Friday, December 31, 2021

Wishing You a Happy 2022 With 2021’s New Translations!

I decided to wind up posting for 2021 the same way I did last year: with my annual post listing new translations rather than musings on favorites. By late December, I’m already tired of “this year’s books” lists: the only one I ever look forward to is Languagehat’s, for The Millions, so here’s 2021, where I share Hat’s enthusiasm for José Vergara’s All Future Plunges to the Past, which I’ll still be reading for some time, along with Ulysses. This year was such an odd reading year to begin with that I didn’t feel like reminding myself of how many books I didn’t finish! I’m wishing myself better luck next year on that score.

As for this year’s list of translations, to repeat a comment from last year, hmmmm. This year’s total of  38 37 is down from last year’s 49. That’s no surprise. Some sites (more and more, it seems) loathe searches and chronological sorting, making it harder to find books. Plus this seemingly never-ending pandemic has affected the publishing industry in lots of ways that slow down production. And then there are titles that I left out because even though the books look like translations, the listings don’t say they’re translations and there’s nothing to look inside on Amazon. Some of those books may be added later. Then there’s the fact that I always just plain miss things, though I collect titles all year. As in years past, I’ve included books of all genres, for all ages. I should mention, too, that I’m grateful for Alexandra Guzeva’s list of “10 best Russian books published in English in 2021” for Russia Beyond: it saved me some time looking for listings.

As with Russian literary awards, women writers are underrepresented on this list, at roughly one third (+1 as of 1/1/22), with three from Maria Stepanova, though she and the other women on the list make me feel better about the numbers because they’re so many good choices. On the bright side: this year’s fraction is certainly better than last year’s total of about nine woman writers for forty-nine titles. (Counts are always weird because of anthologies.) There are lots of classics this year, too… but also some good, varied, contemporary choices.

And now, for real excitement, I’ll paste in my annual inventory of caveats… This list is just a start; I’m always happy to add titles I’ve missed. I may have missed a lot. Okay, I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch! Please add a comment or e-mail me with changes/errors or additions; my address is on the sidebar. NB: I list only new translations. I’ll place a link to this post on the sidebar of the blog for easy reference. I’m taking names and titles for 2022 now, so please start sending them in. Finally, don’t forget the Self-Published Translation post, here: If you have a book to add, please add it in a comment on that page and I’ll be happy to approve it.

Finally, very best wishes for 2022 to everyone! Here’s wishing all of you lots more good books to read in the new year! Happy New Year! C Новым Годом!

Afanasev, A.N.: The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev, Volume III, Edited by Jack V. Haney, with Sibelan Forrester; University Press of Mississippi.

Archipriest Avvakum: The Life Written by Himself, translated by Kenneth N. Brostrom; Russian Library/Columbia University Press. This book has lots of helpful apparatus material; I’m looking forward to finally sitting down, by myself, to read it soon.

Baiburin, Albert: The Soviet Passport, translated by Stephen Dalziel; Polity Press.

Barskova, Polina: Air Raid, translated by Valzhyna Mort; a bilingual edition from Ugly Duckling Presse.

Bely, Andrei: The Symphonies, translated by Jonathan Stone; Russian Library/Columbia University Press.

Berberova, Nina: The Last and the First, translated by Marian Schwartz; Pushkin Press.

Bibikhin, Vladimir: The Woods, translated by Arch Tait; Polity.

Bulgakov, Sergius: The Eucharistic Sacrifice, translated by Mark Roosien; Notre Dame Press.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor: A Bad Business: Essential Stories, translated by Nicolas Pasternak Slater and Maya Slater; Pushkin Press.

Etkind, Alexander: Nature’s Evil: A Cultural History of Natural Resources, translated by Sara Jolly; Polity.

Filipenko, Sasha: Red Crosses, translated by Brian James Baer and Ellen Vayner; Europa Editions, 2021.

Gazdanov, Gaito: An Evening with Claire, translated by Bryan Karetnyk; Pushkin Press.

Gonik, Vladimir: Orchestra, translated by Christopher Culver; Glagoslav.

Lebedev, Sergei: Untraceable, translated by Antonina W. Bouis; New Vessel Press. I read this psychological thriller in Russian and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lipskerov, Dmitry: The Tool & The Butterflies, translated by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler and Reilly Costigan-Humes; Deep Vellum.

Mandelstam, Osip: Black Earth, translated by Peter France; New Directions.

Panchenko, Constantin: Orthodoxy and Islam in the Middle East, translated by Brittany Pheiffer Noble and Samuel Noble; Holy Trinity Publications.

