Posts filed under 'russian literature'

In Conversation: Carol Apollonio on Serving the Spirit of Communication in Translation

"We read translated literature to access a common humanity that transcends borders."

Carol Apollonio translated the first Dagestani novel available in English, The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva. Anglophone readers will find much to relate to in the novel’s premise—a rumor that the Russian government is building a wall between the Muslim provinces of the Caucasus and the rest of Russia. In this free-wheeling, clear-eyed interview with Hannah Weber, Apollonio takes an impassioned look at literatures in translation, and at the simplest yet most complex human propensity—the desire to read.

Hannah Weber (HW): You’re a scholar of Russian literature and translate works from both Russian and Japanese. What led to your interest in these particular languages?

Carol Apollonio (CA): Most of your life path is luck. I knew early on that learning languages came easy to me, so I kept on doing it. After French, it was quite a shock to realize that for Russian you didn’t just plug the words into grammar you already knew. You had to change everything around in your brain. Plus, all the words were different. Anyway, if you’re rebellious enough, you decide it’s worth putting in the effort. It helped that I’d studied some Latin early on.

So, why Russian? Here’s how a Cold War eighteen-year-old radical hippie thinks in 1973: “The Russians are our enemies; the only problem is that Americans don’t know Russian. I’ll learn Russian, become president of the USA, we’ll all learn to love one another, and that will solve the whole problem.” So, I went to college and studied Russian and politics. As it turned out, I was too impatient and tactless for politics. As for Russian, at that time basically there were three paths for Russian-language students: one, learn about the complicated grammar and crazy vocabulary—recoil, and turn to economics or psychology; two, learn the language, recoil from the politics, and go into national security; three, learn the language, love it, read the literature and have your head explode. I’m one of the survivors with the exploded heads. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? May 2017

We review three new books available in English, from Yiddish and Hebrew poetry to an extraordinary Russian account of exile.

 

golden_cockerel_600x600

The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings by Juan Rulfo, translated by Douglas J. Weatherford, Deep Vellum

Reviewed by Nozomi Saito, Senior Executive Assistant

Juan Rulfo’s prominence within the canon of Mexican and Latin American authors has been undeniable for some time. Regarded by Valeria Luiselli as one of the writers who gave her a deeper understanding of the literary tradition in Mexico and the Spanish language, and depicted by Elena Poniatowska as a figure deeply rooted in Mexican culture, it is clear that modern Mexican and Latin American literature would not be what they are without Rulfo. Indeed, Rulfo often has been credited as the figure to whom the Latin American boom of the 1960s and ‘70s is indebted, and Gabriel García Márquez has said that it was because of Rulfo’s works that the former was able to continue writing and ultimately produce One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Yet for all the recognition that Rulfo’s works have so rightly earned, there has been a persistent misconception that he only published two works of fiction, The Plain in Flames (El Llano in llamas, 1953) and Pedro Páramo (Pedro Páramo, 1955). The Golden Cockerel (El gallo de oro, c. 1956) for too long remained excluded from Rulfo’s oeuvre, even being miscategorized as a text originally intended for the cinematic screen. To reclaim and secure its position in Rulfo’s canon, Douglas J. Weatherford has brought forth The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings, which provides deep insight into the work, ruminations, and personal life of the legendary writer.

The result is a text that is refreshing and diverse. The titular story follows the rise and fall of Dionisio Pinzón, an impoverished man whose crippled arm prevents him from farm labor, the only viable work in the town, and whose destiny changes when someone gives him a golden cockerel that has been badly beaten, having comprised the losing side of a cockfight. While the majority of the story follows Pinzón’s migration in pursuit of wealth, his path eventually intersects with that of the singer Bernarda Cutiño, familiarly called La Caponera, whose own migratory wanderings lead them from one town to the next, to various cockfights throughout Mexico.

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Translation Tuesday: A Poem by Elena Fanailova

No one can bear it, physiologically, Except for perverted aesthetes

Elena Fanailova has been one of the most boundary-pushing poets in the contemporary Russian poetry scene for over twenty years. Known for her keen observations of both Russian authorities and her own peers in the intelligentsia and art world, Fanailova shows off the height of her incisive yet colloquial, even witty, narration style in “masha and lars von trier,” a poem in which everyone is complicit in the crimes of their culture. 

—Madeline Jones, Blog Editor

masha and lars von trier

          Diary, summer 2006

1.

The Russian after-party is fucking up the championship
Russian Masha is losing Wimbledon
To a wooden machine by the name of Amélie
Behind whom stands a thousand-year-old blitzkrieg
And all of France, the Church’s eldest daughter

Russian Masha is getting nervous, you can tell,
No matter how loud you yell.
Her powerful serves splinter against the mechanics
Of the still more powerful machine and its instruments
Here nothing will come of it
Except her volleys,
Lesser versions, knockoffs,
Pitiful byzantinism

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In Review: Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich

Secondhand Time’s arrival in English serves as a timely antidote to reports in the Western press about Russian nationalism

Secondhand Time is one of the four books shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, UK’s most prestigious prize for nonfiction, the winner of which will be announced tomorrow. 

