University of Rochester

Professor's Translation Debuts Major Russian Literary Talent Life in a changing world is collection's timeless theme

December 9, 1996

English translations have introduced Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov to English speakers around the world. Now, a masterful translation by a University of Rochester professor and a freelance translator presents another major literary figure to the English language world.

For the first time, English readers can curl up with the short stories of Russia's beloved Vasily Shukshin, thanks to a critically acclaimed translation by Rochester professor John Givens and freelancer Laura Michael.

The two have produced Stories from a Siberian Village, translations of 25 short stories by Shukshin, an award-winning Russian writer, film director, and actor who died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 45. Renowned for his mastery of the short story and for revitalizing the genre in Russian literature, Shukshin received the Soviet Union's highest literary prize following his death.

Stories from a Siberian Village, written in the late 1960s and early 1970s, tells of Siberian peasants tackling change in their rural village.

Martin Cruz Smith, author of Gorky Park and Red Square, writes in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Shukshin "marks these 25 short stories with humor, tolerance, poignancy, love and direct, brilliant description of Western Siberia." He further notes Givens' "excellent introduction."

With biting humor, Shukshin writes of Siberian peasants wrestling with the transition from rural traditions to modern Soviet life. Survivors of revolution, collectivization, and war, his characters nevertheless struggle with change.

"Modern readers will understand the timeless issues of the loss of tradition and 'down-home' values, and of finding meaning in a changing world," Givens notes.

Givens, whose deep-rooted interest in Shukshin sparked the translation of the book, has studied and written about the author for eight years. He is currently writing a book about him. Kathleen Parth‚, a professor of Russian at the University of Rochester, contributed a foreword.

Givens has been an assistant professor of Russian at the University since 1993. He has a Ph.D. in contemporary Russian literature from the University of Washington.

Stories from a Siberian Village was published by Northern Illinois University Press.