RusTrans Award Winners for Russian-to- English Translations of Contemporary Fiction, 2020

Exciting news from the exciting RusTrans project. As its website explains, “’The Dark Side of Translation: 20th and 21st Century Translation from Russian as a Political Phenomenon in the UK, Ireland, and the USA’ (RusTrans for short) is a project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 802437), and located at the University of Exeter. The project is led by Dr Muireann Maguire (Principal Investigator) and Dr Cathy McAteer (Post-doctoral Fellow).

What is the dark side of translation? Most of us think of translation as a universal good. Translation is valued, taught, and often funded as a deterrent to monolingual nationalism and cultural parochialism. Yet the praxis of translation – the actual processes of selecting and translating literary texts, and of publishing and publicizing translations – is highly politicized, often subverted by ideological prejudice or state interference. Translators necessarily have a personal agenda, as do editors, publishers, and other agents.  Every translation is an act of cultural appropriation, reinventing the thoughts of one language in the words of another.

[…] RusTrans investigates how individuals, and governments, exploit this ‘dark side’ of translation to reap cultural capital by translating lesser-known literature into global languages (and the reverse).

[…] The project’s main aim is to research why translators, publishers, and funding bodies support the translation of certain texts, and not others.” 

Ealier this year, RusTrans held a competition for funding English translations of contemporary literary fiction written in Russian and have just announced the twelve winning projects by fourteen translators (two are co-translations). The conditions for these awards, which will fund excerpts of larger works, are rather unique. RusTrans is asking the translators to keep them posted over the next two years about the process to secure publication for the works in their entirety: as they explain, “we plan to follow selected translators through the process of pitching and/or submitting a new translation to publishers in real time” to gain a fuller understanding of the “dark side” of translation, driven by politics, economics, and personal biases.

One of RusTrans’ stated criteria for picking the projects was diversity, and the final list has a number of women writers, a queer writer, writers from non-Russian parts of the former Soviet Union, as well as those who now live outside of the post-Soviet space. Punctured Lines joins RusTrans in congratulating the winners below (as listed on the RusTrans website) and looks forward to following this fantastic endeavor:

  1. William Barclay, with Bulat Khanov’s novel about an angry academic, Gnev.
  2. Michele Berdy, with various stories and a novella by Tasha Karlyuka.
  3. Huw Davies, with Dmitry Bykov’s historical novel June.
  4. Shelley Fairweather-Vega, with short fiction  “Aslan’s Bride” by Nadezhda Chernova and “Black Snow of December” by Asel Omar.
  5. Annie Fisher and Alex Karsavin, co-translating Ilya Danishevsky’s queer modernist experimental novel Mannelig in Chains.
  6. Polly Gannon, with Sana Valiulina’s Soviet-Estonian historical novel, I’m Not Afraid of Bluebeard.
  7. Lisa Hayden, with Alexei Salnikov’s debut novel The Department.
  8. Alex Shvartsman, with K.A. Teryna’s science fiction novella The Factory.
  9. Isaac Sligh and Viktoria Malik, co-translating Viktor Pelevin’s novel iPhuck 10.
  10. Sian Valvis, with Narine Abgaryan’s semi-autobiographical novel of an Armenian childhood, Manunia.
  11. Sarah Vitali, with Figgle-Miggle (Ekaterina Chebotaryova)’s novel You Love These Films So Much. 
  12. Lucy Webster, with Andrei Astvatsaturov’s satirical novel on Russian academia, People in Nude.

The new canon of Russophone women-authors, according to the editors of Polka

Two years ago, a prominent journalist and editor Yury Saprykin asked a number of Russian authors, editors, critics, educators, and so on, to nominate the works that they considered key in the Russian literary canon. On April 2, 2018, Saprykin’s launched the website, polka.academy with the resulting list of 108 books. It’s a gorgeous website, unfortunately available only in Russian. Another unfortunate part is that this list included only three books by women-authors: Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, and Petrushevksaya.

Two years later, the editors addressed this problem. A team of writers created a new list that they call “Women’s Canon” of over 70 authors who deserve to be remembered. (This list, too, is unfortunately only available in Russian.) The authors include a thoughtful note that this list isn’t complete and promise to return to this work in the future. We’re delighted to welcome this list and look forward to seeing this work continued.

