Friday, 3 October 2014

A Night At The Airport with Mark Aldanov

'The wildly mad atmosphere is conveyed well...'
This is a book with a plainish, dark blue dust jacket, with a tiny picture of a rather stubby plane, which on closer inspection seems to be navigating between overlapping searchlight beams. The title gives even less away: 'A Night At The Airport', in squat yellow letters.
Oh, and there's the subtitle: 'Stories by Mark Aldanov'. But who's Mark Aldanov?
'The wildly mad atmosphere is conveyed well...'
Now I look at the inside flap of this 1949 dust jacket (it's weathered admirably). The blurb writer has clearly struggled with his task: 'A group of long short-stories given a certain unity by their strangeness, by their curious and unpredictable quality in theme and development...' '[Aldanov's] sensitivity of perception enables him to think and feel himself into the situations and characters portrayed...'  (as if this were an unusual quality in a writer) 'For anyone who cares for authentic writing, the reading of these seven stange tales [...] will be a memorable experience'.
Now I glance back to a Saturday Review critique of this same collection. The reviewer has struggled with all the stories, writing haplessly of 'The Astrologer':
 'The wildly mad atmosphere is conveyed well, but the meaning of the events seems to evade definition stubbornly'.

None of this helps explain who Mark Aldanov might have been. Only a friend of Bunin, one of the beneficiaries of the latter's Nobel Prize money and also his publicly advocated favourite for the next Nobel award; only one of the four bestselling émigré writers in inter-war France, according to Marc Raeff; only the most important Russian author of realist historical prose since Tolstoy, according to his leading critic, C. Nicholas Lee. Between 1924 and 1957 most of his novels were rendered (often before they appeared in émigré presses) into English by leading Russophone translators such as Alfred Edward Chamot, Catherine Routsky, Joel Carmichael (who translated A Night at the Airport) and Aldanov's personal friend, the multicultural Nicholas Wreden who also translated Gazdanov's novels and whose work for Scribner's and the Chekhov Publishing House helped Aldanov acquire connections with both. In 1957, Aldanov died. Since then, his novels and shorter fiction, despite the high proportion translated into English, have vanished behind a veil of obscurity. Whatever happened to Aldanov?

A related mystery is where Joel Carmichael sourced the originals of the seven stories collected in A Night at the Airport. One or two appear in his various Russian-language editions of collected works (I'm aware of a two-volume, a six-volume, and an eight-volume set), but the majority are untraceable. Perhaps, like Aldanov's breakthrough novel The Fifth Seal (tr.Wreden, 1943), they were published first in translation. The lukewarm write-up cited above in the Saturday Review was by Hollis Alpert (better known later as a film critic for the same magazine); the latter accuses Aldanov of creating 'interesting formal arrangements' which subside into 'a curious lack of intensity'. Alpert considers the title story, 'A Night at the Airport', 'somewhat superficial and occasionally misleading because of the many lines of development used to tell it. Many characters [...] are delineated only enough to be seen as types (symbolical though they may be), and they are gone from view no sooner does one become interested in them. Mr Aldanov more often succeeds in gaining historical perspective, and in lighting up times and places rather than his people in these quite unusual stories'. Perhaps Alpert's disappointment is symptomatic of his generation. He admired Aldanov's ability to generate both historical and personal detail (like the glass of milk served with Mussolini's last breakfast, described in 'Number Fourteen'). But of 'The Astrologist', whose title character is commissioned by two different individuals to produce Hitler's horoscope in the last days of the war, Alpert wrote in despair:
 'The wildly mad atmosphere is conveyed well, but the meaning of the events seems to evade definition stubbornly'. True, the story is baffling: the rather leaden plot twist contrasts with the formless conclusion (the astrologer wakes up in Hitler's bunker to learn that the bodies of the dictator and his new bride are smouldering outside).

