Notable Books: Russian Titles in English Translation, 2009-2019

Punctured Lines

The impetus for creating this post came from a recent Twitter discussion. We at Punctured Lines decided to accept a dare and came up with a list of notable Russian titles available in English translation from the last decade. This has been an opportunity to take stock of the years 2009-2019, both to remember the books we’ve read and to look back at those that we might have missed.

In this task, we relied heavily on Lisa Hayden’s blog, Lizok’s Bookshelf, where Lisa keeps chronological track of the English translations – our deep gratitude for creating and maintaining this resource. Our methodology for choosing among all those works was based on several factors. Rather obviously, for our purposes we only considered works by women. We also wanted to highlight writers whose names may not be very familiar to English-speaking readers but whose work we feel deserves wider exposure…

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Mary Poppins in Russia: an excerpt from Elena Goodwin’s book Translating England into Russian, available from Bloomsbury

Here is an extract from my book “Translating England into Russian: The Politics of Children’s Literature in the Soviet Union and Modern Russia”, available from Bloomsbury Academic, from Chapter 7 about Russian translations of P. L. Travers’s “Mary Poppins”, shared on the blog Punctured Lines.

Punctured Lines

As a part of our investment into cultural, linguistic, and geographical hybridity of stories told about the Soviet Union, we at Punctured Lines are delighted to present an excerpt from a recent book by Elena Goodwin, Translating England into Russian: The Politics of Children’s Literature in the Soviet Union and Modern Russia, published by Bloomsbury.

In eight chapters covering both the Soviet period and post-Soviet Russia, Elena Goodwin explores translations of English children’s literature. She looks closely at the work of leading translators working from English to Russian, including Samuil Marshak, Korney Chukovsky, Boris Zakhoder, Irina Tokmakova, and Nina Demurova, among others, and considers how representations of Englishness depended on USSR’s ideology and reflected the shifts in post-Soviet Russia’s political and cultural climate.

Though this book is aimed primarily at academic historians and translation scholars, we believe it has much to offer to translators, bilingual readers, creative writers, and…

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Illustrations and text

It’s amazing how illustrations and text can work together in children’s literature to create new meaning.

A great example of the connection between the textual and the visual material is the 1925 Soviet children’s book Morozhenoe [Ice Cream] published by Raduga publishing house (Leningrad). It has the poem Morozhenoe written by the prominent children’s poet and translator Samuil Marshak (1887–1964). The book has illustrations by the painter and graphic artist Vladimir Lebedev (1891–1967).

The image of a strange fat man who eats too much ice cream in Marshak’s poem is transformed into the image of a greedy capitalist ice cream eater when Lebedev’s illustrations are added to the text. So, both the text and the visual representation create ideological opposition which is rather schematic and representative of the 1920s anti-bourgeois Soviet rhetoric: the hardworking ice cream man and good proletarian children against the gluttonous wealthy capitalist.

The whole poem in Russian with Lebedev’s illustrations can be found under this link:

Also there is a detailed analysis of Marshak and Lebedev’s Morozhenoe in  Sara Pankenier Weld’s book An Ecology of the Russian Avant-Garde Picturebook (Amsterdam: John Benjamins 2018) on pages 102-104. She considers this example as a development of the visual allegory of “the big fat man in a multidimensional manner” and looks at it through an ideological lens.

And more on ideology and illustrations in the 1920s Soviet children’s books can be found here:

About Joyce’s Ulysses translated into Spanish

José Salas Subirat, the first translator of Joyce’s Ulysses into Spanish, is one of Argentina’s most famous translators. He was a writer who worked as an insurance agent. He translated Ulysses on the train, commuting from his home in the suburbs to the insurance company and back.

More about the fascinating journey of Joyce’s novel to the Spanish-speaking world in Lucas Petersen’s article José Salas Subirat, the eccentric first translator of Joyce’s Ulysses into Spanish published in The Irish Times:

On literary translation

Translation builds bridges between cultures, languages and experiences and there’s no doubt that it makes the world a bit better. As for literary translation, great stories from elsewhere in the world, including Russian literature, get translated into English every year. Hopefully, there will be more in the future. 
Here are a few links on literary translation:

On Russian translations and translators (in Russian) – and

On translation in the English-speaking world – and

An interesting essay on the art of translation written by Mark Polizzotti, an American translator and author. He discusses what translation is and what it isn’t, how translation works and how it doesn’t work, and what makes a good translation.  –

An thought-provoking short feature in the London Review of Books blog about Anthony Burgess and his novel A Clockwork Orange translated into Russian. –

And another inspiring article on translation of contemporary Russian literature:  –