16 September 14 | Chad W. Post

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.


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