A short, sweet review from Frogma of a book I recently translated--Daria Wilke's Playing a Part--that seems to have slipped under the radar but is so much more than your standard YA novel that I recommend it to all readers: ". . . What really gave this story an intereresting and unusual feel is that Grisha's parents are actors at a puppet theatre and that's where he's grown up and feels the safest. The descriptions of the theater, the puppets, performers and performing, puppet makers and puppet making are just luscious. . . . a quick read, but a satisfying one." I wholeheartedly agree.
Articles Tagged ‘Schwartz,’
"How Russians Lost the War," Mikhail Shishkin's op-ed piece on the occasion of Victory Day (New York Times, March 10, 2015) explains the grievous truth that the unimaginable sacrifices made by the Russian people during World War II did not, in the end, bring them victory. They saved themselves from hitler only to remain in Stalin's thrall: "The great victory only reinforced their great slavery."
Stalin and the Soviet Union are gone, but the war's legacy is very much present: "Once again, the dictatorship is calling on its subjects to defend the homeland, mercilessly exploiting the propaganda of victory in the Great Patriotic War. Russia's rulers have stolen my people's oil, stolen their elections, stolen their country. And stolen their victory."
Read the complete essay here.
This Friday, November 4, 2016, I'll be delivering the Marilyn Gaddis Rose Lecture for the Literary Division of the American Translators Association on "The Business of Retranslating the Classics," at its annual conference, being held in San Francisco.
I'll be talking about the specific economics of publishing re-translations of classics that makepublishers eager to produce new translations of classic and near-classic texts and address how, equipped with an understanding of how publishers think, literary translators can navigate the classics to their artistic and economic advantage.
If you are one of the thousands attending this vast conference, I hope to see you at my lecture, as well as at my joint presentation with Rosamund Bartlett on our differing approaches to rendering Tolstoy's prose successfully in English, focusing on the linguistic and stylistic decisions we each took in translating selected characteristic passages.
"The Russian expats who inhabit these stories aren't given a lot of time to nurse their wounds between the revolution back home and the impending world war in their adopted city of Paris. And Berberova's graceful but merciless portraits—of fading countesses, dreary bohemians, former elites now busing tables and cleaning floors, all clinging if only barely to their memories (or fantasies) of a fancier life—had me aching right along with them. One heroine, Sasha, wakes up from a dream with "a strange aftertaste, a mysterious knot that weighs on me to this very day"—words I could easily steal here to describe the spell Berberova casts with each story in this collection."
First published by Knopf, it's currently in available in paperback from New Directions.
The University of Notre Dame Press has just published my translation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's March 1917: The Red Wheel, Node III, Book 1. This is the third of eight volumes that make up Solzhenitsyn's sweeping masterpiece of historical fiction covering World War I, the two revolutions of 1917, and their aftermath in 1918.
The translation is the first volume to appear in a major, ongoing project to translate and publish all of Solzhenitsyn's untranslated works. I will be translating the next three volumes as well, with the next scheduled for publication in a year's time.
It is a great privilege to be contributing to the opus of an author whose works such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and First Circle were such an inspiration to me decades ago, at the very beginning of my love affair with Russian literature.
On Friday, May 29th, at a ceremony the Grolier Club in New York City for the 2015 Read Russia Prize--which was awarded to Oliver Ready for his translation of Vladimir Sharov's novel Before & During, a Special Jury Mention was also awarded to me and Rosamund Bartlett for our respective translations of Anna Karenina, both of which came out in 2014.
The jury wrote:
Why re-translate the classics? It's often said that translations have a life span of 50 years, or that every generation needs its own translation of the classics. Tolstoy's language has not aged for his Russian readers, but the language of his first English translators may now seem dated to the reader in the 21st century. More importantly, our understanding of Tolstoy has changed over the century since his death, as has our idea of what makes for a good translation. Both Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz have embraced the peculiarities, repetitions, and perceived awkwardness of Tolstoy's style that often transgress all conventions of good English prose. Bartlett writes that her "translation seeks to preserve all the idiosyncrasies of Tolstoy's inimitable style, as far as that is possible," while Schwartz notes that she "found [Tolstoy's] so-called roughness . . . both purposeful and exciting, and was eager to recreate Tolstoy's style in English." True, the two translators go about this in their own ways, and as one might suspect they have their own strengths and biases, but this foregrounding of style is everywhere felt in these new translations.
Ultimately, translation represents an act of interpretation. There is no doubt that these volumes, published so beautifully by excellent university presses, present to the English-language reader two magnificent interpreters of Tolstoy's beloved novel.
I've just learned that my translation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina has been short-listed for the 2015 Read Russia Prize!
