Posts filed under 'russia'

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “The Memory Artist” by Katherine Brabon

Presenting Micol Licciardello, winner of the inaugural Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition

This week it gives us great pleasure to present the winner of a student literary translation competition hosted by Monash University in collaboration with Asymptote. Conceived by Monash University lecturer, Dr. Gabriel Garcia Ochoa, the contest was held as part of his third-year undergraduate course, Translating Across Cultures. Following Susan Bassnett’s idea that translation can help us better understand the features of different cultures (read our interview with her here!), the course teaches translation as a method for developing cross-cultural competence. The students—all of whom are language majors—are divided into seven different streams: Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Italian, French, German, and Indonesian (with Korean forthcoming in 2019). The three students who received the highest scores on the course’s final assignment were allowed to compete in the Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition.

The three finalists were asked to translate an excerpt from Katherine Brabon’s novel The Memory Artist, which won the 2016 Australian/Vogel Literary Award. Our warmest thanks to the author, the jury (made up of Monash University faculty members and Asymptote’s editorial staff), and the novel’s publisher Allen & Unwin for their kind support, in particular Emma Dorph and Maggie Thompson.

Without further ado, our heartiest congratulations to the winner Micol Licciardello, whose Italian-language translation we feature here (after the original text in English). Our applause also for the first runner-up, Beatrice Bandini, who also translated the passage into Italian, and our second runner-up, Andoni Laguna-Alberdi, who translated the passage into Spanish.

I was born in Moscow in 1964. Our apartment was a dvushka, two rooms and a small square of kitchen, in a Khrushchev-era concrete block. In that apartment of my childhood, uneven towers of paper, a precarious city, sprawled across the living room floor. On a glass-fronted bookshelf, photos of old dissidents, exiled writers and dead poets leant against the volumes and journals, looking out with silent faces. A narrow balcony faced the street.

Every child has their window, and from mine, in the kitchen, I could see only a narrow street, the tops of hats or umbrellas of people passing below, slanting shadows on the walls of the tower opposite and identical to ours, rain bouncing off bitumen, piles of snow and sometimes the old woman who cleared it away. On the windowsill were a few of those old meat tins—from the war years, my mother said—that now held pencils and fake flowers.

Life was our kitchen table. Rectangular, not very big, metal legs; draped in a cream cloth with latticed edges, stitched flowers in orange, brown and yellow. It was mesmerising, for me as a boy, to see how our rooms could transform between morning and late evening. In the morning, the table, and therefore the apartment, had a certain stillness; there were only a few ripples in the tablecloth where the base or a plate had nudged the material out of place. I could hear my mother’s slippers on the linoleum floor, the tick of the gas boiler on the wall, the soft knock of tea glasses placed on the wooden shelf. Pasha, drink your tea, my mother would say to me.

By evening our kitchen table would be another place, crowded and always, it seemed to me, made more colourful by the noise and the people gathered there. Rather than a first memory, I grasped a first feeling, an impression of those evenings in my childhood.

Oleg would usually arrive first. He had broad shoulders but was thin, the sinews of his neck stretched as if to their limits. The veins on his hands resembled river lines on a map. His hair, neatly parted, was slightly wispy, and his eyes were a striking shade of light blue. There was one night, or many, when I was very young and Oleg was talking as usual with the adults gathered in our kitchen. From my seat I watched as he casually reached for a cloth to dry the very plate from which I had moments ago eaten my dinner, that my mother had washed in the sink. In its ease, the unspoken closeness of old friends, it was a gesture that comforted me. We had probably lost my father by then. Perhaps I craved the figure of another parent that Oleg seemed to embody.

And then the others would arrive for the gathering—or underground activist meeting, as I would later learn to call these evenings in our apartment. They greeted one another, taking glasses from the table or shelf, some talking loudly as they walked through the tiny entranceway from the hall, pausing by the door to take off their boots, others quieter, patting me on the shoulder. I could smell makhorka tobacco as if it drifted in with those tall figures, riding on the warmth of their wheezing laughs or the cold of the draught from the hallway. Since the table was so small, most stood leaning against the wall, the doorway, or the edge of the sink. Certain papers were sometimes lifted from beneath the linoleum on the floor. Oleg would turn the radio on, wink at me and say, Let’s find out what’s happening to us today, Pasha. And then voices from Radio Liberty, Voice of America, or the BBC would speak from the shiny mint-green Latvian radio that was moved to the table for those gatherings—another object, like the kitchen table, that became so deeply woven into events of those years that it was something of a character in my memories. Such things seemed to hold an emotional personality as real as those of the people who, after all, would themselves become only memory objects of a kind.