I sympathize with Alpert's bafflement. Even in the strongest stories in this collection, Aldanov seems to delight in frustrating his readers. In each of the stories, pages of free indirect discourse reassure that we're inside a character's mind; but the withheld backstory never emerges, or the moment of anagnorisis happens off-page and is never explained, or the character stubbornly and inexplicably starts acting against type... like the immaculately groomed stewardess who takes up with a washed-out secret agent in 'A Night at the Airport', or the hard-up golden boy in 'The Ruby'. You keep reading Aldanov because you're enjoying the ride; but no-one likes to be left off the bus a stop early or a stop late. In any case, Alpert is missing the point as well as the stop. He praises Aldanov (as many critics have done) for his ability to convey historical detail and even political context, often using real-life characters from Mussolini to Michelangelo. But he doesn't appreciate Aldanov's ability to predict the future. 'A Night at the Airport', published in 1949, focusses on the reactions of a small group of passengers forced to disembark on a strategically significant island during a moment of international tension; there are rumours of chemical warfare, radioactive clouds and stand-offs between unnamed Great Powers; it could be the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ironically, for a historical novelist, Aldanov knew his own time too well. Rather than catering to its appetites, he expressed its hungers. The Saturday Review piece, being of its time, demanded stable plots and plain conclusions; Aldanov's winding plots and open endings are a genuine portrait of postwar ennui. Sometimes life is just formless; strange things happen for no good reason, like bumping into Hitler on your way to the toilet.

Aldanov allows himself the luxury of a serial character in two stories: Max Norfolk, a dubious guardian angel to prostitutes, terrorists, and pretty girls everywhere, with nebulously Slavic origins and a shiny American identity, recurs in two stories, as the (ambiguous) moral centre of 'A Night at the Airport' and as an even more ambiguously benign London hotel manager in 'The Ruby'. The best story in the book is 'The Exterminator'; the ominous title refers bathetically to a pest exterminator hired to de-bug (in the entomological sense) the palaces where the various Yalta Conference delegations are housed and entertained. Told variously from the perspectives of the exterminator himself, the Big Three, and the exterminator's hoped-for love interest, the plot succeeds in conveying both psychological depth and historical truth, without ever losing itself in ponderous allegory.

At least two contemporary translators are working on new versions of Aldanov (this dinosaur is working on 'The Field Marshal', a never previously translated  tale about one of Hitler's senior generals - which, like so much Aldanov fiction, unfolds over a journey - in this case, a train ride). Regular readers can brace for more outings in future on the Aldanov party bus...

Friday, 26 September 2014

Put a lock in it

As lovers of Russian literature know, vse techet (Everything Flows, the title of Vasilii Grossman's last, unfinished novel). Rarely is this phrase more apposite than to the elusive literary subgenre of canal fiction. From Mr Toad's clumsy impersonation of a laundress on a canal barge in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind and the Willows, to the more complex mechanisms of deceit behind Soviet literary responses to the construction of the infamous Belomor Canal (1931-33), only a Martian could fail to notice that canals are an important, if understated, topos of literary production. In Russian prose in particular, canal-related plots flow straight to our troubled human core of hubris, hope and vulnerability - perhaps the more readily because, as an artificial river, the canal expresses both our mastery over nature and our hapless subjection to natural law. The pair of canal tales I've chosen below, although written seventy years apart, share a common theme: individual endurance. One protagonist is a lock-keeper, the other a canal-builder: both pursue spoiled hopes with a persistence only equalled by that of water.

