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.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the conference was a blast!

    Haha, your take on the Salnikov/Danilkin Q&A fits nicely with everything else I've heard about ICLT from the muscadine vine (because grapevine isn't literary enough). *How* many answers did Salnikov give?