***

Sono nato a Mosca nel 1964. Il nostro appartamento era una dvushka, due camere e una piccola cucina quadrata, in un palazzo di cemento dell’epoca di Kruscev. In quell’appartamento della mia infanzia, torri di carta irregolari, una città precaria, erano sparse sul pavimento del soggiorno. Su una vetrinetta, foto di vecchi dissidenti, scrittori esiliati e poeti morti erano poggiate su libri e riviste e ci guardavano con volti silenziosi. Un balcone stretto si affacciava sulla strada.

Tutti i bambini hanno una finestra e dalla mia, in cucina, vedevo soltanto una strada stretta, le cime dei cappelli e degli ombrelli della gente che passava giù, ombre oblique sui muri della torre di fronte identica alla nostra, la pioggia rimbalzare sul bitume, mucchi di neve e a volte la vecchia signora che la spalava. Sul davanzale c’erano alcune scatolette di carne—quelle degli anni della guerra, diceva mia madre—che ora contenevano matite e fiori finti.

Il tavolo da cucina era la nostra vita. Rettangolare, non molto grande, con gambe di metallo; avvolto in una tovaglia color crema con un motivo a quadretti sui bordi e fiori ricamati arancioni, marroni e gialli. Quando ero piccolo, restavo incantato vedendo come le stanze si trasformavano fra la mattina e la tarda serata. Di mattina il tavolo, e quindi l’appartamento, erano immersi in una quiete immobile; c’era soltanto qualche increspatura sulla tovaglia dove il vaso o i piatti avevano piegato leggermente il tessuto. Sentivo le ciabatte di mia madre sul pavimento di linoleum, il ticchettio della caldaia sul muro, il tocco lieve delle tazzine riposte sulla mensola di legno. Pasha, bevi il tè, mi diceva mia madre.

Di sera il tavolo diventava un altro posto, affollato e reso sempre, ai miei occhi, più ricco di colore dal rumore e dalle persone che vi si riunivano. Piuttosto che un primo ricordo, afferrai una prima sensazione, un’impressione di quelle sere della mia infanzia.

Di solito Oleg era il primo ad arrivare. Aveva le spalle larghe ma era magro, i tendini del collo tesi quasi al limite. Le vene sulle sue mani somigliavano alle linee che segnano i fiumi sulle mappe. Portava i capelli sottili con una riga ordinata e i suoi occhi erano di un’ammaliante sfumatura di azzurro. Una notte, o molte notti, quando ero appena un bambino, Oleg parlava come ogni sera con gli adulti riuniti in cucina. Dalla sedia lo guardavo allungarsi disinvolto verso un panno per asciugare il piatto che proprio qualche istante prima avevo utilizzato a cena e che mia madre aveva sciacquato nel lavandino. Con quella disinvoltura, il tacito legame dei vecchi amici, era un gesto che mi confortava. Probabilmente mio padre era già morto in quel momento. Forse desideravo ardentemente la figura di un genitore che Oleg sembrava incarnare.

Più tardi arrivavano gli altri per la riunione—o incontro degli attivisti clandestini, il vero nome di quelle serate a casa nostra che scoprii successivamente. Si salutavano mentre prendevano un bicchiere dal tavolo o dalla mensola, alcuni parlavano a voce alta attraversando l’entrata stretta, fermandosi vicino la porta per togliersi gli stivali, altri, più silenziosi, dandomi un colpetto sulle spalle. Sentivo l’odore del tabacco makhorka come se venisse trasportato dentro da quelle sagome alte, aleggiando sul calore delle loro risate affannose o sulla corrente fredda che arrivava dal corridoio. Dato che il tavolo era molto piccolo, la maggior parte di loro stava in piedi appoggiandosi al muro, sulla porta o sui bordi del lavandino. A volte prendevano dei giornali dal pavimento di linoleum. Oleg accendeva la radio, mi faceva l’occhiolino e diceva, Scopriamo cosa ci sta succedendo oggi, Pasha. E poi voci di Radio Liberty, Voice of America o della BBC parlavano dalla radio lettone di un colore menta brillante che spostavano sul tavolo per quelle riunioni—un altro oggetto, come il tavolo da cucina, che si era fittamente intrecciato con gli eventi di quegli anni tanto da diventare quasi un personaggio dei miei ricordi. Queste cose parevano avere una personalità carica di emozioni vera quanto quella delle persone che, dopotutto, sarebbero diventate soltanto oggetti nei miei ricordi.

Katherine Brabon was born in Melbourne in 1987 and grew up in Woodend, Victoria. The Memory Artist, her first novel, won the 2016 Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award.

Micol Licciardello is a student at Monash University and the winner of the inaugural Monash-Asymptote Literary Translation Competition.

*****

Read more translations from the Asymptote blog:

The Happy Translator with Many Heads

Because we were many, our golden moments were also many.

