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Latest Review: "The Chukchi Bible" by Yuri Rytkheu

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Kaija Straumanis on Yuri Rytkheu’s The Chukchi Bible, translated from the Russian by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse and soon to be available from Archipelago Books.

Rytkheu is one of the only (if not the only) Chukchi writers to be translated into English. His A Dream in Polar Fog came out a few years back to a decent amount of critical attention, and I suspect that The Chukchi Bible will also do pretty well. You can read an excerpt from this new book at Archipelago’s website.

Kaija Straumanis is one of the MA Translation students here at the University of Rochester and is currently working on a translation of a Latvian novel. She also has a large interest on translating humor and is well known among the translation students for the very entertaining, polyphonic way she reads aloud . . .

Here’s the (very Three Percent) opening of her review:

A bird flies around, takes a few shits, the shit turns into land and, voilà, the world is created.

That may sound like a summary of a terrible animated short or a 1970s acid trip, but it’s simply my poorly hyper-abridged version of one of many truly beautiful Chukchi folk tales that mark the beginning of time and man in Yuri Rytkheu’s The Chukchi Bible. Here’s the real version:

“A raven was flying over an expanse. From time to time he slowed his flight and scattered his droppings. Wherever solid matter fell, a land mass appeared; wherever liquid fell became rivers and lakes, puddles and rivulets. Sometimes First Bird’s excrements mingled together, and this created the tundra marshes. The hardest of the Raven’s droppings served as the building blocks for scree slopes, mountains, and craggy cliffs.” [. . .]

Author Yuri Rytkheu (1930-2008) is considered the “father of Chukchi literature“—though the title should probably be more along the lines of “only Chukchi literary figure“—and during his lifetime, published several novels and collections of short stories and poetry. Only a few of his works have been translated into English, the most recent preceding The Chukchi Bible being A Dream in Polar Fog (Archipelago Books, 2006). Rytkheu was born and grew up in the coastal village of Uelen, which is located in the Chukotka region of Russia and is the country’s eastern most settlement. While his previous works have been fictional, The Chukchi Bible is a hybrid of legend and hard fact. In a short introduction Rytkheu explains, “The book is not just the story of my lineage, and not just the story of our clan, but also the genealogy and the root of all my books.”

Click here to read the full review.



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