Select language:

Marian Schwartz. Not Lost in Translation

 /  / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / Marian Schwartz. Not Lost in Translation

Marian Schwartz. Not Lost in Translation

25.04.2016

Winner of “Read Russia” prizeMarian Schwartzhas translated over sixty items of Russian poetry and prose – from Tolstoy and Lermontov to Shishkin and Gelasimov. In her interview to Russkiy Mir, she told about her work, choice of writers and meeting Nina Berberova.

‒ You have been working as a translator for all your life. Why have you chosen this path and exactly this language pair English-Russian?


‒ Frankly speaking, I did not choose any path then it just happened. You should remember that I grew up in 1960s and started translating in 1970s these were special times, it was a so-called cultural revolution. Everything was changing then customs, politics women’s status. I did not worry too much about my own destiny. Well, maybe I just thought so.

After finishing my masters degree, I started working as an editor in New York, but stayed at that job for only two years; I wanted to travel more and to work on my own, to translate more. This is what I did. When I had no translation offers, I worked as an editor of temporary projects. Gradually, I quit editing at all and started to translate only novels, short novels, also biographies, critics, philosophy and history.

I started learning Russian when I was only 18, when I was at Harvard. At the time, I already knew French quite well, later I also learned Spanish and Czech. I started translating from Russian when I was seriously taken away with the early 20th century literature. I wrote a masters work about Tsvetaeva. My first publication was an extract from the Mayakovskys book My Discovery of America and the first translated book was a collection of essays on the Russian Intelligentsia Landmarks. I still often translate texts written in 1910s, 1920s ‒ Berberova, Tsvetaeva, Bulgakov, Olesha and others.

‒ It is not easy to present a new writer to the audience. Why did you decide to translate the "Harlequin's Costume" novel by Leonid Yuzefovich, which was later awarded at Read Russia 2014?

‒ Before the fall of the Soviet Union, we did not know here much about the authors within the boundaries of the country and what they wrote, and in 1990s I waited anxiously for the new names. I asked my friends, read critics and heard the same surname Yuzefovich. Having read the "Harlequin's Costume" novel, I fell in love with detective Putilin and translated the novel without a contract. I found a grant and a publisher later. His novel "The Storm" was published in my translation. I am npw finishing translating perhaps one of his most famous novels Sand Riders without a contract, too. But I do hope to find a publisher.

‒ In the idealistic worldview a translator is a person, sitting in front of a littered enormous picturesque table and translating a genious novel. How does life differ from the imagined picture?

‒ I work in quite civilized circumstances in a small town Austin, Texas, in a small house, which is behind our main house. My table is enormous, indeed. And the display is enormous, too, as I translate only using my computer. Some of the dictionaries are only in an old paper format. There is a painting of a Ukrainian artist named Feodosiy Gumenyuk above the table. We were friends in Leningrad, when we were studying at the philology department of the Leningrad State University.

‒ Some time ago you and translator Rosamund Bartlett were awarded the special prizes of Read Russia English Translation Prize for simultaneously translated Anna Karenina novel. Please tell, did you already know, that your colleague was also translating it at the same time? Was there any kind of competition between you two?

‒ No, I did not know about another translation. I started mine at the end of the previous century, but put it aside for ten years. I do not feel any competition now. Everything differs in our translations both purposes and view of the text. We first met at the Moscow Translators Congress two years ago and we have a lot in common.

‒ How often do you intercommunicate with your colleagues? Do you have professional circles or does every translator live his own personal life without trying to "exchange experience"?

‒ Engish-speaking translators from Russian always communicate - not all of us, though. In the USA we meet at American Literary Translators Association conference every year. We exhange news, questions on Facebook and in Russian Translations group. The English communicate even more - the country is smaller.

‒ You are the main translator of Nina Berberova's works - a unique person, writer of the Russian emmigration, as one might say. How did you meet her and how do Americans percieve her works?

‒ It is a huge question! If I'd say everything on this issue I'd like to say, it would be enough for one more interview. In short - my ex-professor and a brilliant translator himself Richard Sylvester introduced us. He translated her book "Moura: The Dangerous Life of the Baroness Budberg" and asked me to work on the transaltion with him.

Back then in 1981 I lived in New York and started visiting her in Princeton regularly to work on the translation, when Sylvester was in Moscow. I asked her if she had ever written fiction prose. It was known, that she was Khodasevich's unlawful wife and wrote "The Italics are Mine" ‒ quite a scandalous, but important book. All the slavists study the book, even if they do not believe everything written in it. She gave me a copy of "Sentence Commuted" selected works and I started translating it. We were friends up till her death in 1993 and often spoke on the phone right after returning to Austin.

Berberova lived in France for 25 years and at 49 moved to America; she did not speak English and had almost no money. She wrote a marvellous novel "Big City" about a man, who just moved to America. Although the main character was a man, he always resembled me her. Sure enough, she knew many people here, but she had found her way herself and had great success at the end, although among limited groups.

