Miranda July is a filmmaker, artist, and writer. Her most recent work is The First Bad Man, a novel. For his bookshop and website One Grand Books, editor Aaron Hicklin asked July to name the ten books she'd take with her if she were marooned on a desert island. On March 11, 2016, her list, "My Bookshelf, Myself," ran in the New York Times Style Magazine and included the brilliant choice of Nina Berberova's The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories, which was first published, in her lifetime, in hardback by Alfred A. Knopf and in paperback by Vintage. Subsequently, this volume and five others became part of the brilliant New Directions catalog and remains very much in print.
For the story of how the title story acquired its title, you can read my essay at Words Without Borders, "The Tattered Cloak: The Story of the Title," which illustrates just how convoluted the path to a title can be.
The Tattered Cloak and Other Stories corresponds roughly to Berberova's collection Облегчение участи [Sentence Commuted]--which Berberova considered her finest fiction.
The Culture Trip has posted Varia Fedko-Blake's annotated list of the twelve Russian must-reads--and they are all, indeed, must-reads, including Victor Pelevin's Omon Ra and Andrey Platonov's Foundation Pit. I was delighted to see that she included two books in my translation as well, Yuri Olesha's Envy and Mikhail Shishkin's Maidenhair. One quibble, though: by most definitions, more than one of these books are anything but "contemporary." Envy was written in 1927 and The Foundation Pit in 1930, though the latter wasn't published until 1987, due to Soviet censorship. Strictly contemporary or not, it's a bang-up list, an excellent starting place for your adventure in Russian literature.
As 2015 draws to a close, Mikhail Shishkin's Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories (Deep Vellum), has been getting some lovely attention.
Marian Schwartz and others have translated these works, which are "the perfect introduction to Russia's greatest ... contemporary author." The 1993 short story "Calligraphy Lesson" was Shishkin's first published work. Like the narrator in Maidenhair, legal scribe and calligraphy teacher Evgeny hears harrowing stories every day and transmutes them into art. The most recent piece in the book, "Nabokov's Inkblot" written in 2013, is an accessible tale of money, culture and compromise. Along with stories, in Shishkin's characteristically dense and allusive prose, there are autobiographical fragments, like "The Half-Belt Overcoat", which revisits his mother's death and the process of writing The Taking of Izmail, due out in English next year. The volume ends with the breathtakingly brilliant essay on language, "In a Boat Scratched on a Wall", where the author argues for the redemptive power of literature, "a link between two worlds."
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.
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.