poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

September 22, 2010

Found in Translation.

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 5:07 PM
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My New Acquisitions.

Pelevin. Tolstaya. Kurkov. Akunin. Ulitskaya. Sorokin.
… Did I mention Pelevin?

Ok, so chances are you will have little trouble locating these souls on the shelves of your local bookshop, or at the very least, have some gregarious bookseller offer to order one of their books for you. Maybe I’ve been a bit too doomsday about it, the whole “lack of translations of contemporary Russian authors available to the English speaking world.” After all, it only took a blog post and an afternoon wandering around the library (in fairness there are 87 miles of stacks in this library) to discover the following items:

~ Living souls by Dmitry Bykov. Published in the UK by Alma Books.
~ Give Me (Songs for Lovers) by Irina Denezhkina. Published in the US by Simon and Schuster.
~ Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky. Published in the UK by Gollancz.
~ Lizka and her men by Alexander Ikonnikov. Published in the UK by Serpent’s Tail.
~ Do time, get time by Andrei Rubanov. Published in the UK by Old Street.
~ 2017 by Olga Slavnikova. Published in the US by Overlook.

And of course various poets and playwrights could be found hawking their wares to the anglosphere along the aisles. It appears that some Russian writers are in fact reaching an English speaking audience. … an American speaking audience? Not so much. Hopefully it bodes well for American literary connoisseurs that Russian oligarchs have begun buying our sportsteams. Now we just need to get our own Andrew Bromfield. (OMG is he singlehandedly responsible for every translation in the past 20 years?!)

Andrew Bromfield

is a British editor and translator of Russian works. He is a founding editor of the Russian literature journal Glas, and has translated into English works by Boris Akunin, Vladimir Voinovich, Irina Denezhkina, Victor Pelevin, and Sergei Lukyanenko, among other writers.


“Very Short Stories” by Genrikh Sapgir
“Monday Starts on Saturday” by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky
“Rachmaninov” by Nikolai Bazhanov
“The Law of Eternity” by Nodar Dumbadze and Mikhail Krakovsky
“Glas: New Russian Writing” magazine (ed. by Natalia Perova)
“Lizka and Her Men” by Alexander Ikonnikov
“The Good Angel of Death” by Andrey Kurkov
“Maxim and Fyodor” by Vladimir Shinkarev
“Reasons for Living” by Dmitry Bakin
“Witch’s Tears” by Nina Sadur
“Headcrusher (novel)” by Alexander Garros and Aleksei Evdokimov

Madness. Ok, so this will give us something to read for the next month or so. But can one really glean the scene from these selections? Can one read these and make any kind of definitive statement about the post-Soviet Russian mind? Who knows… Probably one should refrain from such an endeavor anyway. Still, it’s not much to go on. Like judging American culture by a reality tv show where 6 random Americans are forced to live together. How do you know they weren’t chosen simply because they exemplified some stereotype? Or maybe one was sleeping with the producer. You don’t know. Who is Andrew sleeping with? We don’t know.

I’d come across mention of Glas twice in separate searches now, so I decided to check it out.

Glas: New Russian Writing.

It bills itself as the “best in contemporary Russian fiction in English translation.” Wow. Just what I was looking for. Well, without the boasting. (Your home page is your blurb page? really??) In addition to publishing gobs of individual authors, Glas also publishes gobs of anthologies. Collections include winners of the Russian Booker and Debut prizes, female, Jewish and young authors, stories about love, war, the Soviet experience … you get the picture. It all seems very comprehensive, if not a bit overwhelming. And not helped by the fact that we’ve gone and bound them all together in 2’s and 3’s. In order to get my paws on a couple of short stories, I had to check out about 25lbs. of book. Oof.

Wait. Anthologies! I’d said I “would actually very much appreciate a Hemon-esque, everything but the kitchen sink anthology of post-1991 Russian literature in English translation.” I did. But I was so focused on individual authors and their novels, I rather forgot to go googling for collections. It’s probably for the best. With names like “Rasskazy” and “Life stories” Russia might have taken over the world and abolished the English language before I found these online. Fuck the computer. I was upstairs in the stacks having a mild panic attack while deliberating which issues of Glas had the most relevant contents in proportion to its physical weight when Evgeny posted a link to Life Stories: Original Fiction by Russian Authors on the previous post. I know – I need a smartphonectomy. All the same I was able to just walk around the corner and find the book on the shelf. So that was convenient. From its publisher:

Masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today, these tales reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways.
Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book will go to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.

all royalties waived
all translation fees waived
100% of profits to the cause
The authors included in this fine collection are: Vladimir Voynovich, Andrey Gelasimov, Boris Grebenshchikov, Yevgeny Grishkovets, Victor Yerofeyev, Alexander Kabakov, Eduard Limonov, Dmitry Lipskerov, Sergey Lukyanenko, Vladimir Makanin, Marina Moskvina, Victor Pelevin, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, Zakhar Prilepin, Dina Rubina, Dunya Smirnova, Vladimir Sorokin, Alexander Khurgin and Leonid Yuzefovich.

