A Translation of Boris Pasternak’s poem, ‘A Winter’s Night’
Feeling the need to take a break from translating prose, I decided to finally make an attempt to translate a Boris Pasternak poem that, while not seasonally appropriate in May, is one of my favorites—’A Winter’s Night’.
A Winter’s Night
The blizzard swept over all the land Beyond the furthest road A candle glowed near at hand A candle glowed Continue reading →
Andrei Viktorovich Dmitriev’s Крестьянин и тинейджер-The Peasant and the Teenager: A view of Russia in its last decade as a Republic of the U.S.S.R.
Recently I have been engaged in translating and studying certain novels that have won the Russian Booker Prize, an award presented yearly since 1992 to honor outstanding Russian fiction . With this exercise I seek to gain a broader understanding of contemporary Russian thought and culture. My primary interest is in how Russians today view their own history, especially that of the Revolution of 1917 and the Soviet period.
The two works I’ve looked at most recently serve to bookend this period: Казус Кукоцкого (Kazus Kukotskovo = ‘The Extraordinary Case of Kukotsky’), by Lyudmila Evgenyevna Ulitskaya, and Крестьянин и Тинейджер (Krest’yanin i Tinyedzhyer = ‘The Peasant and the Teenager’), by Andrei Viktorivich Dmitriev. In a recent post (‘Казус Кукоцкого’) I examined Ulitskaya’s novel as to how it portrays the Revolution and its aftermath, finding her views consistent with my own narrative of this period. Turning to Dmitriev’s ‘The Peasant and the Teenager,’ I was delighted to find not only a portrayal of Russia in the decisive last decade of the U.S.S.R., but one from the perspective of rural, ‘collective farm’ Russia. Continue reading →
A View of the Revolution and its Aftermath in Contemporary Russian Literature
I recently started translating a novel called Казус Кукоцкого (pron.-Kazus Kukotskovo) by Lyudmila Ulitskaya, who won the Russian Booker Prize for this work in 2001. This novel, whose title I’ve chosen to translate as The Extraordinary Case of Kukotsky, begins with a focus on the life of one Pavel Alekseyevich Kukotsky, who is, at the beginning of the book, a boy coming of age at the time of the Revolution of 1917. Not having any idea what this story was about before I started working on it, I am surprised and excited to find that, in addition to presenting some juicy translation problems, it addresses questions that I hope to find answers to in contemporary Russian literature: how do today’s Russians view the Revolution of 1917, the history of Communist Party rule, and life in Russia, generally, in the Soviet period? Here I will discuss one early passage from the novel in terms of both its challenges to translating it into English, and how it speaks to these questions.
The two paragraphs I will look at come at a point in the story when Pavel is of an age to attend university. It is just after the Revolution, and the Civil War is on. (These paragraphs are separated by one short one discussing Pavel’s character as a student, which I will not include here): Continue reading →
Who the hell is Archibald Archibaldovich? And what is with that name? The introduction of this particular character in chapter V of Master and Margarita is so clever, and fun, that I am awed by it. The process goes something like this: the name is casually dropped, and quickly forgotten; later, a rather striking figure is described, but not given a name; toward the end of the chapter the person and the name come together, and the context is surprising. Continue reading →
In chapter V of Master and Margarita, Bulgakov introduces a number of individuals, and their names present me with new translation problems, mainly concerning the translation of names for fictional characters. This chapter has brought me to consider how a writer of fiction chooses names for his/her characters: do they just pop into the writer’s head? Are they familiar names of acquaintances? Does the writer’s pet monkey leaf through a book of names and press its finger to one when needed? In some works of fiction the names seem somewhat random and unimportant, but in others the names themselves lend something to the story. I came across a review of a recently published book on the subject; Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literatureby Alastair Fowler, Oxford, September 2012. Colin Burrow writes a good review of it, on the London Review of Bookswebsite.
Names mean things. In English, last-names like Carpenter, Johnson, Smith or Taylor are common and have origins that are clear. But when translating from Russian, if I were to come across names like Plotnik, Ivanov, Kuznetzkyor Portnoy, I would probably not change them to the English equivalent of their root meanings (Carpenter, Johnson, Smith or Taylor, respectively); I would just transliterate them. But in some cases the meaning of the name is important. Continue reading →
In the course of my studies of Russian language and literature, there has long been the enormous, looming figure of Alexander Sergeivich Pushkin (1799-1837), Russia’s most celebrated poet. Thinking it was about time I tried translating some of his work, I turned to a poem that is one of the handful of Russian poems that I have committed to memory (another is Osip Mandelstam’s Leningrad, my translation of which is included in an earlier post). The process of trying to render the poem, К. . . (To. . . ), into English has led me to consider some things about the nature of language and translation. I will write a little about these musings before presenting my translation. Continue reading →
As I was translating a passage from Master and Margarita, it dawned on me that what I was reading was the author’s own reflection on the kinds of changes that Moscow had gone through during the two decades that saw World War I, revolution, the end of Tsarism, the establishment of Communist Party rule, Civil War and the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Given what I know of Russian history, I found this little aside in chapter V to be enormously interesting, bold and insightful. Continue reading →
I want to examine the methods I have developed, to this point, for translating Russian prose to English. As mentioned in an earlier post, I am currently working on a translation of the Soviet-era novel Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. I will use a single paragraph from this novel to illustrate each step in my process of transforming Russian writing into what I hope is a readable English that accurately and fully captures the meaning and style of the original. Continue reading →
“Mother teaches heart phone morgue” is how google-translate renders the seventh line of another glasnost-era Russian pop song that recently caught my attention. I had a Russian radio stream playing as I puttered around the house one day this summer, but wasn’t really paying attention until a repeated line in the chorus of a song grabbed my ear. I stopped what I was doing and thought, did they just sing “Alain Delon speaks French?” In fact, that was exactly what they were singing. I felt the urge to know why a Russian band would record a song about a French actor speaking French. A little research into this song revealed a degree of cultural interconnectedness that I was unaware of in the nineteen eighties when this song was produced in the still existing, and I presumed still closed, society of the Soviet Union.
Nautilus Pomplilius (Наутилус Помпилиус)
It turns out that this song–A Look from the Screen (Vzglyad s Ekrana, which google-translate gives as “Sight Screen“)–by the group Nautilus Pompilius, was inspired by, and is even described as a “free translation” of, the song Robert De Niro’s Waiting, by the 80’s British pop band Bananarama. The line repeated in the chorus of the Brit song—”Robert De Niro’s waiting, talking Italian”—becomes, in the Russian song, “Alain Delon is speaking French” (Alen Delon govorit po Frantsuzkiy).Continue reading →