Katherine Young, a poet and translator, gave this interview on BLARB, the blog of the esteemed Los Angeles Review of Books. In 2018, Academic Studies Press published Young’s translation of the trilogy, Farewell, Aylis, by Akram Aylisli, currently a political prisoner in his native Azerbaijan (Young has spearheaded efforts to free him, including a recent petition circulated on social media). Olga Zilberbourg reviewed this novel, which Punctured Lines noted in our post. As we also noted, an excerpt from his novella, A Fantastical Traffic Jam, translated by Young, can be found here.
Young’s latest project is the translation of Look at Him by Anna Starobinets (Slavica, forthcoming 2020), an open, unflinching account of her abortion that was controversial when it came out in Russia. As Young says, “Women don’t talk about these things, even with their partners, so to write a book in which you expose the most intimate details of your body and the choices you made medically is a violation of a lot of subtle taboos about women who are supposed to grin and bear their trials and tribulations.”
Young also talks about being a poet and how much Russian poetry has shaped her own: “I feel very much more informed by Russian poets than most American poets. I’ve read Walt Whitman, but I don’t identify with him the same way I might say Alexander Pushkin or Mikhail Lermontov or Anna Akhmatova.”
You can read the full interview here: https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/interviews/making-people-feel-uneasy-joanna-chen-conversation-katherine-young/
Here’s a fascinating study about the role that the Soviet Union played in the lives of Muslim women from Central Asia. This was filed by Özge Öz Döm, a scholar at Yildirim Beyazit University in Anakara, Turkey. Her thesis is that “even though the Soviet officials had a genuine intention for the emancipation of Central Asian women from the patriarchal structure both in the public and private spheres of life, the policies and their implementation were shaped in accordance with the basic motive of regime survival. In the first years of the Soviet regime, mostly ideological intentions shaped the women’s emancipation project. However, in time, the Soviet officials needed to make more reforms in the political, economic and socio-cultural areas not just for the ideological aims such as emancipation of the women, but also for the survival of the Soviet Union.”
Muslim Women in Central Asia
In fiction, I have seen this conflict reflected most directly in Guzel Yakhina’s novel, Zuleikha, recently translated to English by Lisa Hayden. This history also provides useful context for Akram Aylisli‘s work, in particular his trilogy from the 1960s, People and Trees (I read this book in Russian under the title Люди и деревья).
The researcher makes a point in this paper that seems relevant for Punctured Lines: “The studies about women in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras are mostly concerned with the European parts of the Soviet Union, and neglect the Muslim women under Soviet rule. Therefore, the first problem related to the literature regarding Central Asian women is that there are insufficient numbers of studies regarding this area; and the second problem is that the Western scholars studying this subject sometimes fail to understand the meaning of Islamic based customs and traditions to Central Asian women as well as men. So, this study also attempts to make a contribution to gender studies literature regarding Central Asian women “
Academic Studies Press has published an impressive sampler that includes excerpts from their upcoming books and back catalogue. I can’t help but wish the list included more female writers, but I’m intrigued by Luba Jurgenson’s work–she’s a fellow bilingual, combining Russian and French.
The books included are:
Farewell, Aylis: A Non-Traditional Novel in Three Works by Akram Aylisli, translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young
Night and Day by Abdulhamid Sulaymon o’g’li Cho’lpon, translated from the Uzbek by Christopher Fort
Beyond Tula: A Soviet Pastoral by Andrei Egunov-Nikolev, translated from the Russian by Ainsley Morse
Where There Is Danger by Luba Jurgenson, translated from the French by Meredith Sopher
21: Russian Short Prose from an Odd Century, edited by Mark Lipovetsky
The Raskin Family: A Novel by Dmitry Stonov, translated from the Russian by Konstantin Gurevich & Helen Anderson with a forward and afterword by Leonid Stonov
Russian Cuisine in Exile by Pyotr Vail and Alexander Genis, translated from the Russian by Angela Brintlinger and Thomas Feerick
From National Translators Month Page:
“We’re thrilled to share with you today an excerpt from the novella A Fantastical Traffic Jam by Azerbaijani political prisoner Akram Aylisli, translated from the Russian by the award-winning poet and translator Katherine E. Young. In her own words, “Many knowledgeable observers, including Aylisli himself, believe it was this novella that provoked the wrath of Azerbaijan’s current rulers and led to Aylisli’s persecution. He currently lives under de facto house arrest; his books have been burned, his wife and son were fired from their jobs, and at one time a bounty was offered to whomever would cut off his ear.” At NTM, we take pride in publishing brave works that speak truth to power, and this excerpt accomplishes exactly that.”
Excerpt on National Translators Month page.
“WHEN WE SAY ‘Russian literature’ we think about the classics, but contemporary Russian-language writing is as vibrant as it is geographically and politically diverse.”
Here’s a review Olga wrote for The Common of a remarkable book that comes to us from Azerbaijan, published thanks to the advocacy of its translator, Katherine E. Young,
Contemporary books emerging from post-Soviet countries often deal with the dehumanizing effect of the region’s systems of government on its victims, seeking to trace and partially redeem the psychological and physical harm many have suffered. For understandable reasons, few authors care to look at the perpetrators, at the people who committed murders and mass murders, informed on and denounced their neighbors. Yet, in the post-Soviet reality, often it’s these people and their descendants who have risen to the top, taken charge of the new nation states, and written their laws.
It is in this context that Akram Aylisli, in post-Soviet Azerbaijan, gathers together the three novellas and closing essay that comprise his “non-traditional novel,” Farewell, Aylis. Born in 1937, Aylisli achieved fame in the Soviet Union for his earlier trilogy People and Trees. Though pieces of this new, remarkable book have appeared in Russia, the collected Farewell, Aylis, published as a result of the efforts of his American translator, Katherine E. Young, does not yet exist in any other language.
Click here to read the rest of the review.