Posts by Harry Leeds

Translating the Soviet Union: A Guide to Getting Russia

A review of “Word for Word,” by Lilianna Lungina and Oleg Dorman

I am often asked what life is like in Russia and I struggle to provide a judicious answer. Americans, I think, want to understand what to expect from a shifting Russian state. The formative years of the wheelers and dealers of modern-day Russia were experienced under the psychological weight of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev, and if someone wishes to understand Russia, she would do well to study the complexities of the Soviet baby boomers. To answer our new question, “What was life like in the Soviet Union?” I can now answer with:

Read Word for Word.

It is not often someone buys you a book and refuses to speak with you until you read it, but this happened to me with Word for Word, out now in translation from Overlook Press. The title is an adulteration of the original title podstrochnik, a so-called “trot” or bare literal translation of a text that a translator processes into a work of art. Written as an extended interview and based on the documentary film of the same name by Oleg Dorman, Word for Word is the memoir of Lilianna Lungina, perhaps the most successful translator of the Soviet Union.