Category Archives: Forthcoming Translations

Forthcoming: The Rehearsals by Vladimir Sharov

In 1656, at the behest of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, the building of a life-size replica of Jerusalem began on the bank of the river Istra. The trees were cut down and tonnes of additional earth brought in to fashion the typical landscape of Central Russia into the geographical semblance of the Holy Land. The imposing monastic ensemble that grew there in the course of the years of intense work, in which Nikon himself took part, became known as The New Jerusalem Monastery. The cathedral of the complex was built to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepuclchre in Jerusalem, the river Istra was rechristened as the Jordan, and the surrounding terrain features received Biblical names: Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, the Garden of Gethsemane.

Although this may sound  like something that sprang from the fertile mind of Russian writer Vladmir Sharov, this unbeleavable event did happen, and you can actually visit the restored monastery in all its splendour if you ever come to the town of Istra, about 40 kilometres away from Moscow. For Sharov, this colossal construction project is just the point of departure for the construction of his own:  one of the most striking novels you are going to read in the coming year. In The Rehearsals,  the building of New Jerusalem is concurrent with the preparations for a mystery play faithfully recreating the events of the Gospels that Patriarch Nikon commissions a Breton theatre director to stage on the monastery grounds. The director uses the local peasants for the roles of the Jews, the Christians, and the Romans, as he is forbidden to employ professional actors. Since nobody is allowed to play Jesus Christ himself, that part is conferred to the empty space which the crowd of amateur thespians have to address year after year as they rehearse for the great premiere scheduled for the year 1666. Perhaps then, during the performance, Jesus Christ will descend in New Jerusalem on the bank of the Istra River, and the world will come to an end? When the time comes, we realise that the premiere will have to be postponed and that the rehearsals will continue for many more years, overshadowing by the scale of the attendant cruelty and brutality both the Biblical sources and the humble beginnings of the 17th-century.

Sharov’s dense and skillfully manipulative narrative will require all your attention. Bear with him, and you will be rewarded.  Ridden with all sorts of rabbit holes, that’s a Wonderland no Alice would visit on her own accord, for the journey would take her to the terrifying metaphysical depths of Russian and Soviet history. Translated into English by Oliver Ready (one of the five virtuosi I posted about earlier), Sharov’s staggering novel is slated to come out from Dedalus Books at the end of January. Don’t miss it.

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Forthcoming: Geography of Rebels Trilogy by Maria Gabriela Llansol

Poetic and hermetic, unlike anything else you’re going to read for the remainder of the year, Audrey Young’s forthcoming translation of Maria Gabriela Llansol’s trilogy is a true gift to the English-speaking connoisseurs of meditative erudite prose. The three texts combined under the title Geography of Rebels (Geografia de Rebeldes) are hard to pigeonhole: it is quite possible that the writer, little known outside her native Portugal, invented her own genre which I will abstain from labelling but rather encourage my readers to experience for themselves when the book is brought out this December by the adventurous Texas publisher Deep Vellum. The magnificent heterotopia, constructed by the Portugese author out of the debris of European history and culture, brings together Thomas Müntzer, the leader of the ill-fated peasant uprising during the early Reformation, St. John of the Cross, the Spanish Catholic mystic and poet whose masterpiece Dark Night of the Soul (La noche oscura del alma) narrates the peregrination of the soul on its way to the unity with God, and Friedrich Nietzsche, a rebel philosopher par excellence. The real protagonist of this tripartite extravaganza, however, is the sensual and cerebral Ana de Peñalosa, the major driving force of the community of rebels. She is also a mystic, as well as an intellectual whose goal is to recreate some kind of transcendental  space exclusively devoted to knowledge. Known today as just a marginal figure to whom St. John of the Cross dedicated the four stanzas of The Living Flame Of Love (Llama de amor viva), Ana de Peñalosa takes centre stage in Geography of Rebels to tell her story and the story of a Europe torn between the Reformation and Counter-reformation in a unique and utterly absorbing manner, weaving a complex tapestry of allegories, symbols, allusions and revelations, which is likely to invite just as many interpretations and learned discussions as the poetic heritage of her more renowned admirer.