On a personal note from the creators of Punctured Lines, we’re particularly pleased to see a listing of Aleksandra Brushtein’s delightful young adult novel with a title that’s difficult to translate and that means something like “The road that will lead you to an unknown future.” This book was deeply influential to both of us, and on Twitter we’ve been actively advocating for its re-translation to English. Of the unfortunate omissions, we can point to Julia Voznesenskaya’s novel Women’s Decameron from 1985.

Rus­sophone Science Fic­tion and Uto­pias in the Mar­gins, an essay by Sanna Tuorma in Aleksanteri Insight

This article published in December just before the holidays, seems worth highlighting. The topic is dear to me: I’ve been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy literature, and I am particularly fond of contemporary feminist science fiction. But first, I want to highlight the books that Tuorma mentions in her essay.

Tuorma begins with a review of a scholarly volume, The Post-Soviet Politics of Utopia (I.B. Tauris, Sept. 19, 2019), edited by Mikhail Suslov and Per-Arne Bodin. As always with scholarly publications, this book is insanely expensive. Amazon, however, does have a decent preview of it that includes the introduction and gives us a good sense of the various threads of inquiry in this book.

Summarizing the volume’s findings, Tuorma writes, “Current Russian scientific and fantasy literature, both utopian and dystopic, seems to lack the radical and transformative power seminal to science fiction.” She suggests, following the advice of a Finnish-language publication Voima “to abandon dystopias, the predominant mode of global cultural production, and to envision ecological and economic utopias instead.”

She offers one recent anthology of Russian-language feminist and LGBT science fiction that comes from outside of the imperial center. This book, Совсем другие, is available in full from Academia.edu–in the Russian language. An English translation of its opening story, “Element 174,” penned by Kyrgyz activist and academic Syinat Sultanalieva, recently appeared in The Calvert Journal, translated by Lesya Myata and Samuel Goff.

I was born this way: a shameless lesbian. Ever since it became clear that I would have to be physically present on the planet of Omay, it had been my personal goal to sleep with as many of their famously gorgeous women as possible. There were rumours that they were all lesbians. I think my brothers would have understood, had they known about my plans — after all, it wasn’t exactly easy to get hold of women on Earth. There weren’t many left, and those that remained had mostly already been distributed amongst the domains. Those who grew up in ours were either too young or already related to me. I might be a lesbian, but I’m not so craven as to seduce them. I had to get by as best I could, making rare visits to the worse-for-wear residents of the Wild Zone or engaging in self-care. Luckily my father had some antique pictures and videos of sordid delights from before the Exodus, so I could indulge my fantasies at will.

https://www.calvertjournal.com/features/show/9831/being-lgbtq-element-174-syinat-sultanalieva-shtab

I’m incredibly grateful to Tuorma for pointing out what looks to be a very exciting read.

Looking over the articles that comprise the scholarly volume, I do find it unfortunate that the names of whom I think first in the list of post-Soviet science fiction and fantasy authors had not been taken up for consideration. My personal anthology of writers in this genre begins with the names of Max Frei, Lena Eltang, Linor Goralik, Elena Pervushina–that’s off the top of my head…

7 Russian Booker Prize winners and their must-read novels

There has been a lot of talk, including on this blog, about literary prizes, translation, and gender imbalance. The Russian Booker Prize is one of the country’s most prestigious awards. The writers in the title have had their winning novels translated into English, and there is also a list of other winners whose novels haven’t been translated but with links to their translated shorter works. Of the seven writers in the title, three are women: Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Kukotsky Enigma (2001, trans. Diane Nemec Ignashev); Olga Slavnikova, 2017 (2006, trans. Marian Schwartz); and Elena Chizhova,The Time of Women (2009, trans. Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas; my review here). But no prizes for guessing whether this relative gender balance holds true for the Russian Booker overall.

https://www.rbth.com/arts/331193-russian-booker-prize-winners

The NOS(E) Award’s 2019 Longlist

Thank you, as always, to Lisa Hayden of Lizok’s Bookshelf for keeping us all up to date on prize-related announcements. We are happy to share the list here, particularly as it contains her very helpful, and entertaining, descriptions of the nominated works. Less happy is the subject we’ve talked about previously on this blog (and which, in the wake of the Nobel, some of us have debated in a – let’s go with “spirited” – manner on Twitter): of the sixteen titles, only three are by women. While no one in their right mind would suggest that gender should be the sole criterion for anything, really, there is a real issue with Russian literary prizes being overwhelmingly skewed toward male writers (googling the major award winners will confirm this in short order). This is not meant as a slight to any of the men on the list, but it is a question that needs to be asked, over and over, until we arrive at a workable solution: how do we honor good writing whoever the writer may be while at the same time ensure more balanced representation in terms of nominations and winners? Suggestions welcome; perhaps someone can forward them to the Russian prize committees.