I'm in stellar company: Oliver Ready, Jamie Rann, Rosamund Bartlett, Katherine Dovlatov, and Peter Daniels, and so is Tolstoy, the other authors represented being Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vladislav Khodasevich, Vladimir Sharov, Sergei Dovlatov, and Anna Starobinets.
The prize will be awarded on Friday, May 29, at the Grolier Club in New York City.
Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories
by Mikhail Shishkin
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz, Leo Shtutin, Sylvia Maizell, and Mariya Bashkatova
Deep Vellum Publishing, 2015
Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories is the first English-language collection of short stories by Mikhail Shishkin, the most acclaimed contemporary author in Russia, including four stories that have been published in various English-language sources (Words Without Borders, Read Russia Anthology, Spolia, the Independent) and four previously untranslated stories (including two previously unpublished in any language). Shishkin was the first (and still the only) writer to win the three major Russian literary awards (the Russian Booker, National Bestseller, and Big Book awards). He is a master prose writer in the timeless, breathtakingly beautiful style of the greatest Russian writers, such as Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Bunin, and Boris Pasternak.
PRAISE FOR THE TRANSLATION
". . . the artfulness of this translation helps it to surmount Shishkin's own claim that languages cannot communicate with each other." -- Caroline North, Dallas Observer
To purchase, click here.
Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories, by Mikhail Shishkin, has just been published by that exciting new indie publisher Deep Vellum, out of Dallas--yes, Dallas.
Four of the eight pieces were translated by me, including the title story, "Calligraphy Lesson," along with "Language Saved," "The Blind Musician," and "In a Boat Scratched on a Wall." The remaining four were translated by my fine colleagues Leo Shtutin, Sylvia Maizell, and Mariya Bashkatova.
Shishkin was the first (and still the only) writer to win the three major Russian literary awards (the Russian Booker, National Bestseller, and Big Book Awards). He is a master prose writer in the timeless, breathtakingly beautiful style of the greatest Russian writers, such as Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Bunin, and Boris Pasternak. Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories will be Shishkin's third work available in English, previously published were his novels Maidenhair (Open Letter) and The Light and the Dark (Quercus).
To order your copy, click here.
In the story, 20-year-old Chechen War veteran Kostya, maimed beyond recognition by a tank explosion, spends weeks on end locked inside his apartment, his sole companions the vodka bottles spilling from the refrigerator. But soon Kostya's comfortable if dysfunctional cocoon is torn open when he receives a visit from his army buddies who are mobilized to locate a missing comrade.
The terrific screenplay is also the work of the book's author, the extremely talented Andrei Gelasimov.
I'm very happy to announce that in March Arthur A. Levine Books will be publishing my translation of Daria Wilke's wonderful young adult novel Playing a Part--about a boy growing up in a Moscow puppet theater, where his parents perform--and the good reviews have started to come in. The book made headlines when it was originally published amid the enactment of laws forbidding the distribution of gay "propaganda" to minors (see the Publishers Weekly review).
Kirkus Reviews says that "readers will be engrossed by the plot hatched by Grisha and Sashok to get Lyolik back and moved by the story's themes and the rich, image-laden language: 'The theater starts murmuring, speaking, tramping, and rustling.' A lovely, moving novel with a bittersweet conclusion."
VOYA praises it as well: "The beautifully drawn characters entice readers into the story, which, although small in scope, illuminates crucially important issues about sexual identity, acceptance, and the pressure to conform. The book is unique in that it highlights the problems encountered by teens who are gender neutral or still exploring their sexual identity. The writing is lyrical and the imagery vivid."
Watch this space for more reviews, as they appear.
In the April issue of Commentary, Professor Gary Saul Morson, who wrote an introduction and notes to my translation of Anna Karenina, looks closely at Tolstoy's great insight into "what is truly important in human lives":
We tend to think that true life is lived at times of high drama. When Anna Karenina reads a novel on the train, she wants to live the exciting incidents described. Both high literature and popular culture foster the delusion that ordinary, prosaic happiness represents something insufferably bourgeois, a suspension of real living. Forms as different as romantic drama, adventure stories, and tragedies suggest that life is truly lived only in moments of great intensity.
Tolstoy thought just the opposite.
Read the rest of the article here.
March 1917: The Red Wheel, Node III, Book 1
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz
The Center for Ethics and Culture Solzhenitsyn Series
University of Notre Dame Press, 2017
The Red Wheel is Solzhenitsyn’s magnum opus about the Russian Revolution. Solzhenitsyn tells this story in the form of a meticulously researched historical novel, supplemented by newspaper headlines of the day, fragments of street action, cinematic screenplay, and historical overview. The first two nodes— August 1914 and November 1916—focus on Russia’s crises and recovery, on revolutionary terrorism and its suppression, on the missed opportunity of Pyotr Stolypin’s reforms, and how the surge of patriotism in August 1914 soured as Russia bled in World War I.
