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Gary Saul Morson on "The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina"

In the April issue of Commentary, Professor Gary Saul Morson, who wrote an introduction and notes to my translation of Anna Kareninalooks closely at Tolstoy's great insight into "what is truly important in human lives":

We tend to think that true life is lived at times of high drama. When Anna Karenina reads a novel on the train, she wants to live the exciting incidents described. Both high literature and popular culture foster the delusion that ordinary, prosaic happiness represents something insufferably bourgeois, a suspension of real living. Forms as different as romantic drama, adventure stories, and tragedies suggest that life is truly lived only in moments of great intensity.

Tolstoy thought just the opposite.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

First Reviews in for Daria Wilke's "Playing a Part"

PlayingAPart coverI'm very happy to announce that in March Arthur A. Levine Books will be publishing my translation of Daria Wilke's wonderful young adult novel Playing a Part--about a boy growing up in a Moscow puppet theater, where his parents perform--and the good reviews have started to come in. The book made headlines when it was originally published amid the enactment of laws forbidding the distribution of gay "propaganda" to minors (see the Publishers Weekly review).

Kirkus Reviews says that  "readers will be engrossed by the plot hatched by Grisha and Sashok to get Lyolik back and moved by the story's themes and the rich, image-laden language: 'The theater starts murmuring, speaking, tramping, and rustling.' A lovely, moving novel with a bittersweet conclusion."

VOYA praises it as well: "The beautifully drawn characters entice readers into the story, which, although small in scope, illuminates crucially important issues about sexual identity, acceptance, and the pressure to conform. The book is unique in that it highlights the problems encountered by teens who are gender neutral or still exploring their sexual identity. The writing is lyrical and the imagery vivid."

Watch this space for more reviews, as they appear.

 

The Translator's Answerability

In his blog--the unlight bearableness of translating a really great title--Russell Scott Valentino follows up on his previous post on Masha Gessen's review of the two new translations of Anna Karenina. He begins the post:

My previous post on Masha Gessen's review of the two new Anna Karenina translations, one each by Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz, attrAK Gessen reviewacted some criticisms. I'll respond in a couple of posts to make each one shorter.

Schwartz AKJohn Cowan comments, "You write as if the translator had no responsibility to the author at all, and it is all one whether the AK translator writes 'All happy families are alike' on the first page, or 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.'"

I hope this wasn't a widespread impression from my piece. But maybe I wasn't clear enough. A glance at the Weinberger essay I quote from should dispel any lingering doubts, especially where he writes: "Now obviously a translation that is replete with semantical errors is probably a bad translation."Bartlett AK Outside of parodying or otherwise hijacking a text for other purposes, it's hard to imagine a context where switching a Tolstoy line for a Dickens line would be seen as a successful translation strategy.

But why the "probably" in Weinberger's quote? Because "fidelity may be the most overrated of a translation's qualities." It is the easiest thing to get right. Not easy of course, just the easiest.

 

I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Lively Anna Karenina Reading at BookPeople

BookPeople reading sign 11jan15Thank you to everyone who turned out for my reading of Anna Karenina on Sunday, January 11--all fifty or so of you!  It was especially lovely to see so many translator friends in the audience.

BookPeople did a first-rate job of promoting the event and even featured me on their events sign (left).

They had me sign extra copies, so if you couldn't come but want a signed book, drop by the store before they run out!