Our love for Marian Schwartz—translator from the Russian of Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair along with Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard and all the Andrei Gelasimov books that AmazonCrossing has been bringing out, and dozens of other works—runs deep, which is why we’re all really excited that she won the Read Russia Prize in the Contemporary Russian Literature category.
The awards ceremony for the Read Russia Prize has taken place on September, 6 within the stately confines of Moscow’s Pashkov House, part of the Russian State Library. This biennial event, which is supported by the Moscow Institute of Translation, is designed to honor the best translators working in any language and to facilitate the further translation of Russian literature. It encompasses four categories: Classic Russian Literature, 20th Century Russian Literature (published before 1990), Contemporary Russian Literature (published after 1990), and Poetry. [. . .]
The nominees for the Contemporary Russian Literature category were Julie Bouvard for her French translation of Eduard Kochergin’s Christened with Crosses, Ives Gauthier for her French translation of Andrei Rubanov’s A Successful Life, Nicoletta Marcialis for her Italian translation of Zakhar Prilepin’s Sin, Ljubinka Milincic for her Serbian translation of Georgy Vladimov’s The General and His Army, Ewa Rojewska-Olejarczuk for her Polish translation of Viktor Pelevin’s T, and Marian Schwartz for her English translation of Leonid Yuzefovich’s Harlequin’s Costume. The winner was Marian Schwartz, who was emotional and grateful as she accepted her award.
Emotional and grateful and BAD ASS.
Following this deserved victory, Russia Beyond the Headlines did a whole feature on Marian that’s both wonderful and fascinating.
It kicks off with a bit about Harlequin’s Costume, which came out from Glagoslav in 2013:
The novel is the first in a trilogy, based on the real-life adventures of Ivan Putilin, a legend in his own lifetime. In the late 19th century Putilin was a chief inspector of police, chasing St. Petersburg’s most notorious criminals. Later contemporaries dubbed him a Russian Sherlock Holmes, but in Yuzefovich’s hands, Putilin’s stories become something richer and more multi-layered than traditional murder mysteries. Harlequin’s Costume originally appeared in Russian in 2001, and its sequel, Prince of the Wind, won the National Bestseller literary prize.
OK, that sounds pretty good, but check out the jacket copy:
The year is 1871. Prince von Ahrensburg, Austria’s military attaché to St. Petersburg, has been killed in his own bed. The murder threatens diplomatic consequences for Russia so dire that they could alter the course of history. Leading the investigation into the high-ranking diplomat’s death is Chief Inspector Ivan Putilin, but the Tsar has also called in the notorious Third Department – the much-feared secret police – on the suspicion that the murder is politically motivated. As the clues accumulate, the list of suspects grows longer; there are even rumors of a werewolf at large in the capital. Suspicion falls on the diplomat’s lover and her cuckolded husband, as well as Russian, Polish and Italian revolutionaries, not to mention Turkish spies.
That’s how you sell a book. Cuckholds and werewolves.
What’s particularly interesting is that this is one of the few books that Marian translated on spec, hoping that she would find a publisher for it.
“Having translated about 70 books over the last 35-plus years, fewer than five of them, probably, have been at my initiative,” she told the Moscow audience for the Read Russia Award Presentations. “I found, appreciated, and translated Harlequin’s Costume on spec, convinced that it would find a publisher eventually.” In the end, the book was finished only with help from a grant, and it was several years before Glagoslav published it in 2013.
“My hope is that this prize will help in finding a publisher for all of Yuzefovich’s books,” says Schwartz, describing him as “one of the most overlooked authors in English translation.” She is also translating and seeking a publisher for Yuzefovich’s more recent, more serious novel Cranes and Pygmies, which won the Big Book award in 2009.
I have a feeling that a few publishers are going to be contacting her about this . . .
Another great aspect of this article is that it gets at why Marian became a translator, and what she hopes to accomplish. These bits should be really interesting to anyone new to the field—anyone hoping to translated 70+ books over their lifetime:
“I became a translator,” she says, “largely because I felt that was the one role – bringing Russian literature to the English-speaking audience – I could play best. It was something a native speaker of Russian could not do.” [. . .]
The intended readership is central to Schwartz’s perception of her role. She told RBTH last year that she would “dearly love to see more … translated books that would appeal to a broader audience.” Apart from Yuzefovich, the authors she wants to translate more of in future include Andrei Gelasimov, whose comic, poignant, accessible novels she has almost single-handedly brought to the attention of Anglophone readers. She also has her eye on Olga Slavnikova’s novel The Man Who Couldn’t Die (Bessmertny) and Dina Rubina’s novel The Petrushka Syndrome.
“What all these books have in common, apart from their literary brilliance,” says Schwartz, “is what I see as their potential appeal to the Western reader. These are books I’d like to share with the American audience.”
