Making People Feel Uneasy: Joanna Chen in Conversation with Katherine Young

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/

Notable Books: Russian Titles in English Translation, 2009-2019

The impetus for creating this post came from a recent Twitter discussion. We at Punctured Lines decided to accept a dare and came up with a list of notable Russian titles available in English translation from the last decade. This has been an opportunity to take stock of the years 2009-2019, both to remember the books we’ve read and to look back at those that we might have missed.

In this task, we relied heavily on Lisa Hayden’s blog, Lizok’s Bookshelf, where Lisa keeps chronological track of the English translations – our deep gratitude for creating and maintaining this resource. Our methodology for choosing among all those works was based on several factors. Rather obviously, for our purposes we only considered works by women. We also wanted to highlight writers whose names may not be very familiar to English-speaking readers but whose work we feel deserves wider exposure and shows the range of contemporary Russian women’s literature.

For this reason, we chose not to include writers who are well-known in the Anglophone world, but of course we love them too. We note proudly the women whose work has been translated into English numerous times: Anna Akhmatova, Svetlana Alexievich, Eugenia Ginzburg, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Dina Rubina, Olga Slavnikova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Ludmila Ulitskaya, and Tatyana Tolstaya (whose problematic views on women and feminism may be less known).

One or both of us have read many of titles below, and we’re happy to report that the field is larger than our reading capacity. We included a few books we haven’t read because they sparked our curiosity and to encourage ourselves and our followers to return to these publications. An important factor for consideration was translators whose work we’re interested in. Here we would like to say a huge thank you to translators for their often unacknowledged efforts that allow English speakers to know Russian literature.

Our list has four categories: Contemporary Prose, Contemporary Poetry, Recent Translations of Earlier Prose Works, and a rather catch-all Drama, a Graphic Novel, and an Anthology. The titles in each category are given chronologically by year of the translation. This list reflects our personal opinions and is in no way meant to be comprehensive or conclusive. We welcome your comments and suggestions about these and other titles by Russian women who you think should be on this list. This is, hopefully, the beginning of that conversation.

Contemporary Prose

Elena Chizhova, The Time of Women, translated by Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas; Glagoslav, 2012. 

Linor Goralik, Found Life: Poems, Stories, Comics, a Play, and an Interview, edited by Ainsley Morse, Maria Vassileva, and Maya Vinokur; Columbia University Press, 2017.

Ksenia Buksha, The Freedom Factory, translated by Anne Fisher; Phoneme Media, 2018.

Alisa Ganieva, Bride and Groom, translated by Carol Apollonio; Deep Vellum, 2018.

Margarita Khemlin, Klotsvog, translated by Lisa C. Hayden; Columbia University Press, 2019.

Guzel Yakhina, Zuleikha, translated by Lisa C. Hayden; Oneworld Publications, 2019.

Contemporary Poetry

Anzhelina Polonskaya, Paul Klee’s Boat, translated by Andrew Wachtel; Zephyr Press, 2012. 

Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, and Maria Stepanova, Relocations: Three Contemporary Russian Women Poets, translated by Catherine Ciepiela, Anna Khasin, and Sibelan Forrester; Zephyr Press, 2013.

Maria Rybakova, Gnedich, translated by Elena Dimova; Glagoslav, 2015.

Inna Kabysh, Blue Birds and Red Horses, translated by Katherine E. Young; Toad Press, 2018.

Aigerim Tazhi, Paper-Thin Skin, translated by James Kates; Zephyr Press, 2019.

Olga Livshin, A Life Replaced: Poems with Translations from Anna Akhmatova and Vladimir Gandelsman, Poets & Traitors Press, 2019.

Recent Translations of Earlier Prose Works

Teffi, Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea, translated by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson, and Irina Steinberg; NYRB Classics and Pushkin Press, 2016.

Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, City Folk and Country Folk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov; Columbia University Press, 2017.

Olga Berggolts, Daytime Stars: A Poet’s Memoir of the Revolution, the Siege of Leningrad, and the Thaw, translated by Lisa A. Kirschenbaum; University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.

Doba-Mera Medvedeva, Daughter of the Shtetl: The Memoirs of Doba-Mera Medvedeva, translated by Alice Nakhimovsky; Academic Studies Press, 2019.

Karolina Pavlova, A Double Life, translated by Barbara Heldt; Columbia University Press, 2019.

Irina Odoevtseva, Isolde, translated by Bryan Karetnyk and Irina Steinberg; Pushkin Press, 2019.

Drama, a Graphic Novel, and an Anthology

Yaroslava Pulinovich, Olga Rimsha, Ksenia Stepanycheva, Ekaterina Vasilyeva, Russian Drama: Four Young Female Voices, translated by Lisa Hayden; Glas, 2014.

Victoria, Lomasko, Other Russias, translated by Thomas Campbell; Penguin and n+1, 2017.

Teffi, Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova, Lydia Ginzburg, Galina Scherbakova, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Svetlana Alexievich, Olga Slavnikova, Irina Muravyova, Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Margarita Khemlin, Slav Sisters: The Dedalus Book of Russian Women’s Literature, edited by Natasha Perova; Dedalus, 2018.

