Kickstart My (Translation) Heart
Our pals over at Publishing Perspectives have an interesting couple of pieces up this morning on the fantastic Russian writer Master Chen (the penname of Dmitry Kosyrev): one is an interview with the author, and the other about a Kickstarter campaign started by Russian Life Magazine to fund the translation and publication of Master Chen’s Silk Road Trilogy: The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas, The Pet Foal of the House of Maniakh, and The Pet Monkey of the House of Tang.
Master Chen was at a bunch of Read Russia events at BEA, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak about his work. There are a vast number of fascinating Russian writers who have yet to have any of their works translated into English, Master Chen among them, who blow my mind with the fantastic creativity of their ideas and the originality of their writing styles. If you think you know a lot about Russian literature because you’re fond of the classics, you would be pleasantly surprised at how much diversity there is in the Russian literary world today.
In the interview with Daniel Kalder on Publishing Perspectives, Master Chen discusses his style as a mixture of thriller and high literature, a unique Russian form of genre writing, as popularized by Boris Akunin:
Where do you fit on the genre spectrum?
Well, if you can imagine a cocktail of James Clavell and Robert Silverberg shaken with a bit of Salman Rushdie and sprinkled with Somerset Maugham, that’s about where I belong. Christie and Simenon have nothing to do with me, since I’m not sure I write detective novels as such. Sometimes I think that I write music, only problem is I never learned how to write it down, so I use letters.
His work features prominently Asian themes and stories, Master Chen’s area of expertise, like those that make up the Silk Road Trilogy:
Your story in the Akashic “Moscow Noir” anthology was set in contemporary Moscow, but hinted at the Soviet past. Usually however you set your stories in the East. Is there a reason why you avoid the Soviet Union and Russia?
Fear of competition, probably. I love being a monopolist. Nobody among Russian writers knows the things I know, so why should I dump my advantage, especially in the Asian Age that is already here?
There is one more thing which I felt when I was working on my latest novel The Wine Taster which, after all this time, is about Russia (but begins in Germany and ends in Spain). Even though it is a clear case of monopoly again, since no Russian writer knows about wine as much as I do, I still felt that I did not quite like writing about Russia, it’s kind of a constraining task for me, locking myself within Russian borders. Anyway, look at how many “real” Russian writers there are, still nagging at it: hopeless country, hopeless people, things are so bad…They were doing it in the 19th century, they’re still doing it. You don’t need me if you buy their depressive lamentations. I’d rather tell my readers: the world is dazzling, it offers you so much fun, stop banging you head against the same old wall, there are so many things to learn and to do. And by the way, if you know the world, then maybe you will start seeing your own country in a different way.
The idea of Kickstarter campaigns to fund translations is brilliant—anything to see more translations released in English is a good idea—and I think we will see many more crowd-funded projects from independent and small presses (and authors, of course, looking to self-publish) in the future, the same way many musicians and record labels are using Kickstarter to to fund music video shoots, recording sessions, and album releases. The upside for the creator is that you are in direct communication with your audience, something the publishing world could only stand to improve upon, and the upside for the audience is that they feel like they have a direct impact on the creation of a product they want to see; it’s a novel take on the market economy, and I hope to see more worthwhile projects funded any way possible.
Support the project to translate Master Chen into English, head over to the Silk Road Trilogy’s Kickstarter page and donate what you can, and think about any other foreign authors deserving of translation campaigns on Kickstarter, then let us know your thoughts!