Posts filed under 'russia'

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.


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)!


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.


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.


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.


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.


Translation Tuesday: Selections from Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem”

A new translation by John Gallas

“You cannot leave your mother an orphan.” Joyce


Not some other country’s sky,

Not some other’s housing wings –

I was there, with them, my them,

my own misfortunates.


An Other Introduction

In the ghastly years of the Yezhov Terror, I passed seventeen months standing, waiting in line outside a Leningrad prison. One day, somehow, someone “identified” me. And a woman behind me, her mouth blue with cold, who, of course, had never heard of me, started out of her numb and shared distraction, and said to me, quite close (we all whispered, there) :

Ah, can you write this ?

And I said, Yes.

And something nearly a smile slipped across her face, and made it one again.