Andrei Platonov's Epifanskie shliuzi (The Locks of Epiphany, 1927) is almost a true story: Platonov, a young writer working on engineering projects near drought-stricken Tambov in the mid-1920s, borrowed a historical character (the Englishman John Perry) for his protagonist. The historical Perry was hired by Peter the Great to oversee construction of a canal between the Black and Caspian Seas, and died peacefully in England after writing up his memoirs. Platonov's fictional version, Bertrand Perry, is a lovelorn engineer from Newcastle whom Peter employs to build a canal between the Don and Oka rivers. The project fails, and Bertrand is summoned to Petersburg for execution. The story's title comes from the town of Epifan, where Perry bases his operations. Platonov excels at writing gloom - especially nostalgic gloom - and this story skilfully contrasts Perry's painful exile from Newcastle with his unwilling absorption in the dry steppes of Central Russia. The canal's abandonment by nature - there is not enough water in its bed to float a vessel - culminates a succession of prior failures or flights: the machines break, the foreign engineers flee, the Russian peasants refuse their labour. When Perry, a 'little man' with essentially small dreams, is scapegoated, he consciously offers himself up as a sacrifice - although the reader realizes the real culprit is Peter, a big man whose vast dreams have estranged his own nation. It is a trope familiar from Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman (1833), where the unambitious civil servant Yevgenii briefly acquires tragic grandeur after losing his hopes for marriage and family life for no other reason than the fact that Peter the Great decided to build a city on a flood plain. Yevgenii's sacrifice, unlike Perry's, is both involuntary and unconscious - making Perry's decision to submit to state injustice all the more chilling. Although Platonov was a relatively conforming Soviet writer, an 'Aesopian subversion' of Stalin's plans to transform nature is clearly at work in this early short story.*

The reader learns almost accidentally that Sonia Polorotova, the heroine of Yuri Buida's Vse proplyvaiushchie (All these that sail through, 1998), is a lock-keeper. She takes over her husband's role after he plunges into a coma a few hours after their wedding, apparently caused by a disclosure from Sonia's best friend followed by his first glimpse of Sonia en déshabillé. The story follows Sonia and Misha through a shared life defined by this incident, much as the water flows through the canal. We never learn what the friend told Misha, because she dies of cancer before passing on the secret; and Sonia never marries again or has children, although temptations come her way. Her days settle into routine:

She looked after the gates of the locks, the winches, the drainage of the sluices; she painted and cleaned and helped the workmen who visited the lock several times a year. With the old woman, she took care of the orchard and the herd. Twice a week, screwing up her eyes in terror, Sonia washed her husband with soap and a scrubbing-brush; afterwards, glowing scarlet all over, she would put on a clean lace nightie and tuck herself in beside him. Misha's body was scarcely warm. Before she fell asleep Sonia would tell her husband all the town gossip: on Saturdays she would read aloud to him from some book or other: 'The Three Musketeers' or 'Evgenii Onegin'. After turning off the light she would stare at the small, semicircular window for a long time. Then she dozed off.
The blend of innocent eroticism (the nightie) and baffled romanticism (Onegin and Dumas!) described here seems doomed to bitter disappointment: yet Buida's denouement is gentler and more mysterious than one might expect. Fed by Misha's grandmother's recollection of visiting Venice as a girl, Sonia dreams of gondola rides on the Canal Grande. At night she floats on her own canal until the evening when her husband finally awakens and searches for her to re-enact their failed wedding:

Misha descended to the front room on trembling legs, somehow got into his rubber boots, and went out onto the dam, along which wound the river Pregol, silvered with moonlight and overhung by dew-drenched osiers on both banks. Just beyond a bend he saw a black boat which the current was carrying towards the lock gate. In the boat sat a woman in white, with bowed head.
Misha stepped into the water and stopped the boat with his hands.
'Sonia,' he called her, softly.

Perhaps tellingly, both these tales became the title stories for the collections in which they first appeared.
Picture credit Timofei Yarzhombek
Note: The Buida translations above are my own. Oliver Ready's translation of this story as 'All Those Sailing Past' can be read in his anthology of Buida's prose, The Prussian Bride.

*Alexander Volkhovsky, Text Counter Text: Rereadings in Russian Literary History (Stanford, 1994), p. 289.

