This is a guest post from Tanya Paperny, a writer, translator, event planner, and adjunct professor of journalist and composition. Her translations of Andrei Krasnyashykh have recently appeared in The Massachusetts Review and _The Literary Review. You can read more of her writing at Culturally Progressive, her personal blog.
As Chad has already written about, Mikhail Shishkin officially declined an invitation to attend this year’s BookExpo America as part of the official Russian delegation. In his public letter, he wrote:
By taking part in the book fair as part of the official delegation . . . I am simultaneously taking on the obligations of being a representative of a state whose policy I consider ruinous for the country and of an official system I reject.
Now some Russians accuse him of trying to “create a certain image for himself” or of “having no right to say anything” because he has lived in Switzerland since 1995. Of course Masha Gessen was right when she wrote in the New York Times that Shishkin’s critics are just the “old anti-dissident demagogic standbys.” Certainly they are no different from xenophobes in the U.S. who call for immigrants to “go home if you don’t like it here.”
A similar rejection was made around 2003, when poet Kirill Medvedev renounced the copyright to all his previously-published works and stopped publishing (except on his blog), focusing his energies on leftist political actions (read more on the recent English-language translation of his work here). I believe both these men were being genuine. They were not aiming for a publicity stunt but at an honest effort to change the status quo.
But the aspect that seems to be missing from these conversations is one about gender and the priviledge inherent in male writers making these types of rejections.
Were a woman writer to make a similar public statement—rejecting an opportunity or declining to publish—she likely wouldn’t cause such a stir. A woman who made the same choice might be seen as prioritizing the domestic rather than as motivated by a political consciousness. When a woman writer has children, the world assumes she’ll retreat and stop writing, anyway. She doesn’t have the privilege of choice.
Largely this is a product—in Russia as in the United States—of the notion that the big important novels of our time are being written by men. In the U.S., the books that are said to speak to a generation (often titled “The _____”) are written by Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. These are our American literary ‘towering figures.’
It’s no accident that Shishkin has twice recieved the prestigious Большая Книга prize (translates to “The Big Book”), which has been given to 25 men since 2005 and only 6 women (by my count).
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .
Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”
Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full. . .
“What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone . . .”
So reads a typical aphoristic “poem”. . .
If you somehow managed to overlook the 2012 translation of Andrés Neuman’s breathtaking Traveler of the Century (and woe betide all whom continue to do so), you now have two exceptional works of fiction from the young Argentine virtuoso demanding. . .