http://lizoksbooks.blogspot.com/2019/10/the-nose-awards-2019-longlist.html

A Soviet YA Classic: Aleksandra Brushtein’s Дорога уходит в даль (The Road Goes off into the Distance)

It is hard to overstate just how much Aleksandra Brushtein’s autobiographical novel about Aleksandra (Sasha) Yanovskaya, a young Jewish girl growing up in Vilna at the turn of the century, was beloved by generations of Soviet children. At a time when I have completely forgotten plots of books I read much later, I can still recall various episodes from this one. A copy of the book, which my family took with us when we left the Soviet Union, is one of my prized possessions. My mom loved this book so much she wanted to name me Sasha (an attempt ended by my great-grandmother Aleksandra’s announcement post my birth that Ashkenazi Jews cannot name children after living relatives). A remarkable thing about this novel is that it has a Jewish protagonist and depicts Jewish life but still became so popular in a country as anti-Semitic as the Soviet Union. Its popularity has endured in contemporary Russia, where “since 2005, a new printing of the book by different publishers has appeared almost every two years,” including an annotated edition.

Yet as Liza Rozovsky’s article notes, Brushtein “is barely known outside the Russian-speaking world.” To date, there is no English translation. If there is a translator out there who could take on this project, many in the diaspora would be eternally grateful on behalf of their children and their English-speaking friends’ children. In any case, it’s great to see this book being written about at length and we — and our inner younger selves — are thrilled to highlight it on Punctured Lines.

“The book that is imprinted in my memory as a moral and political compass, and the book I would like my children to know, is a Soviet-era work for children and juveniles titled “The Road Slips Away into the Distance.” It’s an autobiographical trilogy by the Jewish children’s playwright and memoirist Aleksandra Brushtein, who is barely known outside the Russian-speaking world. The first volume of the work was translated into Hebrew in the 1980s, but Brushtein (1884-1968) remains unknown in Israel, too. In the Soviet Union, where it ran through many editions of tens of thousands of copies each, the trilogy achieved cult status.”

The Novel That Introduced Soviet Jews to Their Forgotten History

Lizok’s Bookshelf: Yasnaya Polyana Finalists, 2019

Previously, we posted Lisa Hayden’s blog post about the longlist for this prize, noting the gender disparity in terms of who is nominated for and, especially, awarded Russia’s literary prizes. The shortlist just came out and out of the six nominees, one is a woman. Of course, no one is suggesting nominations and/or awards should be based on gender alone nor is this meant to disparage the quality of the other nominated titles in any way. But it is important to note the imbalance, and even more so, to keep asking what can be done about it.

http://lizoksbooks.blogspot.com/2019/09/yasnaya-polyana-finalists-2019.html

My Lucky Day: The 2019 Yasnaya Polyana Longlist

Lisa Hayden of Lizok’s Bookshelf does a round-up of the longlist nominees for Russia’s Yasnaya Polyana award. There are several women on the longlist, including Alisa Ganieva and Guzel Yakhina. Russia’s literary prizes tend to disproportionately go to male writers. We’ll have to keep an eye on the shortlist, and the final result, of course, to see if this holds true here.

http://lizoksbooks.blogspot.com/2019/09/my-lucky-day-2019-yasnaya-polyana.html

Klavdia Smola’s: Reinventing the Tradition. Contemporary Russian-Jewish Literature.

This book comes to us from Germany, with the promise of the Russian-language edition in the next year (thanks to the always wonderful NLO Press). Klavdia Smola (PhD from Technischen Universität Dresden) examines Soviet-era Jewish underground literature from the 1960s and 1970s to the beginning of the 21st Century, and studies the way this literature relates to the tradition of Jewish literature and to the official literature of the Soviet Union.

The book is available from Vandenhoek & Ruprecht Verlage.

