18 April 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The shortlist for the Rossica Translation Prize was announced today and features five works translated from Russian into English: The Cathedral Clergy: A Chronicle by Nikolay Leskov, translated by Margaret Winchell; Petersburg by Andrei Bely, translated by John Elsworth; The Road by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Mukovnikova; The Village by Ivan Bunin, translated by Galya and Hugh Aplin; and The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, translated by Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson.

I’d like to take a moment to publicly congratulated Helen and Konstantin on this nomination. It was a wild set of coincidences that set this project in motion, and it’s been amazing working with the two of them on all facets of the publication of this book—the conception of the project, the translation itself, and the promotion of the book post-publication. And although I know all five books are great, I really really really want The Golden Calf to win. It would be great for the book—which is absolutely 120% brilliant—and for Open Letter, but especially cool for Helen and Konstantin, considering that this is their first book-length translation to be published. Based on the time and attention given over to this translation, they absolutely deserve to start out on top . . .

And not to draw attention away from their accomplishment in and of its own right (which is a prefatory statement to stealing attention away from their accomplishment in and of its own right), but it’s very gratifying that their translation beat out the other new translation of The Little Golden Calf. Some of you might remember the little controversy surrounding the near simultaneous publication of these two new translations.

I don’t want to get into the whole thing again—basically, the rights holder sold the rights to this book to two separate publishers, and the other one tried to diss ours for all sorts of totally absurd reasons—but since this is one of the few truly funny things I’ve ever written, and since this nomination feels so satisfying, I just had to at least reference it.

Anyway, read The Golden Calf. It may well be the funniest book I’ve ever published.

29 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last Monday we kicked off the spring season of the Reading the World Conversation Series with an event featuring the husband and wife translating team of Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson. They talked with Open Letter editor E.J. Van Lanen about the process of translating Ilf & Petrov’s The Golden Calf, which is definitely one of the funniest books I’ve ever helped publish. (If you doubt me, simply read this excerpt which is part of what I read to kick off the RTWCS event.)

Anyway, here’s the video of the event:

The next event in the series will take place on Monday, April 12th at 6pm in the Hawkins-Carlson room in the Rush Rhees Library on U of R’s campus. I’ll be having a discussion with Horacio Castellanos Moya about his work (Senselessness, Dance with Snakes, and The She-Devil in the Mirror have all been published in English translation) and about world literature in general. Including Horacio’s thoughts on The Bolano Myth.

6 January 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at the consistently interesting Lizok’s Bookshelf, Lisa Hayden Espenschade has an interview with Konstantin Gurevich and Helen Anderson, the co-translators of Ilf & Petrov’s The Golden Calf:

In your translators’ note, you write, “we approached the novel as a work of literature first and foremost, and aimed the translation at a broad English-speaking audience.” I understand this as a desire to make the book readable and (dare I say?) fun for all readers, not just those with a specific interest in Russian literature. Why did you choose this approach? And how did it manifest itself, in practice, while translating The Golden Calf?

KG: Ilf & Petrov are tremendously popular in Russia, yet here, their fame is largely limited to the Russian studies community. We’d like to change that if we can. Тhe Russians love Ilf & Petrov not for their portrayal of the NEP or the Turksib, but for the humor, the spectacular wit, the relentless mocking. The setting may be Soviet, but the themes are universal: the individual against society, the pitfalls of get-rich-quick schemes, the disorientation that comes with achieving one’s goals. So we concentrated on all that and simplified certain Soviet realia in order to avoid copious notes, which Open Letter frowns upon anyway. Basically, we aimed at people who don’t necessarily want to read a Russian book, just a good book.

HA: We’re very pleased that most of the early reviewers focus on the spirit of the novel rather than its setting.

Can you provide an example or two from the translation?

KG: For starters, we – controversially, no doubt – converted all the kilos, puds, versts, and kilometers into pounds and miles. Or take The Budyonny March sung by the Indian philosopher. For most Americans, it’s gibberish, and the irony is lost. The song opens with “We’re the Red cavalry…”, so we made it into The Red Cavalry March.