Petrushevskaya, Ludmila: The New Adventures of Helen, translated by Jane Bugaeva; Deep Vellum. Thanks to Jane’s exuberant translations, these stories are so much fun I’ve been rationing them, reading just one at a time.

Pilnyak, Boris: Ivan Moscow, translated by A. Schwartzman; Sublunary Editions, July 2021. According to Sublunary Editions: “Our text is a revised version of A. Schwartzman’s translation of the book (Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1935).” The fact of this book makes me want to go on a Pilnyak kick. 

Pushkin, Alexander: The Captain’s Daughter: Essential Stories, translated by Anthony Briggs; published, appropriately enough, by Pushkin Press.

Radkevic, Kristina: The Hidden Talent of Phoenix Fox, translated by the author; Wacky Bee. A children’s book with illustrations by Radkevic.

Remizov, Alexei: The Little Devil and Other Stories, translated by Antonina W. Bouis; Russian Library/Columbia University Press.

Ryzov, Igor: The Kremlin School of Negotiation, translated by Alex Fleming; Canongate.

Sharov, Vladimir: Be as Children, translated by Oliver Ready; Dedalus Books, 2021.

Shklovsky, Viktor: On the Theory of Prose, translated by Shushan Avagyan; Dalkey Archive Press, October 2021

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr: March 1917: The Red Wheel, Node III, Book 3, translated by Marian Schwartz; Notre Dame Press.

Stepanova, Maria: War of the Beasts and the Animals, translated by Sasha Dugdale; Bloodaxe.

Stepanova, Maria: In Memory of Memory, translated by Sasha Dugdale; Fitzcarraldo (UK) and New Directions (US).

Stepanova, Maria: The Voice Over: Poems and Essays, edited by Irina Shevelenko with translations by Alexandra Berlina, Sasha Dugdale, Sibelan Forrester, Amelia Glaser, Zachary Murphy King, Dmitry Manin, Ainsley Morse, Eugene Ostashevsky, Andrew Reynolds, and Maria Vassileva; Russian Library/Columbia University Press. I’ve enjoyed my unmethodical reading from this collection.

Tarkovsky, Arseny: Solar Eclipse 1914, translated by Peter Oram with an introduction by Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski; Arc Publications, 2021.

Teffi: Other Worlds: Peasants, Pilgrims, Spirits, Saints, edited by Robert Chandler, translated by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler, as well as (according to this review by Anna Razumnaya for Los Angeles Review of Books) Sara Jolly, Anne Marie Jackson, Nicholas Pasternak Slater, Sabrina Jaszi, "and a number of others" whom I will try to identify; New York Review Books.

Tsvetaeva, Marina: Poem of the End: Six Narrative Poems, translated by Nina Kossman; Shearsman Press, October 2021.

Tynyanov, Yury: The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar, translated by Anna Kurkina Rush and Christopher Rush; Russian Library/Columbia University Press.

Ulitskaya, Ludmila: Just the Plague, translated by Polly Gannon; Granta, September 2021.

Various: White Magic, translated by Muireann Maguire; Russian Life. Thirteen stories, from Amfiteatrov to Zamyatin.

Various: The Trans-Siberian Railway, translated by Jane Bugaeva; Thames & Hudson. Just the few online “gallery” pages for this book by Anna Desnitskaya and Aleksandra Litvina make me miss Russian train trips.

Yakovleva, Yulia: Punishment of a Hunter, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp; Pushkin Press/Vertigo; 2021. I read this enjoyable, atmospheric, historical detective novel in 2017 (previous post).

Yusupova, Lida: The Scar We Know, translated by Ainsley Morse; Cicada Press. Bilingual edition with an introduction by Oksana Vasyakina.

Bonus listing: The Wayland Rudd Collection, from Ugly Duckling Presse “presents artist Yevgeniy Fiks’s archive of Soviet media images of Africans and African Americans—from propaganda posters to postage stamps—mainly related to African liberation movements and civil rights struggles. Meditations, reflections, and research-based essays by scholars, poets, and artists address the complicated intersection of race and Communist internationalism, with particular focus on the Soviet Union’s critique of systemic racism in the US.”

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual, including knowing/working with some of the publishers and translators listed in this post.

Up Next: Books by Dmitry Danilov and Kirill Ryabov, which both offer comic relief. And Leonid Yuzefovich’s The Philhellene. Maybe a bit on Alexander Belyaev’s The Air Seller, which held my interest most for its oddities, including the weirdest ending I’ve read in a long time. Pop!