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Forthcoming: Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine

radiantterminusAntoine Volodine’s radioactive phantasmagoria, in which futuristic communism is intertwined with the magic of East Slavic oral traditions, is forthcoming from Open Letter Books in Jeffrey Zuckerman’s translation. You might remember that I mentioned this novel among the most notable releases of the Rentrée Literaire in 2014. Voilà, in a few months you will have the opportunity to decide for yourselves if there are any limits to the wild imagination of this particular heteronym of the French author, who also writes under the names of Elli Kronauer, Lutz Bassmann, and Manuela Draeger. If you’d like to get some idea about the person behind all these noms de plume, I recommend reading the interview he gave to The Paris Review in 2015 .

In the distant future, the city of Orbise, the last stronghold of communism in Siberia, falls into the hands of the invading hordes. The scale of the catastrophe is comparable to the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. This is the final downfall of the Second Soviet Union. Two men and a woman fleeing the destroyed city venture into the vast expanse of the bleak and unwelcoming steppe, collecting lethal rays emitted by the ruined nuclear plants that used to provide collective farms with electricity. They are looking for a safe haven that would accept and take care of the proletarian fugitives like themselves. Perhaps kolkhoz Radiant Terminus is just the place?

The truly radiant heart of the kolkhoz is a huge warehouse built around a two-kilometer deep hole created by the sinking reactor in the wake of the melt-down of the farm’s nuclear station. Since that time, this luminous well has been serving as an omnivorous dumping shaft, swallowing with equal appetite radioactive debris and the hapless individuals who have fallen into disgrace with the local authorities. The chief of the kolkhoz is known simply as Solovyei. His name (the Russian for “nightingale”) is an obvious reference  to Solovei the Brigand, the notorious villain of Russian bylinas. The anarchistically-minded leader of this forgotten commune is impervious to radiation, possesses shamanistic abilities of entering other people’s dreams and expresses his creativity by composing hallucinatory texts which are as far from the dogmas of socialist realism as it gets. Equally immune to the deathly particles is his first wife Mémé Oudgoul, who is in the habit of talking to the sunken reactor when she is not busy feeding it.

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Nikolai Blokhin, Соловей-разбойник (Solovei the Brigand). Image source

Well, that’s what I call a promising start. If you fancy lingering a bit longer in the grotesque world sketched above as well as learning scores of names of different herbs encountered in the taiga region, you’re welcome to pay a visit to Radiant Terminus this February.

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Forthcoming: Antagony by Luis Goytisolo

antagonyrecounting

One of the next year’s most significant literary events is the publication of Brendan Riley’s translation of Book I of Luis Goytisolo’s massive tetralogy Antagony (Antagonía), which will be coming out in four volumes from Dalkey Archive Press. Here is what Mario Vargas Llosa writes about this epic novel that has taken its author twenty years to write:

Besides being an ambitious and complex book, difficult to read due to the protoplasmic configuration of the narrative matter, it is also an experiment intended to renew the content and the form of the traditional novel, following the example of those paradigms which revolutionalised the genre of the novel or at least tried to do so — above all Proust and Joyce, but, also James, Broch and Pavese –, without renouncing a certain moral and civic commitment to historical reality which, although very diluted, is always present, sometimes on the front stage, sometimes as the novel’s backdrop.

Antagony consists of four parts: Recuento (Recounting); Los verdes de mayo hasta el mar (The Greens of May Until the Sea); La colera de Aquiles (The Wrath of Achilles); and Teoria de Conocimiento (Theory of Knowledge). It is a Künstlerroman telling the story of  middle-class Catalan Raúl Ferrer Gaminde over the period starting with the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and finishing with the final years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. The first three parts are dedicated to the the life of the protagonist bent on becoming a writer: we follow his social, artistic, and political development since childhood and up to maturity when he fulfills his ambition by writing a novel called Theory of Knowledge which makes up the final part of the tetralogy. However, this is not a microscopic exploration of an individual fate — Antagony is much more than that.  We get to know many other characters, we learn about the social and cultural ambiance of Barcelona during that period,  about all the major upheavals experienced by Catalonia and its people in the course of the dictatorship. There are detailed and exquisite descriptions of rural and urban landscapes (Barcelona is represented with an unforgettable flair and verve),  learned discussions on literature, politics, and sex, as well as set-in analytical pieces examining a wide variety of topics such as ancient philosophy, religion, art, mythology, architecture and, of course, the novel.  For the appreciators of long serpentine sentences this novel is a veritable eldorado: any Sebald fan will feel at home in the intricacies of Luis Goytisolo’s syntax. First and foremost, it is a novel for those who have already been spoilt by the virtuosity of some of the greatest stylists of the 20th century and are not willing to settle for anything short of the brilliance brought into being by the pen of Marcel Proust or Hermann Broch. It is exhilarating to the point of vertigo to realise that this tremendous gap will be finally filled: Antagony will find a grateful audience among English-language readers.