Russian thinkers in the nineteenth century began referring to the Russian soul (Russkaya dusha) as a way to crystalize a national identity around the idea that Russia and its people possess a singular, exceptional destiny. Be it Dostoevsky’s high-strung and philosophical protagonists, Goncharov’s ambitionless, sensitive Oblomov, or Tolstoy’s nature-inspired, contemplative heroes, Russia’s iconic authors portrayed their countrymen as uninterested in replicating Europe’s then burgeoning industrial capitalism and its protestant work ethic; rather, these characters’ thoughts and actions sprang from a loftier, more spiritual sensibility.

Today, Russians’ views of their country’s tumultuous history and uncertain, post-Soviet future are shaped, in no small part, by whether or not they believe in Russian exceptionalism, and this question frames Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich’s latest book to be published in English, Secondhand Time. As she did earlier with Voices from Chernobyl (1997), the work that precipitated her winning the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, in Secondhand Time, originally published in 2013, Ms. Alexievich gives readers history “in miniature,” by presenting the reflections of ordinary Russians as told in their own voices. For this latest book Ms. Alexievich collected Russians’ thoughts about their post-World War II history that she recorded between 1991 and 2012. She writes that she specially sought to interview “sovaks,” a term that Russians use pejoratively to describe those who remain stuck in Soviet attitudes and behaviors.

Secondhand Time’s arrival in English (Random House, 2016) serves as a timely antidote to reports in the Western press about Russian nationalism. It is a necessary rejoinder not because the reports are false; rather, too little attention has been given to the complicated reasons behind the nationalistic sentiment.

Ironically, most Soviets felt a sense of security under the old system, despite the government’s repression and cruelty. Without the dual rudders of government control over everyday life and the ideology that justified it, those who came of age under the Soviet system now feel uncomfortably adrift. There remains nothing to replace the old ideals that grounded their lives except empty consumerism:

“No one can convince me that we were given life just to eat and sleep to our hearts’ content.  That a hero is someone who buys something one place and sells it down the road for three kopecks more.”

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In Conversation with Peter Constantine

"The only role I filled in my Chekhov translations was that of the translator."

Peter Constantine not only speaks German, Russian, French, Modern Greek, Ancient Greek, Italian, Albanian, Dutch, and Slovene, but he translates them as well. He has translated Machiavelli, Sophocles, Mann, Rousseau, and a host of others. As a translator from Russian, he has an interest in translating the lesser known, early works of Anton Chekhov.

In the West, Chekhov is known primarily as a playwright, but he was equally accomplished short story author. Peter Constantine’s most recent translation, Little Apples and Other Early Stories, out now from Seven Stories Press, is a collection of Chekhov’s early works, when he wrote under a pen name to support his family and put himself through medical school. These stories are tragic and comic; gut-wrenching and laugh-out-loud funny. Constantine’s translation captures the wit and skill that would make Chekhov known as one of the greatest writers of all time. I discussed Little Apples with him through email.

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Daniel Goulden: What drew you to translating Chekhov, particularly his early stories?

Peter Constantine: Chekhov is one of the great stylists of Russian literature. His range and creativity present an interesting challenge for a translator; particularly his early stories of the 1880s, where every week he would publish several pieces in a number of literary magazines, sometimes two or three pieces per magazine, writing under different pseudonyms: Mr. Champagnsky, Man Without a Spleen, My Brother’s Brother. He had a great facility for writing fast and well and with spectacular energy and creativity. READ MORE…

Working Title: Babylon

Babylon became a hit in the Anglophone world—but only thanks to Bromfield's skill and verve.

Advertisements are the translator’s hell. Only the other day, I struggled with a Russian analogue to “a patient journey to asthma management:” each version sounded either too Western or too Soviet. That fruitless exercise has put me in mind of Victor Pelevin, one of the most popular contemporary Russian authors, whose books are often tributes to his early career in advertising.

A classic example is Generation “П,” originally published in Russian under this funky title in 1999. The П is for P, which is for Pepsi. It traces a copywriter’s journey (sic) to greatness in the formative days of Russian capitalism. Andrew Bromfield’s version, published by Faber and Faber, is called Babylon, referring to the name of the protagonist, Vavilen Tatarsky (his pet name, “Vavan,” is rendered as “Babe” here), which brings up a whole host of Sumerian associations in the book. The book’s US title, Homo Zapiens, is Pelevin’s own invention: a term for a model consumer, it appears in a text communicated by the spirit of Che Guevara by means of an ouija board, where it’s abbreviated to ХЗ, a shortened form of the Russian equivalent of “fuck knows.”

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Bullet in My Mother Tongue: An Interview with Alisa Ganieva

Alisa Ganieva on translation, perfunctory patriotism, and literary hoaxes.