March 1917—the third node—tells the story of the Russian Revolution itself, during which not only does the Imperial government melt in the face of the mob, but the leaders of the opposition prove utterly incapable of controlling the course of events. The action of book 1 (of four) of March 1917 is set during March 8–12. The absorbing narrative tells the stories of more than fifty characters during the days when the Russian Empire begins to crumble. Bread riots in the capital, Petrograd, go unchecked at first, and the police are beaten and killed by mobs. Efforts to put down the violence using the army trigger a mutiny in the numerous reserve regiments housed in the city, who kill their officers and rampage. The anti-Tsarist bourgeois opposition, horrified by the violence, scrambles to declare that it is provisionally taking power, while socialists immediately create a Soviet alternative to undermine it. Meanwhile, Emperor Nikolai II is away at military headquarters and his wife Aleksandra is isolated outside Petrograd, caring for their sick children. Suddenly, the viability of the Russian state itself is called into question.
PRAISE FOR THE TRANSLATION
Like the earlier volumes translated by the late Harry Willetts, Marian Schwartz's rendition is superb. -- Gary Saul Morson, "Solzhenitsyn's Cathedrals," New Criterion, October 2017
. . . the book is as immersive as binge-worthy television, no little thanks to this excellent translation that renders its prose as masterful in English as it was in Russian. -- Foreword Reviews
The translation is very well done and ought to give the reader a better understanding of the highly complex events that shook Russia exactly a century ago.” — Richard Pipes, emeritus, Harvard University
“As the great Solzhenitsyn scholar Georges Nivat has written, Solzhenitsyn is the author of two great ‘literary cathedrals,’ The Gulag Archipelago and The Red Wheel. The first is the definitive exposé of ideological despotism and all of its murderous works. The Red Wheel is the definitive account of how the forces of revolutionary nihilism came to triumph in the first place. It is a sprawling and fascinating mix of philosophical and moral discernment, literary inventiveness, and historical insight that sometimes strains the novelistic form, but is also one of the great works of moral and political instruction of the twentieth century.” — Daniel J. Mahoney, co-editor of The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings
“The Red Wheel, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s epic of World War I and the Russian revolution, belongs to the Russian tradition of vast, densely plotted novels of love and war set during a time of social upheaval. An extended act of author-to-nation communication, this multivolume saga poses the question, ‘Where did we go wrong?’ and answers it in human and political terms, but with a mystical twist that is unlike anything else in Solzhenitsyn. This translation beautifully conveys the distinctive flavor of Solzhenitsyn’s prose, with its preternatural concreteness of description, moments of surreal estrangement, and meticulous detailing of the nuances of human relationships in the shadow of encroaching chaos. The novel’s reliable, unreliable, and even mendacious character voices, its streams-of-consciousness, and its experimental flourishes possess the same vividness and freshness as they do in Russian. Think Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago, with Dostoevsky’s Demons thrown in for good measure.” — Richard Tempest, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“There is no doubt that The Red Wheel is one of the masterpieces of world literature, made all the more precious by its relevance to the tragic era through which contemporary history has passed. Moreover, the impulse of revolutionary and apocalyptic violence associated with the age of ideology has still not ebbed. We remain confronted by the fragility of historical existence, in which it is possible for whole societies to choose death rather than life.” — David Walsh, Catholic University of America
“In his ambitious multivolume work The Red Wheel (Krasnoye Koleso), Solzhenitsyn strove to give a partly historical and partly literary picture of the revolutionary year 1917. Several of these volumes have been translated into English, but the present volume appears in English for the first time. The translation is very well done and ought to give the reader a better understanding of the highly complex events that shook Russia exactly a century ago.” — Richard Pipes, emeritus, Harvard University
“Scholars may debate whether Russian culture is an integral part of Christian civilization or whether it should be allocated its own separate place. The five thousand pages of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Red Wheel comprise one of those pyramids of the spirit (the other being The Gulag Archipelago ) that makes living Russian civilization stand out from other large-scale cultural constructs that shape the literary landscape. In his insistence on conveying to his ‘brothers in reason’ his vision of the inexorable Russian catastrophe of the twentieth century, the author frequently abandons the narrative form to address the reader directly, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck mid-text. His grandiose picture of this catastrophe and the cultural continent that perished in it is not confined to the pages of the book; making sense of it requires additional time—including historical time. Unfortunately, this time is incomparable to the length of one man’s life.” — Alexander Voronel, Tel-Aviv University
To purchase directly from the publisher, click here.