Der Kampf sowjetischer Juden um das Recht der Emigration nach Israel führte seit der zweiten Hälfte der 1960er Jahre zu einer jüdischen Kulturrenaissance im Raum des Inoffiziellen. Literatur, die aus der Feder nonkonformer jüdischer Intellektueller in Russland, Israel, Amerika und Deutschland entstand, schöpfte nun erneut aus den jüdischen und judaistischen Kulturquellen und nahm so den jüdischen “cultural revival” der postsowjetischen Periode bis in die Gegenwart vorweg. Diese Rückkehr förderte jedoch nicht nur Poetiken der Erinnerung und Rekonstruktion, sondern auch der imaginativen Subversion und des performativen Bruchs. Diese Studie erschließt das Phänomen der wiedererfundenen Tradition in der russisch-jüdischen Literatur seit den 1960er Jahren im Dialog mit aktuellen Kultur- und Literaturtheorien.

Or, in Russian,

В монографии прослеживается, как в русско-еврейской литературе после долгого периода ассимиляции, Холокоста и десятилетий официального (полу-)запрета на еврейство заново «изобреталась» еврейская традиция. Процесс «переизобретения традиции» (Хобсбаум) начался в контркультуре еврейских диссидентов-отказников, в среде позднесоветского андерграунда 1960-1970-ых годов, и продолжается, как показывает проза 2000-2010-ых, до настоящего момента. Он обусловлен тем фактом, что еврейская литература создается для читателя «постгуманной» эпохи, когда знание о еврействе и иудаизме передается и принимается уже не от живых носителей традиции ‒ из семейного и коллективного окружения, но из книг, картин, фильмов, музеев и популярной культуры. Такое «постисторическое» знание, однако, результат не только социальных катастроф, официального забвения и диктатуры, но и секуляризации, культурного ресайклинга традиций, свойственного эпохе (пост-)модерна. Оно соединяет реконструкцию с мифотворчеством, культурный перевод с практиками создания вторичного – культурно опосредованного – коллективного «воспоминания», ученый комментарий с фольклоризацией. Когда «естественная» преемственность уже невозможна, а традиционная герменевтика (прошлого) натыкается на лакуны, следы и фрагменты, литература сама становится тропом памяти, восполняющим потерю своими собственными символическими средствами.
Бóльшая часть монографии посвящена советскому еврейскому андерграунду и вышедшей из него прозе эксодуса (еврейского исхода). Автор показывает, как в процессе возвращения ассимилированных позднесоветских евреев к своим корням в литературе возникала альтернатива соцреалистическому канону (подобно множеству других альтернатив периода позднего коммунизма, например, деревенской прозе или ре-этнизации литератур советских республик) и в то же время во многом его зеркальное отражение. Телеологию прозы алии/исхода «пересекает» скептический, антисионистский литературный нарратив тех же лет ‒ и она же отдается поздним эхом в новом консерватизме и почвенничестве еврейской литературы 2010-х годов.
В этой же главе изучается возрождение идишского сказа и восточноеврейского фольклора в 1970-1980-ые годы.
Вторая большая глава монографии посвящена постсоветской и новейшей русско-еврейской литературе: с одной стороны, постмемориальной поэтике культурной памяти и «придуманных воспоминаний», с другой, поэтике дискурсивной деконструкции языка и идеологии советской империи.
В целом автор показывает, как современная русско-еврейская литература, не будучи продуктом живой преемственности, обращается к традициям еврейской письменности, начиная с библейского и средневекового иудаизма и кончая раннесоветскими (анти-)сионистскими романами, и «переписывает» например сатиру маскилов, хассидский мидраш или идишские травелоги. Исследуются как совсем или почти неизвестные, так и уже отмеченные критикой тексты еврейских авторов, перформативно «изобретающих» еврейскую традицию. Таким образом переосмысливается сама история русской литературы, ставится под вопрос ее монокультурный (славянский) контекст.
Помещая русско-еврейскую литературу в общие макрокультурные рамки эпохи, автор обращается к теории гуманитарной мысли последних десятилетий: культурной семиотике Юрия Лотмана и Бориса Успенского, работам о мифе Мирсеи Элиаде, геопоэтике Кеннета Уайта, теориям культурной памяти Алеиды и Яна Ассманов и постпамяти Марианне Хирш, постколониальным и постимпериальным исследованиям, а также наследию постструктурализма.

LGBT Literature from Georgia

In this Russian-language article, Konstantin Kropotkin reviews his experiences from Frankfurt Book Fair 2018, where Georgia was a guest of honor, choosing to take up LGBT books as one of the main subjects of its program. Kropotkin bases his piece on an in-depth conversation with Georgian author, playwright and translator Davit Gabunia. His work has been translated to German, but not yet to English.