Monday, 8 September 2014

"Playfulness and Beauty": Bryan Karetnyk on Translating Gazdanov

Russian Dinosaur interviews translator Bryan Karetnyk

As regular readers know, this blog loves Gaito Gazdanov, one of the most important - and least remembered - of Russian émigré novelists. Previous posts include this guest post by Gazdanov translator Justin Doherty, and my review of Bryan Karetnyk's version of The Spectre of Alexander Wolf (Pushkin Press, 2013). I'm therefore delighted to follow these up by interviewing Bryan Karetnyk himself. I believe in resisting extinction: Bryan K does just this on a literary scale, by turning a largely forgotten Russian writer into a contemporary publishing success. His Spectre garnered some splendid reviews, notably in the Guardian, the LRB, and the Independent. His translation of Gazdanov's 1950 novel The Buddha's Return (Возвращение Будды) is just out with Pushkin Press.

Bryan, welcome to the blog! Your work as a translator is very much in harmony with our interests. But what led you to choose Russian translation as a career? Tell us about your background.

Thank you for inviting me! As your more eagle-eyed readers will have no doubt spotted, my surname is a bit of a give-away. I have mixed Russian–Ukrainian heritage, and so on account of a youthful passion for language and literature, I went to read Russian (and Japanese) at Edinburgh. Since graduating, I’ve worked in various guises as a translator, and three years ago I moved into publishing, as an editor, with a large focus on classic and contemporary literature in translation, so the various strands have come together quite nicely over the past few years.

Why Gaito Gazdanov?

The literature of the Russian emigration has always fascinated me. I first came to this through Nabokov – without a doubt the best-known literary figure among Russian émigré authors, although he is now often considered apart from them because of his later success. I first came across Gazdanov while reading Nabokov’s ‘Torpid Smoke’, and immediately began to wonder about the identity of this author with a strange-sounding name, who merited a mention in Nabokov’s short story. By a chance collusion of events (a very Gazdanovian one, come to think of it), a month or so later, while browsing in a Russian bookshop in London, I came across the small Azbuka edition of Gazdanov’s first novel An Evening with Claire.
Gaito Gazdanov
I loved it and soon began tracking down editions of his other novels and short stories. I suppose what captivated my interest in Gazdanov’s work was not only the stories he tells and the way in which he tells them, but also the latent mix of autobiography and fiction in his writing. Gazdanov’s own life was fascinating, and he weaves so many aspects of it into a number of his works; more than that, he was an extremely complex figure, a man whose own life story went through so many of the vicissitudes that his characters endure, a man whose history contains so much by way of contrast and contradiction.

You’ve now translated two Gazdanov novels. What are the most difficult aspects of working with his prose? What do you find most rewarding?

A number of points in both respects can be made here. First, and more generally, I suppose, is trying to convey the particular rhythm and cadences of Gazdanov’s prose. We often see lengthy, complex, and often philosophical excursions contrasted against airy, often ironic and very well-characterised dialogue. Secondly, almost without exception, Gazdanov’s works are set predominantly in France, often among Russian expatriates living there; the characters slip in and out of French and much of the dialogue, at least notionally if not literally, takes place in French. (After years of living in Paris, Gazdanov acquired an exceptionally good command of French idiom.) In many ways, though, this can give a translator more options to play with: a particularly pleasing example came in The Buddha’s Return, where a night-club by the name ‘Золотая Звезда’ figures; after initially worrying that ‘The Golden Star’ sounded rather like a pub in East Anglia, it struck me that a French name, ‘L’Etoile d’Or’, would be much more appropriate – and far less pub-like.

You’ve published both your Gazdanov translations with Pushkin Press, a small but highly regarded publisher very active in publicizing less well-known authors from Antal Szerb to Teffi. How did you and Pushkin Press find each other?
They’re certainly a fantastic publisher to work with, and I can’t thank the whole team enough for having had such faith in Gazdanov and me from the very outset. As it happens, I’d been working with Pushkin for some time, even before Gazdanov came onto the scene. After the major success of Rosemarie Tietze’s translation of The Spectre of Alexander Wolf in Germany in 2012, we began to discuss the possibility of reintroducing him to the English-speaking world in a new translation, and things progressed from there.

