In the last year, Cristina Vezzaro has asked over a hundred literary translators to answer the same set of questions for her blog, Authors & Translators--and the answers have been fascinating. We all have our own take on just what we're doing when we translate literature and our own motivations. My turn came recently to talk about my translation career. Check out my interview here.
Gods of the Steppe
by Andrei Gelasimov
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
It is the summer of 1945. Germany has been defeated, Hitler has disappeared, and tensions are mounting ever higher along the Russian-Chinese border…where the threat of Japanese invasion haunts.
For Petka, no life could be more thrilling and glorious than marching into battle alongside the Red Army. But he is only twelve, the bastard child of a fractured family, trapped in a village too tiny for his bursting spirit. So he must make his own adventure wherever he can find it. And if that means passing off a wolf cub as a puppy under the nose of his ferocious grandma, stealing bootleg alcohol for the bivouacked troops he worships, smuggling himself in a barrel across the border and into the line of fire, fighting for his life when his own aimless peers turn inexplicably vicious, or befriending an enigmatic Japanese POW who transcends Petka’s provincial world, then so be it.
By turns comical, harrowing, poignant, and exhilarating, Petka reveals the soul of a boy who knows only to take from life all that he can—not merely what his circumstances allow.
Several of the translations I've done of Sergei Tasks's fine stories are now available on line through Iowa Research Online, which is making available the work of alums from University of Iowa's International Writers Program. Sergei is not only a fine writer of fiction (as you'll see from the stories) but a playwright and an important translator of English-language fiction, poetry, and especially drama into Russian.
The Russophone reader will search in vain for a work by Nina Berberova entitled anything resembling "The Tattered Cloak." Yet not only did I publish a long story by her under that title, but the volume in which it appeared, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1991, used it as the title for the entire collection. I fear it is my fate—assuming a continuing interest in Nina Berberova, a much-praised but belatedly discovered Russian emigré writer—to be excoriated by generations of Russian scholars to come, who will assume I have taken an unconscionable liberty and foisted my own title on Berberova's work.
Allow me to set the record straight.
You can read my essay in full at Words Without Borders.