There is only one English-language review of the tetralogy that I know of, which is available at The Modern Novel, one of the largest resources on contemporary world literature on the web. If you haven’t done it yet, I encourage you to explore this site. You can also read a brief description of the novel along with the high praise by such acclaimed authors as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Pere Gimferrer on the foreign rights page of  Antagony at the website of its Spanish publisher Anagrama.

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Forthcoming: Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov

DogWolfI thought it would never happen. No, there was no way Sasha Sokolov’s most impenetrable novel would be translated. Reading  Between Dog and Wolf  back in the 1990s made me reconsider the presumptuous notion that I “knew” the Russian language. Even with the assistance of the four volumes of a facsimile edition of Vladimir Dal’s Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language I was not always able to make out what was going on in this maverick masterpiece. What I was positive about, however, was the fact that for the first time in my life I saw the Russian language perform impossible tricks right before my eyes. Sasha Sokolov wasn’t just a writer –  he was a magician, an alchemist creating his text by some secret crafts like a homunculus in a retort.

In my view, since the beginning of the twentieth century there have been four great Russian wordsmiths, and Sasha Sokolov is certainly one of them. The other three are Andrei Bely, Vladimir Nabokov and Alexander Goldstein. These writers have shown that they could do with the language whatever they pleased, creating works of breathtaking stylistic complexity and sheer brilliance at the sentence level. It is worth noting that Nabokov welcomed Sokolov’s debut novel  A School for Foolscalling it “an enchanting, tragic, and touching book”. We can regard Nabokov’s warm response as the symbolic gesture of an older grand stylist passing on the baton to a younger one. A School for Fools is an unconventional novel in many respects, but it doesn’t come even close to the runaway weirdness and verbal pyrotechnics of Between Dog and Wolf. Although this novel is obviously a parody of various styles and literary traditions, like all great works, it transcends the ludic element and breaks out into the sphere of the sublime.

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Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The protagonist of the novel is an itinerant knife-grinder with the name as uncertain as the proverbial position of an elementary particle. It keeps changing all the time. He wanders about the fictitious lands partly based on the the Volga region, and partly on the landscape in Pieter Bruegel’s The Hunters in the Snow which, by the way, inspired Sokolov to write the novel in the first place. Eight years prior to the publication of Between Dog and Wolf it had also been used to a stunning effect by another Russian master: Andrei Tarkovsky in his film adaptation of Solaris. There is no shortage of Breugelian grotesques in the book, the main character Ilya being the most prominent and the most eloquent of them. The story of his love, miseries, and existential horror is related in an eclectic torrent of verbiage flaunting a wide range of mimicked styles and genres, obscure archaisms and hilarious wordplay. From time to time the main narrative is interrupted by sequences of poems from the collection A Hunter’s Sketches  (titled after Ivan Turgenev’s famous short-story collection) although “interrupt” might not be the most appropriate word here, for the poems are as carnivalesque and off-the-wall as the prose. Sokolov’s next novel Palisandria, which came out in English as Astrophobia, was a longer work with a more convoluted plot, more copious literary allusions and a bigger cast of characters, but it couldn’t rival Between Dog and Wolf in its linguistic intensity. In terms of language, this short novel still remains the zenith of Sokolov’s writing career.

Let me remind you that everything written above refers to the original Russian text. I have no conceivable idea how this philosopher’s stone may be re-transmuted in the English language. Alexander Boguslwaski, who has also translated A School for Fools, must be exceptionally brave to have undertaken this challenging task. Sasha Sokolov has created a new kind of Russian for his novel that makes a short shrift of the impatient reader and sends the patient one on an arduous journey of rediscovering his own mother tongue. In order to convey that in translation, a new kind of English has to be created. Whether the translator has succeeded in pulling off this feat we’ll see pretty soon.

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