Russia Beyond’s list of 12 must-read contemporary women writers

In anticipation of a Punctured Lines list of notable women writers in translation from Russian, here’s a list by Alexandra Guzeva, published on Russia Beyond* last October. It’s a good list in that it includes many of the women writers who have risen to prominence in the contemporary Russian literary circles. All of these writers have been translated to English, so their work is easily found online or in your local library.

To be a little nit-picky about this list, I do want to argue with the idea that “Russian literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries was an almost exclusively male preserve.” There were plenty of women participating in Russian literature in 19th and early 20th centuries. If it appears to be “an almost exclusively male preserve,” it’s a problem with the way women’s contributions to literature are remembered. We’ve created Punctured Lines blog precisely because we need to work on this perception.

One more nit-picky comment. Calling women “weaker” sex just doesn’t work in 21st century (if it ever did!). Quotation marks don’t help.

https://www.rbth.com/arts/331180-contemporary-russian-women-writers

*) Russia Beyond is a multilingual publication owned by the Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian government state news agency

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

Yelena Furman on Ksenia Buksha’s “The Freedom Factory”

“A NOVEL ABOUT a Soviet military factory whose workers must eventually adjust to a post-Soviet way of life does not sound like a thrilling read. Yet there’s a very good reason why Ksenia Buksha’s The Freedom Factory (Zavod “Svoboda”) won Russia’s National Bestseller Prize in 2014 (Buksha is only the second of three women to do so since the prize’s founding in 2001) and was also a finalist for the Big Book Award. In the author’s hands, this unpromising raw material is skillfully transformed into a genuinely and unexpectedly compelling narrative.” 

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/shintity-fug-these-vulstes-on-ksenia-bukshas-the-freedom-factory

2019 Warwick Prize in Translation, Long List

We congratulate Lisa Hayden, whose translation of Guzel Yakhina’s novel Zuleikha has been included among thirteen books longlisted for the third annual award of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. We love this book and we are delighted with this news.

Read the full announcement here.

The list of longlisted titles, in alphabetical order, is as follows:

· Brother In Ice by Alicia Kopf, translated from Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem (And Other Stories, 2018)

· Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Granta, 2018)

· Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated from French by Tina Kover (Europa Editions, 2018)

· Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tocarczuk, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018)

· Katalin Street by Magda Szabó, translated from Hungarian by Len Rix (Maclehose Press, 2019)

· Negative of a Dual Photograph by Azita Ghahremann, translated from Farsi by Maura Dooley with Elhum Shakerifar (Bloodaxe, 2018)

· People in the Room by Norah Lange, translated from Spanish by Charlotte Whittle (And Other Stories, 2018)

· Picnic in the Storm by Yukiko Motoya, translated from Japanese by Asa Yoneda (Little, Brown Book Group (Corsair), 2018)

· Season of the Shadow by Léonora Miano, translated from French by Gila Walker (Seagull Books, 2018)

· Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, translated from Lithuanian by Delija Valiukenas (Peirene, 2018)

· The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated from French by Alison L. Strayer (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018)

· Thick of It by Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated from German by Karen Leeder (Seagull Books, 2018)

· Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina, translated from Russian by Lisa C. Hayden (Oneworld, 2019)

Olga Zilberbourg: To Understand Russia’s Complexities, Turn to Its Contemporary Literature

“A FRIEND’S TEN-YEAR-OLD SON son recently came up to me at a party to ask, ‘You’re from Russia, right?’ Sensing caution in my assent, the boy hesitated before asking the next question, clearly trying to phrase it in a way that wouldn’t cause offense but would express his curiosity. He finally came up with, ‘It’s a very violent place, isn’t it?'”

http://epiphanyzine.com/features/understand-russias-complexities?fbclid=IwAR35rzgR1U6dFXsYJM6ueL6nid8S9R6BR0Qr44elOeHnU2HwPtyzVpxJ0RY

Yelena Furman on Elena Chizhova’s “Little Zinnobers”

“The English-language translation of The Time of Women, by Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas, came out in 2012 from Glagoslav Publications, who have now released Chizhova’s earlier novel Little Zinnobers (Kroshki Tsakhes, 2000). Translated by Carol Ermakova, the volume includes a translator’s note and a very useful critical essay by Rosalind Marsh.”

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/torn-like-a-veil-before-me-on-elena-chizhovas-little-zinnobers/

Yelena Furman on Alisa Ganieva’s “Bride and Groom”

“ALISA GANIEVA’S APPEARANCE in the world of Russian literature took everyone by surprise, in the literal sense. A critic by training, she published her first work of fiction, the novella Salam, Dalgat! (Salam tebe, Dalgat!), when she was 25, under a male pseudonym; when the novella received the Debut Prize in 2009, Ganieva outed herself as a woman at the awards ceremony.”

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-voice-from-the-caucasus-on-alisa-ganievas-bride-and-groom/