Posts filed under 'tolstoy'

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…

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.”


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, 6 November 2015: Top Notch, Middle Notch

Highlights, lowlights, and mid-lights in literary news from around the world.

Happy Friday, Asymptote. Hard to believe a week has already passed since the American Literary Translators Association conference in Tucson, Arizona—but it has, and the National Translation Award-winners have been announced: prose honors went to William M. Hutchins’s translation from the Arabic of The New Waw: Saharan Oasis, and Pierre Joris’s iteration of the later poems of famed German poet Paul Celan—collected in an edition titled Breathturn into Timestead—won the poetry bid.

Meanwhile, the Lucien Stryk Prize, which focuses on Asian-language translations, went to Eleanor Goldman, who snagged top prose honors for her translation of Something Crosses my Mind by Wang Xiaoni, translated from the Chinese (be sure to read some of Goodman’s Wang Xiaoni translations in our July 2014 issue here!). And the Italian Prose in Translation Award went to Anne Milano Appel, for her translation of Blindly, by Claudio Magris. Congrats to all!


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, 6 February 2015: Dear Diary, What Are You Comprised Of?

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, translation friends and fiends! Do you keep a diary? Literary journaling is a genre of its own—arguably the juiciest way to find the real-life parallels in our favorite novels—and Russian behemoth Leo Tolstoy’s work is no exception, though his struggles to narrate the self are arguably more insightful than my teenaged angst. Maybe perennial Nobel-favorite and Japanese author Haruki Murakami might like my tween journals a bit more, as he’s penning an advice column (available in English translation!).