Last month, Alisa Ganieva was in Iowa City to teach global literature in English and the Russian-language workshop of the Russia-Arabic session of Between the Lines, a summer program for writers between the ages of 16 and 19 who spend two weeks in shared cultural and artistic dialogue about the literary traditions of their home countries. I sat down with Alisa to discuss her rise to literary fame and the new translation of her novel, The Mountain and the Wall, out this month with Deep Vellum Publishing.

At 24, you won the prestigious Russian literary Debut Prize of 2009 for your novella, Salaam, Dalgat!, which you wrote under a male nom-de-plume. How did you choose “Gulla Khirachev” for your pseudonym?

My goal was to hint those from Dagestan that I’m not a real author. That’s why I took a real name, “Gulla,” which means “bullet” in my mother tongue—in Avar language—but has not been used for many years. I found out there is actually an old man called Gulla, but he might be the only man with this name. So when my Gulla Khirachev appeared, many of those in Dagestan—journalists and writers—guessed that it must be a pseudonym, and they began trying to find out who it was. They guessed there must be a person, a young man, who lives in Makhachkala, since he knows it so well. They argued with each other and named different candidates, but always missed.

So you meant for the name “Gulla Khirachev” to be transparent as a pseudonym?

Yes, so the name means “bullet,” and the lexical root of this surname means “darling” in my native language. So it’s something piercing, but at the same time, it’s something . . . nonaggressive. READ MORE…

Working Title: Conclusive Evidence

Nabokov was always interested in the multilingual experience, both in writing and speech.

Vladimir Nabokov once said in an interview: “I don’t think that an artist should bother about his audience. His best audience is the person he sees in his shaving mirror every morning.” There are many ways to interpret this, especially when the artist writes in several languages, as Nabokov famously did, having switched to English in his early forties, but never completely abandoning his native Russian. Did Nabokov really only ever write for himself? The jury may still be out, but this much is clear: his one-man audience was more demanding than most.

Speak, Memory, Nabokov’s memoir covering the first four decades of his life, up to his emigration to the U.S. in 1940, was written in English and initially published in America as Conclusive Evidence. To his British publisher Nabokov suggested a different title, Speak, Mnemosyne, which was rejected on the grounds that “little old ladies would not want to ask for a book whose title they could not pronounce.” Yet another idea was The Anthemion, “but nobody liked it; so we finally settled for Speak, Memory.” Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory, makes frequent appearances in all the book’s versions, including the authorial Russian one, produced under the title Другие берега (Other Shores). In his introduction to the Russian edition Nabokov explains his decision to rewrite the book significantly by the drawbacks he noticed when he first embarked on the “mad enterprise” of translating Conclusive Evidence—the drawbacks that would make an exact translation “a caricature of Mnemosyne.”

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In Conversation: Alex Cigale, Guest Editor of the Atlanta Review’s Russian Poetry Issue

An interview with Alex Cigale on editing the Atlanta Review's Russian Poetry Issue

 

I interviewed Alex Cigale, guest editor for the Russia issue of the Atlanta Review, to pick his brain about the editing process, the special issue, and the state of Russian poetry at-large.

Alex Cigale (former Central Asia editor-at-large for Asymptote!) has collaborated with the editors of the anthologyCrossing Centuries: the New Generation in Russian Poetry (2000), and more recently, the online Twenty First Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge 16, 2014). Independently, he has presented a score of contemporary Russian poets to Anglophone readers. This year, Cigale was the recipient of an NEA in Literary Translation for his work with poet of the St. Petersburg philological school, Mikhail Eremin.

The Atlanta Review is known for its long-established and respected annual contest, offering publication in each of its fall issues, with a $1,000 top prize and 20 publication awards for finalists (including 30 merit awards for semi-finalists). In its 20-year history, it has published a long list of established poets, including Seamus Heaney, Rachel Hadas, Maxine Kumin, Stephen Dunn, Charles Wright, Billy Collins, Derek Walcott, Paul Muldoon, and so on.

PN: What did the Atlanta Review ask from you for its Russia Issue? How did you approach the editorship and solicit contributions?

AC: My directions were quite open: curate an 80-page section of contemporary Russian poetry. In every Spring issue, the Atlanta Review includes an international feature. In recent years, it had shone a spotlight on international hotspots (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) as well as on Anglophone or partly-Anglophone nations in the news (India, Ireland, and Scotland, the latter forthcoming in 2016).

While each is planned two years in advance, the editorial phase itself is quite brief: in my case, I only had this past late fall/early winter to work on the curation, so its contents were largely determined by what unpublished work in translation was available at the moment. As I noted in my introduction, above all else, the issue is a “slice of life”—what (primarily American) translators of Russian poetry are working on right now. The world of Russian poetry translation is a fairly small community, so I was able to put out early word of the issue on social media and correspond with nearly each translator personally to discuss their projects. READ MORE…