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


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Alienation, Take #534: Filipenko’s Return to Ostrog and Valitov’s Corner Room

My reading habits have been a bit odd in recent months – Big Book reading and a project have been two of the big reasons – and my thoughts about the books I’ve read seem to differ a bit from usual, too. To be more specific, my thoughts on how to write about the books I’ve read seems to be leaning more toward roundups than posts about single books. That is, in large part, because I’ve been noticing so many common themes.

I started noticing certain common themes about two years ago, in early 2020, when I was preparing a talk for Bowdoin College. I found the text of the talk in my “Travel” folder, which feels especially appropriate since that forty-minute drive (one-way) was my last pre-pandemic travel. After mentioning in my talk that many of the books I’ve translated – among them are Vodolazkin’s Laurus, Stepnova’s The Women of Lazarus, and Abgaryan’s Three Apples Fell from the Sky – include complicated childbirth or pregnancies that require hospitalization, I add that “…I see some very distinct and common threads about severe difficulties coming into the world, very often in times that are just as turbulent as the births themselves.” I could add numerous other books, such as Stepnova’s The Garden, a finalist for this year’s Big Book and Yasnaya Polyana awards.

Now, almost two years after I wrote that talk, I seem to be reading a lot of books about children from dysfunctional family situations, kids who are orphaned or, hm, underparented to various degrees, literally and/or figuratively. I’ve already written about several of these books relatively recently – Oksana Vasyakina’s The Wound and Alexei Polyarinov’s The Reef (previous post), Svetlana Kuznetsova’s Anatomy of the Moon (previous post), and Anna Kozlova’s Rurik (previous post) – where the nature and severity of the problems differ greatly. The Women of Lazarus fits this category, too. I think what fascinates me most about these books, as well as the two I’ll write more about below, is the presence of two common threads: forms of alienation and the loss(es) accompanying the alienation. I’m still trying, for example, to get over Vasyakina’s mention of watching The Wall over and over as a small child. Polyarinov’s characters include a cult leader and a mean mother. And the corner of the world Kuznetsova describes is rather hellish, with gang supremacy being the primary (and primal) authority and many characters missing, physically, body parts. Everybody seems to have sustained losses and feel separated from something (often society and the world itself) and/or someone. Saying there’s a lot of trauma in these books puts things mildly.

These are, of course, common themes in world literature and they’re not new at all in Russian literature either – here are links to some previous posts with the words “orphaned” and “orphan” – but I seem to be happening upon books by young writers who address these topics. Posts with “orphanage” include Vera Bogdanova’s Pavel Zhang and Other River Creatures and this post will ensure that Sasha Filipenko’s Возвращение в Острог (Return to Ostrog) will be on the list, too: Filipenko’s town called Ostrog (a word that translates to “prison” or “jail”) is home to both an orphanage and a prison, and there’s a spate of suicides among children at the orphanage. And then there’s another book, which I just don’t think I can finish, despite some merits: Timur Valitov’s debut novel, Угловая комната (The Corner Room), where the narrator is a more metaphorical orphan, a young man (a writer) who visits his hometown after the death of his father, whom he barely knew, in part because of the father’s prison sentence.

I read Filipenko’s book very recently but, oddly (albeit probably for good reasons), it hasn’t really stuck with me and I find that Valitov’s, where the language and situations were especially simple, wasn’t staying with me much even as I read. In the case of Ostrog, I think Filipenko’s combination of genres – investigators from Moscow come to Ostrog to look into the suicides and decide whether or not to indict anyone – felt a bit too typical to find a truly distinctive place in my mental filing cabinet. What will never leave me, though, perhaps since I saw it first-hand when I lived in Moscow and volunteered at a shelter, is the literal orphanage theme, where the children are doomed – the Pied Piper of Hamelin is invoked, indicating the fate of rats – and may be released from one prison (the orphanage, where they age out in their teens) only to end up in another, the real jail. That’s where one of the main characters, the hyper-correct Petya, who’s not really of this world, has landed. Reading retention is highest for some of the lively and absurd touches Filipenko inserts into the narrative: a karaoke-singing investigator whose personal life is a wreck, a heartbreaking story he reads, and a local cop’s use of Platonov’s Chevengur to beat Petya. (!) What struck me most about the book, however, is the thread of loneliness, which Kozlov, one of the investigators, calls an “epidemic.” He sees people in cars who aren’t speaking to one another, he’s still yearning for his ex-wife and, well, you can see where this all leads, what with the orphanage and the prison and death and the metaphysical prison of life… It would have made for especially dreary pandemic-era reading if not for Filipenko’s humor, bits of absurdity, and concision.

