, as the Arkhangelsky entry above shows. I read only the first of three (very loosely connected) parts Bykov’s June after finding parts two and three pretty dull after part one. I’m now reading Oleg Yermakov’s very long book with the mysterious title: time goes back a few centuries in the chapter I’ll be starting tonight, so fingers crossed on that little literary escapade. The first hundred pages read pretty easily with my biggest complaint being too many gratuitous mentions of Richard Ashcroft and The Verve. (And that despite my thorough appreciation for “Bittersweet Symphony.”)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Moscow Trip Report 2: Translator Congress, Book Fair, Etc.

This year’s Moscow trip was so full of good stuff – meetings, the translator conference, book events, and the like – that I’m just going to focus on a few highlights. And even that will be far too much!

This year’s International Congress of Literary Translators, held by the Institute of Translation, hosted around 400 translators from 56 countries. The Institute divided us into eight concurrent tracks; we made our presentations over two days. (The PDF program is here.) Two of my favorite talks came in the opening, plenary, session. The first was from Galina Yuzefovich, one of the few remaining critics who writes consistently about contemporary Russian fiction; she spoke about new trends and names in Russian literature. On the sad side of literary fiction: authors receive honoraria of only 60,000-100,000 rubles per book (I’m not sure about the royalty situation), print runs are 3,000-5,000, awards (other than the Big Book) aren’t particularly authoritative so rarely help sell many books (I’ve heard this before), and much of the piracy problem is the result of the dearth of book stores outside large cities. On the positive side, Yuzefovich mentioned some of her favorite books from the last year or two. I read her reviews regularly so there weren’t many surprises in her list of long, roomy books:
  • Sukhbat Aflatuni’s Adoration of the Magi (interesting but I didn’t finish)
  • Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Text (still haven’t read it but want to)
  • Vladimir Medvedev’s Zahhak (previous post)
  • Yana Vagner’s Accomplices (unfinished, though I understand the appeal)
  • Alexei Sal’nikov’s NatsBest-winning The Petrovs in Various States of the Flu (unfinished but I brought home a print version)
  • Dmitry Bykov’s June (which I’m currently reading), and 
  • Eugene Chizhov’s The Translation (previous post, I loved this one!). 
Yuzefovich also listed three shorter books:
  • Yevgenia Nekrasova’s Kalechina-Malechina (the title refers to a game; this book’s on the shelf now)
  •  Ksenia Buksha’s Opens Inward, a collection of linked stories, and 
  • Natalia Meshchaninova’s Stories.
My note-taking broke down (for good) after that so, sadly, the only children’s literature title I managed was Yulia Yakovleva’s The Raven’s Children, which Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp has already translated. The next speaker, translator Anne Coldefy-Faucard, endeared herself to attendees by mentioning a certain “нюх” (I think of this as “a nose for” or the ability to sniff things out) a translator must possess to, for example, pick up little hints in a text. Many translators in the section I moderated added references of “нюх” to their talks – deservedly so since Anne’s a tremendously versatile translator (her translations were shortlisted in two categories for this year’s Read Russia award and she won for her work on Solzhenitsyn) whom I particularly respect for her no-nonsense approach to just about everything. Post-plenary, I heard lots of interesting, intriguing, and fun papers this year but will limit myself to mentioning just a few favorites: 
  • Ksenia Atarova gets top marks for her entertaining and off-beat talk on translating limericks by Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll (handouts much appreciated!), 
  • I loved Fernando Otero Macías’s discussion of Russian words included in the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (great handouts, too, I love lists), and 
  • Borut Kraševec did a nice job discussing difficult terminology (including camp slang) in Zakhar Prilepin’s The Cloister
A final Congress highlight: Klarisa Pul’son moderated an evening event that featured writers Alexei Sal’nikov (he of the afore-mentioned, flu-ridden Petrovs) and Lev Danilkin (he of a literarily fascinating Lenin biography). This “discussion” (was it that?) is indescribable because Sal’nikov and Danilkin exist on such different planes that neither had much interest in the other’s books (or ideas?), though the Q&A developed into a bizarre picture of the state of Russian contemporary literature that, again, is indescribable, though all too emblematic. Sal’nikov’s Petrovs felt a bit amorphous, even floaty (like, well, having the flu) to me; it is more enjoyable than the flu, though, so I’m looking forward to giving it another try. And Danilkin’s lively Lenin biography, something I expected to be dull and dry, felt like a veritable oasis among last year’s odd crop of books.