HA: Or, when the authors say simply “Lunacharsky”, we say “the Education Commissar Lunacharsky”.

21 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Early this month, Open Letter released its new translation of The Golden Calf by Ilf & Petrov, a satiric Russian writing duo from the 1930s who are most well known for this novel and its predecessor, The Twelve Chairs , which was made into a Mel Brooks movie. Both of these books are insanely funny, although to be honest, I think Helen Anderson and Konstantin Gurevich’s translation of The Golden Calf is much better at capturing the wit and sharp observations found in the original. (Click here for an excerpt so you can see what I mean.) (As a further sidenote: it will always be amazing to me how seamless and of a single voice this book is, despite the fact that four people wrote/translated it.

As is noted on the back of the book, press materials, etc., this is the “first complete translation” of the novel. A few people have asked about this, curious as to what political jabs the Soviet censors cut from the original. Well, here to explain is Konstantin Gurevich, one of the translators, and probably the most knowledgeable person in America when it comes to The Golden Calf and Ilf and Petrov in general.

“Filling in Gaps in The Golden Calf“ by Konstantin Gurevich

Anybody even vaguely familiar with Soviet history would look at the birth and death dates of Ilf (1897-1937) and Petrov (1903-1942) and assume that one perished in Stalin’s purges and the other either in the purges or in World War II. Petrov was indeed a war casualty, killed in a plane crash returning from the front lines as a war correspondent. Ilf, however, died of tuberculosis in his own bed, in a reasonably comfortable apartment not far from the Kremlin. A good assumption, but only partially true.

By the same token, when “uncensored” versions of The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf first appeared in the 1990s, some fans expected to discover previously unknown references and satire that might possibly change their view of Ilf & Petrov’s famous novels.

Nothing of the sort. There were no hidden allusions, no references to Trotsky or other villains of Soviet propaganda, no political humor that we weren’t already familiar with. The differences were largely editorial, and in the case of The Golden Calf, very minor.

In fact, comparing the recent edition of The Golden Calf on which we based our translation (Open Letter, 2009) with the 1976 Soviet edition that we own, we found exactly three gaps that were clearly the product of political censorship.

  • In “From the Authors,” the name of the then-Prosecutor General, Krylenko, was omitted. Nikolai Krylenko was executed in 1938 and officially remained “the enemy of the people” for many years.
  • In Chapter 2, all references to the Volga Germans were excised. These Germans were exiled to Siberia and Central Asia in 1941, shortly after the Nazi invasion began, and their republic was dissolved.
  • In Chapter 9, the word “bandits” is missing from the sentence “Look what they did, those bandits Marx and Engels!”

Not much for a novel that’s well over 300 pages long.

Moreover, there are good reasons to believe that all these omissions were made years after the early Russian editions of The Golden Calf had appeared—if only because neither Krylenko nor the Volga Germans were taboos back then, while the “bandits” do appear in the first English translation of the novel (1932).

Nevertheless, our translation does include some text that didn’t appear in either of the two previous translations, but this is not because of political censorship. These are the entire From the Authors piece and a few paragraphs in the beginning of Chapter 7 (the Romualdych vignette).

In addition, the first translation skips almost two pages in the beginning of Chapter 9, while the second (1962) omits several other passages (e.g., in Chapters 9, 18, and 27), some half-a-page long. This is why we consider our translation the first complete English translation of The Golden Calf.

We do not know whether the publishers or the translators themselves were responsible for the gaps in both previous translations—or what their reasons were. But in 1932, Ilf and Petrov were viewed in the West as young new authors. By 1962, they would have been perceived as cult novelists. Today, their books are undisputed classics of Russian literature: The Golden Calf alone has inspired two movies, a TV miniseries, and statues of its main characters in places like St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Odessa. These texts have to be treated with respect.

....
I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >