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.

Edit, March 5, 2019! Hilah Kohen translated Galina Yuzefovich’s reviews of Kalchina-Malechina and and Opens In for this post on Meduza. Though I wasn’t keen enough on these two books to finish them -- they simply weren’t my books -- I do understand their appeal.
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.