I don’t read this as Marian seeking out pulpy best-sellers that Americans with Twilight for, but rather that her role is bringing interesting works of Russian literature to Americans—blending her knowledge of U.S. readers and academics with her expertise in Russian lit.
Marian really is a hero and having the chance to meet her in person is one of the reasons I encourage all emerging translators to attend ALTA.
Friend of Three Percent, Lisa Hayden Espenschade, who runs the incredible Russian literature blog Lizok’s Bookshelf posted the shortlist for the über-prestigious Big Book (Bol’shaya Kniga) Prize. Big Book is one of the “big three” Russian literary prizes, along with the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller (or NatsBest).
Our old Open Letter pal Mikhail Shishkin won the Big Book last year for his Letter-Book (Pis’movnik), with Vladimir Sorokin’s The Blizzard (Metel’) coming in second and Dmitry Bykov’s Ostromov, or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Ostromov, ili Uchenik charodeya) coming in third. The Big Book Prize fund distributes 6.1 million rubles (~$183k) annually among the first, second, and third prize winners, and is sponsored by a number of Russian businesses and banks along with the Russian Ministries of Culture and Print, Media and Mass Broadcasting.
There will be a Big Book Prize presentation event at Book Expo American next Thursday at 10am featuring past winners Mikhail Shishkin, Dmitry Bykov, Vladimir Makanin, Pavel Basinsky, and, supposedly, the Big Book finalists:The way the wording on Read Russia’s website describes the event (“Big Book Prize: Presentation of the Big Book Prize, Russia’s most prestigious literary award, plus a “Meet and Greet” with prize winners.”), I still can’t tell if they are really planning on announcing the 2012 Big Book winner at BEA, which would be awesome, or if they were just trying to present to an American audience the idea of the Big Book Award and will make the announcement for the prize winner in November, as stated in Russian media reports.
The shortlist features a number of readers whom neither I nor Lisa have read, both of us are only familiar with Prilepin’s Black Monkey, so we have a lot to catch up on before the prizewinner is (allegedly) announced in November! Without any further ado, here is the shortlist, in English no less (!), with transliteration and translation provided by Lisa herself.
A huge thanks to Lisa for her tireless work in alerting English readers to what’s going on in the world of Russian literature. Check out her posts for reviews and insider tips on what’s going on in the world of Russian literature, and I hope to meet her at BEA next week!
Next week, Book Expo America, “North America’s premier meeting of book trade professionals,” will take over the Javits Center in NYC. This year’s guest of honor at BEA is none other than RUSSIA, your humble author’s area of beloved expertise, and Russia will be the focus of a TON of super-cool events/panels/readings/parties as well as the “2012 Global Markets Forum” (aka: the business of books in and out of Russia, including my favorite Russian indie publisher, Ad Marginem Press!) all between June 2-7 as part of BEA’s READ RUSSIA 2012 initiative.
According to the fine folks at READ RUSSIA: “Russia’s 4,000-square-foot BEA exhibition space at the Javits Center will host presentations for industry professionals on the Russian book market, Russian literature in translation, and new works by Russian writers, publishers, historians, and journalists.”
Open Letter’s own Mikhail Shishkin, whose incredible English-language debut, Maidenhair, comes out October 13, will be one of the many contemporary Russian writers present at BEA. He’s part of a panel at 4:30 on Wednesday with Andrei Gelasimov, and will sit in on the presentation of the “Big Book” (Bol’shaya Kniga) Award Thursday at 10am.
Shishkin will also be doing a discussion with translator-extraordinaire Marian Schwartz and Open Letter publishing wizard Chad Post, hosted by The Bridge Series at McNally Jackson Books in SoHo on Thursday night at 7pm. So come and hang out with the Open Letter family at any of these awesome events and meet Shishkin, who is, from all accounts, a hilarious and awesome dude who speaks highly fluent English, so you don’t have to suffer through one of those awkward translator-trying-to-make-jokes-work moments. The good times will fly free.
Also, check out this bad boy under the Russian “Writers at BEA: Featured Writers” section:
Look familiar? Oh yeah, that’s not Mikhail Shishikin, nor is it Zakhar Prilepin, Dmitry Bykov, or any of the contemporary writers who will actually be at BEA, it’s our old friend Aleksandr Pushkin, who of course died 200 years ago, and who will only be present at BEA in the form of a tattooed portrait on my arm, but whose birthday we will allllll be celebrating on Wednesday in “true Russian fashion” (you can guess what that means)!
But READ RUSSIA is a killer endeavor, filling the streets of NYC with some of the greatest living Russian writers (especially Shishkin and the mustachio’d Bykov and the intensity-in-ten-cities Prilepin, but I really really wish Mikhail Elizarov were there!), and giving the publishing world a much-needed glimpse into the Russia beyond the classics and outside of the overtly political commentary in Western media and literature about the country.
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