You have worked in publishing yourself. What do you think the future holds for small publishers like Pushkin, Angel Classics, Noise Trade or And Other Stories, to name a few? Will they remain financially viable? How can they adapt to changing markets?

Publishers naturally have a lot to compete with, and they continually have to keep readers excited and engaged. I think that for small indy publishers like those you mention the future looks promising, so long as they maintain a high degree of innovation and creativity, as well as a commitment to publishing the best fiction around. There’s so much excellent writing out there, classic and contemporary, home-grown and from further afield, and that’s precisely what all the publishers you mention do – and do very well at that.

Reacting to the eBook-versus-paper debate, of course, you have to innovate and adapt to the market and changing reading habits; I think Pushkin in particular have reacted well to this, apprehending the need for both high-quality production and beautiful design: to make people part with hard-earned cash, you have to offer them something that looks and feels as good as it is to read; their books, as well as those from And Other Stories, are universally acclaimed for their design as well as content. As far as eBooks are concerned, they can actually be a great asset to publishers, if only they embrace them: the production costs are relatively low in comparison with print publishing (effectively there’s only a single production cost): the rest is revenue. There are also a lot of innovative things that can be – and indeed is being – done with eBooks: for example, multimedia formats, dramatic readings, commentary and expanded apparatuses… Just look at the iPad app Faber produced for Eliot’s
The Waste Land.

As a translator, what’s your philosophy?
You must have a certain degree of daring, I think. There are so many layers to a text: first, the author and his (or her) voice, but also how this voice has developed along the author’s career; secondly, the world created by the book itself, and where the book is situated within the author’s oeuvre; finally, the rhythms, cadences, semantics and aesthetics of the text – all of this has to be accounted for in some way in a translation.

In striving for this, I always hold close two principles: invisibility (of the translator) and mirroring (of the text). By mirroring, I mean that the translation ought to be a reflection of the original in as much as it can be: if something sounds odd in the original, the English should sound equally odd; if it’s obscene, then make the English obscene (but always beware that an eye for an eye isn’t always equal in the world of ‘verbal transmigration’!). If we take Gazdanov, for example, his writing is very much situated in a specific time, place and literary tradition; of course, no modern-day translator is going to be able to recreate the prose a contemporary English writer might have produced – to strive to do so would be folly, I think – but that doesn’t mean that a translation cannot suggest all these things; you can hint at them through word choice, phrasing, and so on. It’s all about finding the appropriate tone.

Who’s your favourite translator – living or dead?

Nabokov has to be a favourite, if only for his vision of what a translator ought to be; naturally, however, the vision and its result were quite different when it came to translating his own works. But then, there’s quite a different magic involved in self-translation, which is wholly admissible.
That aside, the two translators I’d have to point to are Anthea Bell and Len Rix. Any readers unfamiliar with Bell’s work need only digest her recent interview in the Guardian to see why: her work has been so prolific and consistently inspired over the years as to humble every aspiring translator. And it is to Len Rix that we owe so much for bringing Antal Szerb so elegantly and sensitively into the literature he loved so well – English.

Can you share your forthcoming projects? Do you have a wish list of would-be translatees?

Well, what I can hint at for the moment is that readers will be seeing even more Gazdanov in the not-too-distant future, so watch this space! As for would-be translatees, the world of Russian émigré literature is such a treasure-trove of largely forgotten, but top-drawer authors, many of whom I’d love to translate further down the line. It’s so good to see that publishers are now taking a serious interest in them, especially with recent publications like Subtly Worded, a collection of short stories by Teffi, expertly translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson and others.

Do you have a favourite writer – not necessarily Russian? Or perhaps a (very short) shortlist of favourite writers? 

Apart from Gazdanov, naturally? I’d be hard pushed to name just one, but what draws me to an author or a work is a sense of playfulness and beauty in the use of language and form. I’d have to say, in no particular order: Bunin, Nabokov, Spark, Tanizaki and Waugh.