At the time of Teffi’s famous dinners with Rasputin in 1916 (memorialised in an unusual, humanising account), she was at the peak of her renown, one of the most celebrated and beloved of Russian writers. Her admirers came from across the political spectrum and included not only Vladimir Lenin and Tsar Nicholas II but also many writers. Following Teffi’s death in Paris in 1952, her work sank into oblivion—perhaps because she was a woman and an emigrée, and because some wrongly thought her work too witty to be serious. Fortunately, after long years of obscurity, Teffi is being rediscovered. Three volumes of her work are now available in English translation: Subtly Worded (2014), Memories (2016)[i], and Rasputin and Other Ironies (2016) (published as Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me by NYRB in the United States) This is largely thanks to the efforts of expert translator and my former mentor, Robert Chandler, who is one of the principal translators and a great advocate of collaborative translation.

Each book has been translated collaboratively and is the product of anywhere from three to six hands—or heads—and that’s only counting the translators named on the copyright page.In the case of ‘Rasputin’, the number is probably closer to ten, as Robert took the text to translation summer school and his entire group had a go at it, multiplying the golden moments in translation. While Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have been a central guiding presence throughout, the rest of us have been involved in some books but not in others or have played different roles from one book to the next.

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Weekly News Roundup, 12th February 2016: Circonflexing Muscles

This week's literary highlights from across the globe

Happy Friday, Asymptote people! Use the weekend to study for an up-to-date spelling test. This week witnessed a tragic end to that inexplicable squiggly line above (certain) vowels: the circonflexe mark (as in “î” or “û”) is going to be removed from official French orthography. And other weird French spellings (“oignon”) are going to be changed in the interest of logic (becoming “ognon”). Unsurprisingly, this #ReformeOrthographe has sparked quite the lively conversation… READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 14th August 2015: the Books You Read, the Books You Ban

This week's literary highlights from across the world.

Hey, happiest of Fridays, Asymptote readers! Hope you’re enjoying what’s now—or about to be—the second half of August. For our readers in the United States, that might include a road trip, and what’s more American than a jaunt on the Interstate, as in Vladimir Nabokov’s famed Lolita? Over at the Literary Review, Nabokov falls for America. Or just stay at home, invite friends, open a bottle of wine, and chitchat about your latest favorite read—somehow. What, even, is the social function of the novel?

In Ukraine, that dinner conversation might include a list of books that no one around the table has read—as the country’s recently released a list of 38 banned books, all of which hail from Russian publishers and are deemed “hate” books. The whole thing is rather suspect, especially coupled with news that a Russian publisher has released several pro-Putin tomes using Western-sounding names.

In Japan, everyone’s favorite Nobel point of speculation/runner/baseball fan/novelist Haruki Murakami has published an eight-part e-book release of responses to the questions he had been asked in a crowdsourced, massively hyped advice column earlier this year. Italian anonymous phenom Elena Ferrante is of a slightly different slant when it comes to self-promotion, perhaps: before publishing her debut novel, Troubling Love, in 1991, she “made a small bet” with herself that “books, once they are published, have no need of their authors.” But we’re frothing at the mouth to meet you!

Trivia—more or less. You may have read French surrealist Mallarmé in the English translation (which one?), but have you read English in Mallarmé, Peter Manson’s erasurist, collaborative response? And have you wondered what the great English bard William Shakespeare may have been or possibly was smoking?

Finally, if your novel isn’t taking off yet, blame the trailer. You just don’t find them like this anymore.

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…

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…

In Review: “The Librarian” by Mikhail Elizarov

By turns absurdist, satirical, and downright funny: "The Librarian" takes a page from every book

 For the most part, The Librarian is a novel about a young man in quarter-life crisis named Alexei, who is thrust into the role of the fearless leader of a secret society that revolves around a collection of “magical” books.

Borrowing from many science fiction or fantasy novels, Mikhail Elizarov’s story, translated by Andrew Bromfield, begins with some world-building. In the tone of a dry, literary historian, the narrator relates the life of a fictional Soviet writer named Gromov. To the uninitiated reader, Gromov’s books are merely badly-penned propagandist fiction, in which “Good triumphed with excruciating regularity.” Under the right conditions, however, they cause readers to become enraptured, band together, and carry out alarming acts of violence. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 27 March 2015: The Knausgaard/Ferrante Personality Test, Leo’d Be Proud

This week's literary highlights from around the world

Whoop, whoop, blog fiends—it’s Friday! You’ve probably already partaken in your fair share of literary personality quizzes (they provide a cheap alternative to psychoanalysis when your insurance goes bad, and it’s always heartening to read you’re more of a Dumbledore than a Malfoy), but the New Yorker‘s article contrasting Italian recluse Elena Ferrante with Norwegian road-tripper Karl Ove Knausgaard is of particular interest to those of us interested in more international literary trends. (Meanwhile, if you’re excited for the English-language release of Book 4 of Knausgaard’s My Struggle, you can read an exclusive excerpt here).  READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 20th March 2015: London Nominees, PEN Nominees!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Yay, it’s Friday! Here at Asymptote we are especially giddy this weekend because of a gosh-wow shortlist nomination from the London Book Fair—alongside two other notable organizations, Asymptote journal is nominated for an International Excellence Award, for Initiative in International Translation. Keep your fingers crossed for us!—but really, it is such an honor to be recognized for the hard literary work we do. And the PEN Awards longlists have been announced—of special interest to us, of course, are the poetry in translation and fiction in translation categories (we’re happy to note that Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt, blog interviewee, has been nominated—read a selection of Baboon, featured on Translation Tuesday, here)!

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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.

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Translation Tuesday: Three Contemporary Russian Poets

Work by Evgeny Nikitin, Andrey Tavrov, and Sergei Shestakov—translated by Kat Shapiro

I. Evgeny Nikitin

The candle flame is trembling and in sway

As, catching fire, a moth melts in to kiss her.

My friend stopped writing—he is like a whisper,

A beast that runs his hunter’s way.

Winter is closing in, drawing its shutters.

The timid gas with little azure tongue

Spurts from the burner, lightly stutters,

The dying moth forgotten before long.

READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 17th October 2014: It’s All Dutch to Me

This week's literary highlights from across the world

The biggest news this week is Asymptote’s hot new issue launch. We know time is limited, but it’s worth taking a peak at our (best yet?) video trailer or the blog’s own highlights feature for tips on where to start (and stay tuned for even more issue coverage in the coming weeks). Really, you can’t go wrong with such a wealth of literary gems at your virtual fingertips.

Last week, the literary world was abuzz with news of its latest Nobel laureate—French writer Patrick Modiano. Perhaps “abuzz” is too misleading a term, since many English-language readers were mostly clueless as to his existence, which begs the question: what does it take for an author to be (respectably and thoroughly) translated into an English? (An aside: here’s a great primer to Modiano via Slate and pure chance). Speaking of prizes, the Man Booker’s decision to include American Anglophones in its entry pool caused quite a stir for those not of the United States, but didn’t stop Australian author Richard Flanagan from snagging the prize. Still, there are naysayers, including twice-winner and Australian author Peter Carey, who thinks the inclusion undermines the particular “Commonwealth culture” of all Anglophones outside the fifty states. Some prizes are still United States-exclusive, though, like the National Book Awards, which just released its nominations—here’s a handy guide to the nominees, via NPR. Or we could switch continents and take a look at the just-released shortlist to the “Russian” Booker.

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From the Orbital Library: “Definitely Maybe”

Russian science fiction goes claustrophobic in this work by the Strugatsky brothers—a review

There’s something disconcertingly contemporary about Definitely Maybe, a novella by the masters of Russian science fiction, brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The book was first published in the Soviet Union in 1974 and has every appearance of taking place in that world. Earlier this year, Melville House brought out the first unexpurgated English translation, a task impossible before the dissolution of the Marxist-Leninist state in 1991. This may seem like ancient history to those born into a world of ubiquitous, instantaneous digital communication. But within this slim volume, there are hints of the frustrated ambitions and pervasive distraction that define our present.

Dmitri Malianov, an astrophysicist, is on the cusp of a discovery, one that in his estimation might very well bring him a Nobel Prize. His wife and child are away, visiting family in Odessa. With nobody but his pet cat to take care of, Malianov has the time and freedom to make a breakthrough. But soon come anonymous deliveries of expensive food and alcohol. Then friends and colleagues start calling him out of the blue, first by telephone and then in person, nervously asking questions about the progress he’s made. A woman unexpectedly shows up at Malianov’s door, a school friend of his wife, beautiful enough to drive the scientist to distraction. Events are conspiring to keep him from his discovery. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 29th August 2014: Big Bucks, Howl-ing Translations

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Here are some things that might cheer you up: prizes are just the best, aren’t they? American poet (and former poet laureate) Robert Hass has snagged the 100,000-dollar Wallace Stevens Award, bucking the all-too-popular poor poet trend. And fellow Big Important Writer E. L. Doctorow wins the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. On the other side of the equator, Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta has won the country’s highest literary award.

Here are some unfortunate things. London-based superstar architect Zaha Hadid, who designed the stadium for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, sues the venerable New York Review of Books for defamation regarding the work conditions of those building the familiar-looking (hmm, feminine perhaps) stadium. Often considered India’s greatest storyteller, U. R. Ananthamurthy has passed away (let’s hope we see some more of his work in English, at least posthumously!). And nomadic Irish poet Desmond O’Grady, who you might recognize from his bit in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, has passed at age 78.

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