Marian Schwartz has translated over sixty volumes of Russian classic and contemporary fiction, history, biography, criticism, and fine art. She is the principal English translator of the works of Nina Berberova and translated the New York Times’ bestseller The Last Tsar, by Edvard Radzinsky, as well as classics by Mikhail Bulgakov, Ivan Goncharov, Yuri Olesha, and Mikhail Lermontov. Her most recent publications are Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Andrei Gelasimov's Rachel, Daria Wilke's Playing a Part, and half the stories in Mikhail Shishkin's Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories. She is a past president of the American Literary Translators Association and the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowships, as well as the 2014 Read Russia Prize for Contemporary Russian Literature.
Cynsations--"a source for conversations, publishing information, writer resources & inspiration, bookseller-librarian-teacher appreciation, children's-YA book news & author outreach"--has interviewed me about my recent foray into YA lit: Playing a Part, by Daria Wilke.
This novel spotlights traditional puppets, especially the Jester in a version of Cinderella. Is the lexicon of puppets embedded in everyday Russian, or did you have to learn from scratch about gesso and leg yokes, ruches and chiton, controllers and crossbars?
I knew nothing about the technical aspect of puppets when I began this project, but that's one of the perks of being a translator: the research required to make a translation correct and complete. It's easy to get (happily) lost learning about a new field. I read books about puppetmaking and consulted with puppeteers. I did extensive Internet image searches. There are books that require no research at all, but they're very rare.
Last year, Yale University Press published my translation of Venedikt Erofeev's play, Walpurgis Night, or the Steps of the Commander, one of a very few works Erofeev completed before his relatively early death and never published as a book in English before. Plays are hard to draw attention to, but I'm happy to announce that my translation is a finalist for AATSEEL's translation prize--to me, a meaningful piece of recognition because it comes from Slavists, who have background and context to appreciate a book like this.
For the non-Slavists among you, WN is often compared to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in that it's set in an insane asylum and has political overtones, except here with Shakespearean elements--the protagonist has a bad tendency to lapse into "Shakespearean iambs" and at play's end the stage is littered with alcohol-poisoned corpses. All-round entertainment.
A very good day.
First, my Anna Karenina got shortlisted for ALTA's National Translation Award,
And then, Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize.
Possibly not in that order.
In 2001, I translated a couple of essays by Alexievich for Autodafé: The Journal of the International Parliament of Writers: "Go Where You Shouldn't" and "Enquêtes sur l'amour en Russie (Inquiries into Love in Russia)," and in 2005, Words Without Borders published my translation of a story of hers, "The Wondrous Deer of the Eternal Hunt," which you can read here.
This year, PEN America asked me and several other PEN members to celebrate the freedom to read by reflecting on the banned books that matters most to us. This is PEN's way of taking part in the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, which brings together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
My choice was Daria Wilke's Playing a Part, a young adult novel (which I translated and which came out this year from Arthur A. Levine Books) that addresses Russian censorship around LGBT themes:
In Daria Wilke's young adult novel Playing a Part, young Grisha is happy at home with his actor parents in a Moscow puppet theater, but he is young and trying to sort out the whole identity—especially gender identity—thing. He's harassed not only by school bullies but even by his grandfather, who doesn't think he's macho enough. Meanwhile another actor, Sam, who is Grisha's mentor and friend, is leaving Russia for the Netherlands because he's gay and can't endure the daily harassment being gay brings upon him.
I describe the book in this way because of its publication in Russia, where homosexuality was criminalized throughout the Soviet period and, in the last few years, criminalized anew. The fact of Russian censorship of "gay propaganda" has shaped my presentation and made this thoughtful and engaging novel also political.
For the rest of the article, click here.