It’s too bad I didn’t actually buy this book and help those dying people. OTOH, I feel like I have secret superpowers walking around the BG, Eddie baby and Sorokin in my bag. Tingly, even. Ah… Oh, and it’s one rather slim paperback that weighs no more than a hamster. The unbearable lightness of unbound, unboundwith books… Finding the contemporary anthologies section was like a finding buried treasure. You dive in, grab hold of one item and parade it around: it’s mine! it’s mine! and seconds later you’ve discarded it for another shining trinket.

Like Moscow Noir, for example.

Moscow has been chomping at the bit to enter the Noir Series–with the intention of perpetrating extreme Russian menace.
Brand-new stories by:Alexander Anuchkin, Igor Zotov, Gleb Shulpyakov, Vladimir Tuchkov, Anna Starobinets, Vyacheslav Kuritsyn, Sergei Samsonov, Alexei Evdokimov, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Maxim Maximov, Irina Denezhkina, Dmitry Kosyrev, Andrei Khusnutdinov, and Sergei Kuznetsov.

Yeah, extreme Russian menace! Rock and roll! I am all about the Extreme Russian Menace, you know. I have to give Keith his props. I think he must have been correct when remarked that “those that do get published probably either fit the publisher’s preconception of what Russia is/should be or what english speakers should like.” Soviet childhoods, extreme Russian menaces, Pelevin.

And we simply cannot ignore the following editor’s note:

The stories printed were all written in the past five years. The developments in Russia’s political sphere during this time and under Vladimir Putin’s rule—total consolidation of power in the Kremlin’s hands, airtight censorship in the electronic media, the wholesale institutionalization of corruption, the all-out ascendance of former KGB personnel (especially the Leningrad KGB) to prominent posts throughout the government, the near silencing of political opposition, even the restoration of the Soviet National Anthem—have in many ways turned back the hands of Russia’s sociopolitical clock. However, Russia has also experienced its share of undeniable successes: the strengthening of its currency; the steadily rising living standards of its citizens and the emergence of a bona fide middle class; its resurgence on the international stage as a global power, etc. It is during this complicated and conflicted moment in Russian history that this new generation of Russian writers wrote the stories presented in this anthology.

Although the Soviet Union did not technically cease to exist until 1991, its disintegration was a fait accompli even before the Berlin Wall fell two years earlier. These writers don’t remember Soviet life all too well, but its genetic code is stored in some dormant memory cell in their brains that is activated when the curve of modern-day Russia hews too closely to the former Soviet matrix of societal atmosphere. They recognize the air they’ve never breathed before, and they come alive within this condition of borderline nonfreedom. They’re free people, but they’re also Russian writers, and Russian writers need a measure of nonfreedom to feel free, to realize their relevance. […]

At this moment in history, as Russia submerges into crisis, calling into question yet another economic and political model of its development, the work in this anthology reminds us that Russia’s greatest commodity—and its greatest contribution to the world—has not been oil and gas and armaments. Rather, it’s been the successive generations of Russian writers capable of examining life’s emotional and intellectual restlessness, its complexity and intensity.

Oof, submerges into crisis even… This is from the otherwise rather brilliant anthology, Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia from Tin House Books in the US. I dare say that when I asked for a Hemon-esque, everything but the kitchen sink anthology of post-1991 Russian literature in English translation, this is precisely what I’d had in mind! Right down to the, err, blurb by Hemon on the front cover. Francine Prose’s introduction said everything I had in my previous diary. “We’re reading the Russians,” she writes. Meaning, we’re reading dead 19th century Russians. Because who even knows if there is a 21st century Russian literature, or literatures? We don’t have a clue, and it is not our fault. They’re simply not published here. But we’ve always relied on literature to understand the Russians, largely because they’ve always relied on it to express themselves. Anyway, it’s simply abhorrent that we don’t have a flipping clue. So here you are: a sensibly sized anthology of the best post-Soviet Russian fiction out there. Or something.

I’m beside myself. It’s exactly what I have been searching for, all crisis mongering editors aside. I’m about a third of the way through it, and it is wonderful. Not as loquacious as their 19th century predecessors, but every bit as passionate, neurotic, sensitive, earnest, alienated, and sympathetically impractical. I’ve really enjoyed Linor Goralik, Oleg Zobern especially.

Wishes granted.

Now I just have to find a way to get them all home.

In this post:
~ Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia.
~ Life Stories: Original Fiction by Russian Authors.
~ Moscow Noir.
~ Glas: New Russian Writing.


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