I think, she missed Russia, but not the Soviet Union. She was almost killed by her visit there in late 1980s. Berberova knew all about Russia in theory - she constantly hosted guests and new emigrants from the Soviet Union, but could not see everything with her own eyes. This visit was a shock for her. She was bitter about what she called roughness of the city (Saint Petersburg) and the people by contrast to the delicacy and elegance of the time of her youth. Her joy about emergence of her books in Russia was eclipsed by the impression from the modern Russian literature.

Berberova was a living connection with the gone generation not only with Khodasevich, but also with Blok, Gorky and many others. Every memory about them is priceless. She told me, that researchers used to come to learn the patronymics of the long-gone people. I mean, when you read in a text something like ". . somebody, she remembered Adam Arkadyevich or Anton Afanasyevich. These details are difficult to find, but she just knew it.

I love Berberovas stories for the way they are written, first of all: delicately, intelligently, with no pretension, and I adore her ability to write on behalf of so many characters. These stories offer a totally new view on the world of the Russian emigration at the dawn of the twentieth century. They broadcasted the tune, mindset and attitude of the people, who lost everything and knew they would not see the country of their youth for sure.

You were the person, who made the modern Russian prose Gelasimov, Shishkin, Daria Vilke familiar to the English-speaking reader. What modern, maybe young authors you would like to translate?

‒ Id translate Slavnikova and Yuzefovich once more with pleasure. Who else? Kuznetsov, Lukianov, Eltang, for instance, although they are not that young. I do not know many young authors, unfortunately.

‒ Do you sometimes feel lost in translation?

‒ The most difficult thing for me is the drastic transformation of the Russian language. It is difficult to follow as long as I do not live in Russia. My teachers were all born in late 19th early 20th century and grew up in Saint Petersburg. I understand this language well and can cope with it. And the modern Russian has acquired not only new words and expressions, but also new rhythms, tastes and tunes. It became closer to the modern English in a way, and I am very fascinated about it. Its necessary to translate Russian in a modern way, communicating its marvelous inventiveness!

Rubric:
Subject:
Tags:

New publications

Vladimir Menshov, the maker of such iconic movies as Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears and Love and Dove, turns 80 on September 17. His life is an example of a remarkably successful creative and personal destiny. It's no coincidence that this year 900 people attempted to win admission to his workshop at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (aka VGIK), while enrolment is set to 30. Menshov is known as a very principled person; and he teaches his students the same thing - only a powerful person can create a truly serious film.
More than 190 nations live in Russia. They write and read in 60 literary languages. But what do we know about such literatures besides the Russian one? Meanwhile, work of modern authors representing various nations of Russia embraces a wide range of styles and genres, such as poetry, prose, folklore, and children's literature, realism, postmodernism and even rap poetry.
A son of a Russian emigrant and a Frenchwoman was born in Lyon and lived his whole life away from Russia. At the same time, Alexandre Zelkine sings in perfect Russian, and his singing is absolutely charming. Today, Alexander Vladimirovich lives with his wife in the French city of Le Mans. He agreed to talk about his life, and such the cultural phenomenon as Russian soul.
BRICS Reality 29.08.2019
The Chairman of the BRICS NRC board, Chairman of the Committee on Education and Science of the State Duma of Russia and Chairman of the Board of the Russkiy Mir Foundation Vyacheslav Nikonov has delivered a lecture to the participants of the BRICS International School, which opened in Moscow. The politician has shared his thoughts on what really unites the BRICS countries, the values ​​of this organization and how BRICS challenges the liberal world order.
On August 23, 1939, Moscow signed a sensational non-aggression pact and a secret protocol to it with Berlin. Nowadays, many Western historians and the media consider this agreement almost an evidence of the criminal union of Stalin and Hitler, who divided Eastern Europe between themselves. But did the Soviet leadership have a choice? This is discussed by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Military-Historical Society Sergey Ivanov.
The American Sean Quirk, who is one of musicians and the manager of the well-known in Russia and beyond Tuvinian Alash ensemble, speaks four languages. On foreign tours, he announces the songs of the ensemble in English and sings Tuvan folk songs to the public and for himself. He can please the audience with a ditty in Russian when he is asked to. Besides that, Quirk reads books in the language of his ancestors - Old Irish.
A round-the-world expedition of three Russian sailboats - the frigate Pallada and the barges Kruzenshtern and Sedov is going to start this autumn. All three sailing ships of Russian Federal Fisheries Agency have already been on the round-the-globe trips but an event of such a grand scale takes place for the first time.
How to motivate students to learn Russian language, especially if this is an extra one? Ireland teachers invented an unusual way to put together Russian classical literature and cuisine. As a result, kids don't only read Gogol and Pushkin, but also learn old recipes described in those books. They try to cook at home dishes described by great Russian writers. One of the authors of the Inspired by Food project Alexandra Puliaevskaya shares the delicious reading recipe.