Andrei Gelasimov's striking novel Thirstwas published in 2011, but now we have a new, if brief, review to add to the accolades for this gem:
Masterfully translated from its original Russian by award-winning translator Marian Schwartz, Thirst tells the story of 20-year-old Chechen war veteran, Kostya. Maimed beyond recognition by a tank explosion, Kostya spends weeks on end locked inside his apartment, his sole companion the vodka bottles spilling from the refrigerator.
If you missed this one when it first came out, now would be a great time to get started on Gelasimov.
Russian scholar and translator Olga Bukhina has written a smart and thoughtful review my translation of Daria Wilke's Playing a Part in Worlds of Words. In particular, I'm very grateful for how she contextualizes the gay theme that was so newsworthy when the book first came out in Russian:
"This is a first book for young readers in Russia which openly involves gay characters, and may be the last because of the new Russian law that prohibits mentioning a gay theme in books for readers under 18. The designated age is to be displayed on the cover of all books. . . . In this coming of age novel, the focus on being gay stands for the many choices adolescents need to make. First of all, is freedom of choice, any choice, not only of sexual orientation. It is also about the need to stand against the peer pressure and to search for one's individual way."
On the occasion of the publication of my new translation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, an interview with me for Yale Books Unbound on translating Tolstoy, in which I touch on "the joys and challenges of Tolstoy as well as his lesser-known witty side":
Yale University Press: Anna Karenina is a seminal work in literature. How do you approach translating something like that?
Marian Schwartz: A question straight out of a Marx Brothers movie! The answer, of course, is "very carefully." Every critic, scholar, and reader has an opinion, a pet peeve, a particular passage dear to her heart. Pity the poor translator who crosses one of them.
Along with the Maudes, Garnett—whose translations I do like and who must have been doing something right because she launched the English reader's love affair with Russian literature—was introducing Tolstoy to the English reader for the first time and so did what an author's first translator is often compelled to do: help the reader by writing an English text less challenging than the original Russian. Translators who followed Garnett, including me, benefited from her groundwork. Indeed, my impulse to translate this novel arose wholly from a passion bordering on obsession to take the next step after Garnett—a step translators between us did not take—and confront Tolstoy's aesthetic choices head-on. I wanted to convey the nuances not expressed directly, in so many words, but rather embedded in his aesthetic and stylistic choices.
You can read the rest here.
One of the best books I've read in the past decade, Maidenhair is the sort of densely beautiful book where, after reading 50 pages, you may not know what's going on—there are three distinct storylines, all of which bounce off one another, without completely connecting until the very end—but you'll know that what you're reading is an absolute masterpiece of world literature.
Time to fix that!
Full disclosure: Maidenhair was published by Chad Post's fine publishing house, Open Letter Books.
Last month I had the great pleasure of doing a reading of "Calligraphy Lesson," a story by Mikhail Shishkin, which first appeared on Words Without Borders and was published this year in Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories, published by Deep Vellum.
The reading was especially enjoyable because I shared the bill with Marcela Sulak, who was launching her new book of poetry translation, Twenty Girls To Envy Me, so the audience certainly got to hear a range of material!
Now Austin's excellent Malvern Books, which hosted the event, has posted a video of the reading, which you can enjoy by clicking here.
This year, PEN America asked me and several other PEN members to celebrate the freedom to read by reflecting on the banned books that matters most to us. This is PEN's way of taking part in the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, which brings together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
My choice was Daria Wilke's Playing a Part, a young adult novel (which I translated and which came out this year from Arthur A. Levine Books) that addresses Russian censorship around LGBT themes:
In Daria Wilke's young adult novel Playing a Part, young Grisha is happy at home with his actor parents in a Moscow puppet theater, but he is young and trying to sort out the whole identity—especially gender identity—thing. He's harassed not only by school bullies but even by his grandfather, who doesn't think he's macho enough. Meanwhile another actor, Sam, who is Grisha's mentor and friend, is leaving Russia for the Netherlands because he's gay and can't endure the daily harassment being gay brings upon him.
I describe the book in this way because of its publication in Russia, where homosexuality was criminalized throughout the Soviet period and, in the last few years, criminalized anew. The fact of Russian censorship of "gay propaganda" has shaped my presentation and made this thoughtful and engaging novel also political.
For the rest of the article, click here.
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.
October 2016 will see the launch of an exciting new literary magazine, The Arkansas International, with renowned poet and translator Geoffrey Brock as its editor-in-chief.
I'm pleased to be able to announce that they have accepted my translation of Victor Shenderovich's short story "Wind Over the Parade Ground" for publication in the inaugural issue!
Watch this space for more on this brand-new endeavor.