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!
David Shook—who has reviewed for Three Percent. in the past—is starting a new project to produce a short documentary film and a five-chapbook set of indigenous Mexican poetry. Rather than explain this in my own words, I asked him to write a short introductory post laying out the basis for this venture. As you can see below, you can help make this possible by donating through Kickstarter and at the very bottom I’ve included the trailer for _Kilometer Zero, a covertly filmed documentary about poets in Equatorial Guinea._
I’ve been writing about endangered languages since 2007, when I co-wrote the headnote to World Literature Today’s Endangered Literatures issue, which sought to extend the defense of endangered languages by emphasizing the quality and diversity of their respective literatures. In short: the death of a language means the death of a literature, whether its skeleton is preserved (and rearranged) in the literary ossuaries of the academy or forgotten wholesale.
I began translating Isthmus Zapotec poet Víctor Terán in early 2008, from an anthology of contemporary indigenous poets I picked up on one of my many trips through Oaxaca, where I had spent time in several Zapotec communities. That translation project resulted in a remarkable friendship, first stoked over mezcal-boiled plums in Oaxaca City and further strengthened by a three-week tour of the UK in 2010. Over the course of our relationship I found myself increasingly inspired—not just by Víctor’s poems, which often combine an erotic pastoralism with a sonic delight I aspired and struggled to replicate in my English-language translations, but by his activism, his vision to strengthen the Zapotec language and culture by the act of writing poetry.
His approach to the issue is pragmatic—he has little influence on the political and economic hegemony of Spanish in Mexico, and he can’t dictate educational policy. But he can—and does—inspire Zapotec speakers, especially young ones, to value their literary heritage. Cultural pride is the primary reason that Zapotec parents continue to raise their kids in Zapotec, maintaining its lifeblood.
Víctor and his contemporaries—fellow poets Natalia Toledo and Irma Pineda as well as artists like Demian Flores and Soid Pastrana—have inspired me to make a movie about their work, their literary activism. I’m working with award-winning filmmaker Ben Rodkin, a close friend and regular collaborator whose films resonate with their own visual poetry. We need your support. Please visit our Kickstarter campaign to read the details of what we’re planning, which includes the publication of poetry from five indigenous Mexican languages. I hope you’ll give if you can—any amount makes a difference. And I hope you’ll tell others about what Víctor is doing, and how we hope to document it.
David Shook is a poet and translator in Los Angeles. Recent translation projects include Roberto Bolaño’s 1976 manifesto “Leave Everything, Again” (forthcoming in the Picador edition of The Savage Detectives), Mario Bellatin’s Shiki Nagaoka, and Kilometer Zero, an illicitly filmed documentary about tortured Equato-Guinean poet Marcelo Ensema Nsang.
Earlier this week, Ed Nawotka wrote a great piece at Publishing Perspectives on “Amateur Thursdays” a new webcast project that’s the brainchild of Fabrice Rozie (book critic) and Giovanna Calvino (Italo’s daughter):
Entitled “Amateur Thursdays” the concept is to present five-minute, edited “show” featuring contemporary writers and celebrities discussion new and classic books that they love. [. . .]
“The name comes from T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party in which a character calls his wife’s attempt at hosting a salon her “amateur thursdays,” said Rozie, who will serve as the show’s executive editor. “The idea is to host the show in the context of a New York cocktail party, where the camera can zoom in to a small group who will be discussing specific books. The show should appear to be seemingly casual, but will actually be carefully edited. We intend for it to be fast-paced and witty.”
I talked with Fabrice about this project earlier today, and it sounds like they’re planning on releasing the first few episodes during the Frankfurt Book Fair. Which seems ideal, and like an ideal location to possibly film a few more.
This sounds like a pretty interesting concept. Compared to Title Page, which had a more traditional format with four or so authors being interviewed for an hour, “Amateur Thursdays” promised to be a lot quicker, shorter, and seemingly more off-the-cuff. They also don’t want authors talking about their own books, but about books they’re reading. In fact, the whole focus seems to be on what you’re reading rather than what books one is currently pimping. They want the discussions to range across fiction and non, poetry, philosophy, whatever. A show, again emphasizing the focus on readers over writers.
Personally, I think the length is key: five minutes is short enough to watch on your iPhone while walking from one place to another. Personally, these longer pod/videocasts are too much for me. I can’t even find an hour to watch Glee these days . . . But anyway . . .
Of course a project like this isn’t cheap. To raise the initial funds for the first few episodes, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign with tiered incentives ranging from free previews ($10) to autographed books ($100) to the opportunity to be listed as an Associate Producer ($1,000). At the time of writing, they’re about 35% of the way to their goal, so, well, you know what to do.
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