Filipenko’s book is far, far more vivid than Valitov’s, where I found a whole lot of numbness and apathy, both in a literal sense, with a lot of drinking, and a more figurative sense, with the narrator’s seemingly limited ability to relate to or be around other people. One odd common thread that I caught while writing this post: Valitov’s narrator also mentions Chevengur, which he reads. The narrator says a person is a body full of dumplings (пельмени) disagreeing with Serbinov’s diary entry in Chevengur that says (in, thankfully, Anthony Olcott’s translation) that “Man is not meaning, but a body filled with passionate veins, ravines of blood, mounds, openings, satisfaction, and oblivion.” I think that reaction sums up, even explains, a lot, given the narrator’s distance, or perhaps better yet, his estrangement, from friends and relatives. (It’s no wonder the big soccer tournament that’s in town is just a phantom in the background…) I love pelmeni but, hmm, I hope there’s more to me and you and all the rest of us than dumplings. I think I most appreciate The Corner Room’s everydayness, the alienation and ennui (given the book’s strong French themes) that cloak so many of the narrator’s actions, though the sum of all those literary parts (I’m not quite sure how else to state this) didn’t add up to a novel that I could finish, despite reading 200 (of 318) pages. I suspect it couldn’t keep me going because it lacked what I continue to think of as “new information,” not so much in a literal almanac-like sense but in the sense of new literary angles on life, death, and identity. I wonder if perhaps all the numbness (which felt very, very real and topical but perhaps, paradoxically, not developed enough to make for what I consider compelling fiction) and the rather derivative French element of the book simply left me uninterested. And sad because there’s so much good material. As well as heartened, too, in some sense because Valitov has chosen complex, difficult, material for this, his debut novel. If you’re interested in more on The Corner Room, Galina Yuzefovich wrote a detailed review for Meduza that Google translates well enough into English to give you a much better sense of the book than I can muster. Though The Corner Room clearly isn’t my novel, I’m interested in giving more of Valitov’s work a try.

Up Next: Next week: New translations for 2021. Books by Dmitry Danilov and Kirill Ryabov, which both offer comic relief. And Leonid Yuzefovich’s The Philhellene

Disclaimers and Disclosures: The usual. I’ve translated books and/or samples of many of the books mentioned in this post.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Yuzefovich Wins Third Big Book Award with The Philhellene

The list of this year’s Big Book Award winners feel like a relief after the strangeness of last year’s results: this year I can understand why each and every one of the winners, in both the jury and public voting, won an award. I’m happiest for Leonid Yuzefovich, who won the top jury award for his third time – he previously won in 2009 and 2016 – for his Филлэлин (The Philhellene). I hope to post about The Philhellene moderately soon (January; I’m way behind on my posts) but for now, here’s my previous description: This novel’s characters converse through journals, letters, and mental conversations. Yuzefovich’s own back-cover description refers to the novel as being closer to “variations on historical themes than a traditional historical novel.”

Second prize went to Maya Kucherskaya’s Лесков. Прозеванный гений (Leskov. The Missed/Overlooked Genius), an extraordinarily detailed biography that’s not the sort of book I’d be likely to sit down and read straight through. It’s something even better, though, a resource. And so Kucherskaya (in book, of course, rather than in person) and I are going to read Leskov together as a winter reading project; I’ve already marked passages. Languagehat will join us, too, since he’s read and written about Leskov. Finally, Viktor Remizov won third prize for his Вечная мерзлота (Permafrost), which I’m very sorry to say did leave me cold, despite my love of historical novels and harsh climates. That said, yes, I understand readers’ appreciation for the novel and its exploration of Stalin-era themes. I may try it again in another year or two since I feel as if translating Guzel Yakhina’s Zuleikha may have skewed my perceptions of fiction about Siberian exile during the Stalin era.

Reader’s choice awards went to Narine Abgaryan for Симон (Simon), Alexei Polyarinov for Риф (The Reef), and Marina Stepnova for Сад (The Garden). I find it interesting that the jury and public reader winners are so different this year: Polyarinov’s book, for example, came in last in the tally of jury votes, which you can find online here. Most interesting in the jury voting tally: there was only a two-point difference between the top two books by Yuzefovich and Kucherskaya.

I think that covers everything on this dank, dreary December day!

Up Next: A post about recent reading involving orphans, orphanages, and alienation; Dmitry Danilov’s new novel, which I loved; and an end-of-year post with a list of (at least some of!) this year’s new translations.

Disclaimers and Disclosures: I’m a member of the Literary Academy, the Big Book’s large jury, and have translated or spent time with many of this year’s Big Book finalist authors. I’ve translated excerpts from two of this year’s finalists: Stepnova’s The Garden and Vodolazkin’s History of Island, which I’ll translate in full.