Mentioning Klarisa feels like the perfect way to move on to the smaller-than-ever Moscow International Book Fair, which I visited twice, the first time so Klarisa could grill me about favorite books during an event (there’s a Russian-language article about that here), the second to hear Grigory Sluzhitel’ speak about Savely’s Days, the book about cats (and people) that I loved so much earlier this year. Unfortunately Grisha’s event ran simultaneously with a talk by Marian Schwartz and Leonid Yuzefovich, who spoke about Marian’s translation of Leonid’s Песчаные всадники (Horsemen of the Sands), due out from Archipelago Books in late October, though at least we were able to meet up and chat!

Another Yuzefovich event was the perfect way to end my trip: he was ostensibly presenting a new story collection, but I think he focused more on his NatsBest-winning The Winter Road. He’d gathered descendents of the opposing Civil War figures in the book and they spoke, too, which was rather moving in and of itself, particularly since Yuzefovich’s book inspired the descendents to meet recently in Yakutsk. An updated version of The Winter Road (with more photos!) is on the way soon. There’s a Russian-language article about the Yuzefovich event here. A nice bonus that draws this circle back toward the start of the post: Eugene Chizhov, author of The Translation, was in attendance so we were finally able to meet in person.

I could go on and on and on about other papers and events – not to mention all the books I acquired – but I’ll stop there! The first part of this two-part series aired last week, here.

Up next: English-language reading roundup, a brief Russian-language reading roundup, and Big Book finalists, including Bykov’s June, which I’m (surprised to be) enjoying.

Disclaimers: The usual. I have ties to some of the books, translators, and authors mentioned. Many thanks are in order, particularly to the Institute of Translation for bringing me and so many of my colleagues to Moscow for these biennial conferences, which go so far (literally and figuratively!) in building a global community of translators; Klarisa Pul’son for inviting me to be the first translator in her book discussion series; various people, including publisher Elena Shubina, who generously gave me books; and everyone who treated me to coffee, snacks, drinks, and their company. It was a wonderful trip.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Moscow Trip Report 1: Award News, Head Cold Edition

My recent week in Moscow was so filled with literary events that I’m going to split my trip report into two posts. Beyond all the material, I brought home a head cold along with a gigundo pile of books, so a slightly embellished list is about all I can handle today.

First off, Read Russia Award winners for what I think of as the global prize, for translation into all languages:

Marta Sánchez-Nieves won the nineteenth-century category for her Spanish-language translation of Lev Tolstoy’s Cевастопольские Рассказы (Sevastopol Stories), published by Alba. Anne Coldefy-Faucard won the twentieth-century award for her decades of work, in collaboration with Geneviève Johannet, on the French translation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Красное колесо (The Red Wheel) for Fayard. Oliver Ready won the contemporary prize for his English translation of Vladimir Sharov’s Репетиции (The Rehearsals) for Dedalus Books. Finally, Kiril Kadiiski took the poetry nomination for his translation into Bulgarian of a collection of poems by Fyodor Tyutchev for Nov Zlatorog. Hearty congratulations to all!

A few award notes… The only other English-language finalist for awards this year was Boris Dralyuk’s translation of Isaac Babel’s Odessa Stories for Pushkin Press. Anne Coldefy-Faucard was also shortlisted in the contemporary literature category for her translation of Vladimir Sorokin’s Telluria. Another translation of Vladimir Sharov’s work was shortlisted: Ljubinka Milincic was recognized for her Serbian translation of Возвращение в Египет (Return to Egypt). The success of translations of Sharov’s work felt horribly bittersweet given his recent death. I felt his passing constantly: in Oliver’s acceptance speech, in discussions with friends who said many couldn’t fathom it (I fit that category), and in the portrait hanging at a bookstore. Most of all, though, I missed seeing him, if only for a brief chat.