Bryan Karetnyk

Thank you, Bryan!

You can read Bryan Karetnyk's translation of a Gazdanov short story here on Pushkin Press's website.


Thursday, 31 July 2014

Visiting Ventnor with Ivan Tourguenoff

The Isle of Wight has been luring me for some time - not just because it was named the UK's Dinosaur Capital in 2013, but because in 2011 I read Sarah Young's wonderful blog post  called 'In Herzen's Footsteps: A Visit to Ventnor'. Sarah describes how a chain of chance discoveries led her to spend a weekend in the same early Victorian villa where Alexander Herzen's family party stayed in 1854 and again in 1855 (renting the entire house both times).
Almost in passing, Sarah mentions that Ivan Turgenev also stayed in the picturesque coastal town of Ventnor in 1860. He would plan much of the plot of Fathers and Sons (published two years later) during his three-week holiday, and the setting for his story Prizraki (Phantoms, 1863) is based on nearby coastal scenery. For the last three years, therefore, I have been anticipating visiting Ventnor for my own spot of Turgenev tourism.

One of Sarah's major sources for her post is a 1973 SEER article by Richard Freeborn, succinctly titled 'Turgenev in Ventnor'. (Freeborn enjoyed his Turgenev research so much he based a murder mystery novel on it (reviewed here)). This article is a fascinating account of the minutiae of Turgenev's visit; how Herzen's directions ('haphazard to the point of lunacy') almost ensured that Turgenev never found the island, let alone Ventnor; and how the latter became in summer 1860 a virtual hive of Russian tourists and émigrés, including the influential journal editor Mikhail Katkov, the critic Vasilii Botkin,  numerous liberal-minded aristocrats, and Turgenev's personal house-guest, the writer Pavel Annenkov. Turgenev may or may not have been bored in Ventnor, despite the charms of 'freshly mown hay', 'bottle-green waves [...] seaweed-striped sand' he described in letters cited by Freeborn. But he certainly drifted into serious political and social debates with his compatriots.

Me at Rock Cottage

These debates may or may not have helped to define the social antinomies later personified in Fathers and Sons. Annenkov, in his Literary Reminiscences, records that both men were asked by their landlady to leave the first villa they occupied -  'clean and pretty' Rock Cottage on high ground between the beach and the town - because of Annenkov's insistence on smoking strong tobacco. Freeborn ingeniously tracked down corroboration of this move in the relevant editions of the weekly Ventnor Times for August and September 1860. The move that Annenkov reports genuinely did happen; we also learn that the Times ingeniously misspelled Turgenev's surname twice. He was Mr Tourguenett when staying at Rock Cottage, but Mr Tourguenoff after the move to Belinda House on the Esplanade.

The view from Rock Cottage

There is very little I can add to Sarah Young's and Richard Freeborn's accounts, besides reporting on both of Ivan Turgenev's Isle of Wight dwellings. Neither had much luck after their most famous visitor moved out: Rock Cottage on Belgrave Road was destroyed in a German bombing raid, although rebuilt on the same spot with the same name, while Belinda House, according to Freeborn, was rendered unsafe for habitation by subsidence, and is now also rebuilt (renamed Cedar Lodge). We viewed Rock Cottage 2.0 without difficulty; we expected to be similarly edified by Cedar Lodge.  We assumed it would be even easier to find because of the blue plaque it bears commemorating Turgenev's visit. So much the greater was our surprise when neither plaque nor house materialized. Without Sarah's photo of the plaque, posted on her blog, we would have assumed that it never existed. After a fruitless search, we repaired to the Spyglass Inn for consolatory cod and chips. Fortunately, a second chain of chance discoveries - a book sale at a bus stop, and a local historian's advice - later put me in touch with the Curator of the Ventnor Museum (closed when we visited). His email clears up the mystery of the missing plaque:

In answer to your query [...] the house Ivan Tugenev [sic] stayed in is on Ventnor Esplanade and is now occupied by a modern timber style bungalow called "Cedar Lodge".  It is located at the Western end of the Esplanade just beyond a turning called Alma Road.  You could not find the plaque because The Heritage Museum have it as it was damaged in last winters storms. Now awaiting repair.  When it was in position on the property it was on the side of the building and not so easily seen. This was at the request of the owner.

