At their annual banquet last night, the Texas Institute of Letters gave me the Soeurette Diehl Frasier Award for Best Translation for my translation of Anna Karenina. It's a great honor to be recognized by writers this smart, inquisitive, and accomplished.
Texas, with its large and increasing numbers of readers, writers, and translators from all over the world, is fertile ground for new attention to be brought to international literature. Judging from last night's comments, I can say with certainty that some serious conversations lie ahead.
My thanks once again, to the Institute for Literary Translation in Moscow, a nonprofit organization whose primary goal is the promotion of Russian literature around the world, Without their grant, this book would not have been possible.
Miranda July is a filmmaker, artist, and writer. Her most recent work is The First Bad Man, a novel. For his bookshop and website One Grand Books, editor Aaron Hicklin asked July to name the ten books she'd take with her if she were marooned on a desert island. On March 11, 2016, her list, "My Bookshelf, Myself," ran in the New York Times Style Magazine and included the brilliant choice of Nina Berberova's The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories, which was first published, in her lifetime, in hardback by Alfred A. Knopf and in paperback by Vintage. Subsequently, this volume and five others became part of the brilliant New Directions catalog and remains very much in print.
For the story of how the title story acquired its title, you can read my essay at Words Without Borders, "The Tattered Cloak: The Story of the Title," which illustrates just how convoluted the path to a title can be.
The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories corresponds roughly to Berberova's collection Облегчение участи [Sentence Commuted]--which Berberova considered her finest fiction.
The Culture Trip has posted Varia Fedko-Blake's annotated list of the twelve Russian must-reads--and they are all, indeed, must-reads, including Victor Pelevin's Omon Ra and Andrey Platonov's Foundation Pit. I was delighted to see that she included two books in my translation as well, Yuri Olesha's Envy and Mikhail Shishkin's Maidenhair. One quibble, though: by most definitions, more than one of these books are anything but "contemporary." Envy was written in 1927 and The Foundation Pit in 1930, though the latter wasn't published until 1987, due to Soviet censorship. Strictly contemporary or not, it's a bang-up list, an excellent starting place for your adventure in Russian literature.
As 2015 draws to a close, Mikhail Shishkin's Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories (Deep Vellum), has been getting some lovely attention.
Marian Schwartz and others have translated these works, which are "the perfect introduction to Russia's greatest ... contemporary author." The 1993 short story "Calligraphy Lesson" was Shishkin's first published work. Like the narrator in Maidenhair, legal scribe and calligraphy teacher Evgeny hears harrowing stories every day and transmutes them into art. The most recent piece in the book, "Nabokov's Inkblot" written in 2013, is an accessible tale of money, culture and compromise. Along with stories, in Shishkin's characteristically dense and allusive prose, there are autobiographical fragments, like "The Half-Belt Overcoat", which revisits his mother's death and the process of writing The Taking of Izmail, due out in English next year. The volume ends with the breathtakingly brilliant essay on language, "In a Boat Scratched on a Wall", where the author argues for the redemptive power of literature, "a link between two worlds."