On a more cheerful note, it was fun going to the announcement of this year’s Yasnaya Polyana Award finalists. Perhaps most interesting is that there are only three finalists from a long list (it did look pretty weak) of forty-three:
  • Aleksandr Bushkovsky for his Праздник лишних орлов (The Festival of Superfluous Eagles is how Yasnaya Polyana translated the title and, well, I’m just going to roll with that given that I haven’t read the book), a collection of stories about friends who fought together in Chechnya but can’t figure out what to do with themselves upon returning home. I’ve seen the Russian word for “eagles” used for distinguished soldiers and since these guys feel lost, “superfluous” feels like it refers back to the superfluous man. 
  • Olga Slavnikova for her Прыжок в длину (Long Jump), a book I find rather heavy with metaphors. Even so, I can understand Vladislav Otroshenko’s enthusiasm for the book given its real plot (the novel does just keep plugging along) and view of the world. I’ve read more than half and plan to finish it for my Big Book reading. Long Jump won the Book of the Year award while I was in Moscow, too.
  • Maria Stepanova for Памяти памяти (I’ll go for In Memory of Memory since I haven’t read it yet), which is on the way in English, too. Like the Slavnikova book, In Memory of Memory is also a Big Book finalist.
For a bit of commentary on the list, visit the Yasnaya Polyana site, here.

And then there’s this, just for fun: a list of hundred of the most important Russian books in the last thirty years. It’s fitting since the second book is Sharov’s The Rehearsals. There are some interesting entries!

Disclaimers: The usual. My head is addled.

Up Next: The rest of the trip report, English-language reading roundup, and Big Book finalists.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Farewell to Vladimir Sharov

I’m very sad to write that Vladimir Sharov died last Friday at the age of sixty-six. Sharov was the author of such novels as Репетиции (The Rehearsals), До и во время (Before and During), both translated into English by Oliver Ready, and Возвращение в Египет (Return to Egypt), for which he won the Russian Booker Prize in 2014.


I didn’t know Sharov well but I’ve enjoyed talking with him at literary and translation events in Moscow and New York. Beyond speaking eloquently about his books, he was warm, quietly funny, and almost otherworldly. Those qualities – plus an on-the-page version of the twinkle in his eye – somehow come through in his writing, too, bringing a human touch to fiction that can be very dense, often with little dialogue. Sharov was also gracious and generous, giving me an extra copy of a thick collection of Platonov’s letters when I told him I’d translated a Platonov story.

I’ll be writing more about Sharov and his Rehearsals this fall. I’ve heard much (very lavish) praise for The Rehearsals among Russian friends who read a lot of contemporary fiction but I think I’m failing the book because my memories from Russian history courses are now so hazy and my religious background has always been worse than slipshod. Despite not making those big picture connections, I love the theatricality in The Rehearsals, the plot possibilities of a Second Coming are appealing, I sense Sharov’s twinkling eye in the humor, and Oliver’s translation both reads very well and compares beautifully with the Russian book, which Sharov was kind enough to give to me after we participated in a roundtable discussion at the Brooklyn Public Library. That’s a fair bit but my gaping knowledge gaps mean I can’t appreciate the book properly, particularly given the fact that I feel like I’m still (very, very slowly) finding my way around Sharov’s world, a place that’s wildly different from what I find in most of the books I read. Finding my way around that world feels all the more important to me now, so I’m looking at some remedial reading as a way to continue learning from Sharov. I’m grateful to him for our conversations and will very much miss seeing him when I visit Moscow next month.

Disclaimers: The usual. Thank you to Dedalus Books for a review copy of The Rehearsals. The Dedalus page about the book includes lengthy excerpts from reviews; the reviews by Michael Orthofer and Jamie Rann very aptly get at the novel’s rewards.