One wonders about this bashful proprietor. True, minds do exist (mine among them) for whom finding Turgenev's holiday lets in Ventnor is at least as exciting as locating Julia Roberts' mansion in Beverly Hills (and also less likely to be patrolled by uniformed security). Yet it's somehow hard to imagine daily crowds of gawking 'Bazarov Trail' tourists with 'Rudin Rules!' T-shirts forcing the freeholders of Cedar Lodge to adopt evasive measures.

In their position, I'd be less publicity-shy: I'd start a business offering Turgenev teas, Sportsman's Sandwiches, and frogs' legs à la Bazarov. As a dinosaur on the Isle of Wight, I must be entitled to some return on my capital...

Picture credits Cutter's Last Stand
Useful sources (both available through JSTOR)
  • Richard Freeborn, 'Turgenev at Ventnor', The Slavonic and East European Review, 51:124 (July 1973), pp. 387-412 
  • James B. Woodward, 'Turgenev's "Phantoms": A Reassessment', The Slavonic and East European Review, 50: 121 (Oct 1972), pp. 530-545  

Friday, 25 July 2014

If It Squelches Like A Snipe, It's... Anna Karenina

2014 will witness a high-tension face-off between two competing purveyors of Russian culture. No, they're not overpriced coffee franchises, Kofe-Haus and Shokoladnitsa; they don't involve any part of Pyotr Pavlensky's anatomy; and they certainly aren't Putin and Medvedev. In autumn 2014, Oxford and Yale University Presses will launch new translations of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina by translators Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz respectively. You can admire both books' websites here and here. (Not that the Dinosaur is prejudiced, but Rosamund Bartlett's version is already available on Kindle).

Millais' portrait of Louise Jopling (1879)
While I look forward to a readathon with both translations in the near future, I already enjoyed a direct introduction to Rosamund Bartlett's when she spoke at the University of Exeter's humanities seminar last month. Rosamund has been working intensively on Anna for the last three years, ever since finishing her 2010 biography of its author, Tolstoy: A Russian Life. When she spoke to us, she was less than 24 hours away from her final proofs check (and able to reveal the cover image, pictured right, a portrait of the British artist Louise Jopling; entirely unrelated to Anna, although Jopling did have three husbands). From that unique perspective, Rosamund shared many of her insights and discoveries about Tolstoy, who is virtually a member of her family by now, and also about his translators. I was fascinated to learn just how many translators Anna Karenina has had, from the Harvard graduate and fellow Tolstoy biographer Nathan Haskell Dole in 1886, to the extraordinary story of Kirill Zinofieff's and Jenny Hughes' collaboration on their 2008 version, which Zinofieff had begun and abandoned over half a century previously with his late wife, the translator April FitzLyon. Zinofieff was 98 and clinically blind during the manuscript revision for Oneworld Press; his friend Hughes, knowing no Russian, learned the Cyrillic alphabet in order to be able to 'read' the Russian original aloud to him word by word (this podcast gives their story). Intriguingly, of the 13 separate translations to date, three were produced wholly or partly by husband-and-wife teams - a useful reminder that the original Anna, scrawled by Tolstoy and fair-copied by Sofia Andreyevna, was also a product of conjugal teamwork. Perhaps the message is that you don't have to be married to translate Tolstoy, but it helps?

 Here, with Rosamund's permission, is the family tree of Anna Karenina's Anglophone translators:

  1. Nathan Haskell Dole (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1886)
  2.  Constance Garnett (London: Heinemann, 1901)
  3.  Leo Wiener [Anna Karenin] (Boston: Estes, London: Dent, 1904)
  4. Rochelle S. Townsend (London: Dent, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1912)
  5. Louise and Aylmer Maude (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1918)
  6. Rosemary Edmonds [Anna Karenin] (Harmondsworth: Penguin, , 1954)
  7.  Joel Carmichael (New York: Bantam Books, 1960)
  8.  David Magarshack (New York: Signet Classics, 1961)
  9.  Margaret Wettlin (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978)
  10.  Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (London: Allen Lane, 2000)
  11.  Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes (and, arguably, April FitzLyon) (London: Oneworld Classics, 2008) 
  12. Rosamund Bartlett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  13. Marian Schwartz (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014)
Rosamund's talk also threw light on the degree of finesse required to translate Tolstoy correctly - a quest for accuracy that, in the past, has drawn her into correspondence with beekeepers and birdwatchers. She drew our attention to a short passage from Levin's snipe hunt in Part 6, Chapter 10 of the novel. Here the sticking point, or rather squelching point, is the precise sound made by a snipe flushed by hunters. Russian possesses the onomatopoeic verb chmokat’ for this phenomenon (social butterflies will be familiar with the throaway endearment chmoki, meaning 'kisses' in the sense of lip-smacking - rather like the English air-kiss 'mwah').  The problem is that Tolstoy uses exactly the same verb to describe what Bartlett calls 'the sucking sound made by Levin’s heel as he extracts it from the bog', thus emphasizing Levin's temporary confusion between his own noise and the bird's alarm call. Previous translators have exerted themselves to find a suitably onomatopoeic verb for the snipe's call plus a completely different verb for Levin's boot, thus losing Tolstoy's deliberate ambiguity. Here is the original passage:  

Ближе и ближе подходили собаки, минуя одна другую, каждая ведя свою нить; ожидание бекаса было так сильно, что чмоканье своего каблука, вытаскиваемого изо ржавчины, представлялось Левину криком бекаса, и он схватывал и сжимал приклад ружья.

Бац! Бац! — раздалось у него над ухом. Это Васенька выстрелил в стадо уток, которые вились над болотом и далеко не в меру налетели в это время на охотников. Не успел Левин оглянуться, как уж чмокнул один бекас, другой, третий, и еще штук восемь поднялось один за другим.

Here is Rosamund's translation:

The dogs were getting nearer and nearer, keeping out of each other’s way as they followed their own trail: the expectation of snipe was so intense that Levin thought the squelching sound of his heel as he pulled it out of the bog was the call of a snipe, and he clutched the butt of his gun and held it tight.
‘Bang! bang!’ rang out above his ear. It was Vasenka shooting a flock of ducks that had been circling over the marsh and just then flying towards the sportsmen far out of range. A snipe squelched before Levin had time to look round, followed by a second and a third, and then about eight more rose one after the other.
A Norfolk snipe. Is it squelching, whirring, or creeching?
This is Constance Garnett's version:

the expectation of snipe was so intense that to Levin the squelching sound of his own heel, as he drew it up out of the mire, seemed to be the call of a snipe... Before Levin had time to look round, there was the whir of one snipe....

And here are the Maudes, Rosamund's immediate predecessors at OUP:

the expectation of snipe was so intense that the squelching sound of his own heel, as he drew it out of the rusty mud, sounded to Levin like the call of a bird... Before Levin had time to look round, he heard the whirr of a snipe...

And finally the formidable Pevear and Volokhonsky:

the expectation was so intense that the sucking of his own boot as he pulled it out of the rusty water sounded to Levin like the call of a snipe... Levin had barely turned to look when a snipe creeched...

This goes to show that translators can try too hard and, by their versatility, impede the flow of their source texts. 

The Dinosaur wishes Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz well with the imminent launch and promotion of their books, and looks forward to reviewing both by Christmas. Two Tolstoy
translations, tandemocracy... well, it's been clear ever since Sochi that Russian culture emphasizes doing important things in pairs.