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Anne Coldefy-Faucard: I trust that Solzhenitsyn is going to be rediscovered
A. Solzhenitsyn. Penza, 1995. Photo: Solzhenitsyn family
Century-old anniversary of writer, publisher, public figure Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was celebrated across the word on December 11. Well-known French translator Anne Coldefy-Faucard with Russian roots dedicated more than 30 years to translation of his novel The Red Wheel. Today she hopes that readers interest in the writer and his novel is to return yet.
- Anne, you've received the Read Russia award in September for your translation of April of 1917 and The Red Wheel by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. How did this global romance between you and Solzhenitsyn happen?
First of all, it wasn't just me receiving the award but two of us. The Red Wheel story have began 30 years ago, if not before. My friends, the couple of university professors invited me to participate in translation of this book. The first volume, August 1914, had been already translated by then. Following it I've proceeded to work on the April 1917. Afterwards we've received Read Russia award for the last volume.
By the time the idea of this novel emerged, the Western world had already developed different attitude towards Solzhenitsyn. By the time his famous Harvard speech criticizing capitalistic system was delivered. The writer didn't hide the fact that the West fights Russia, not communism. He was called the 'radical Russian nationalist' for that. How did French people looked up to Solzhenitsyn at this point?
Now and then there's an ambivalent attitude in France towards him. There are some people that don't like Solzhenitsyn that much, to put it mildly. At the same time, others think that his contribution to the world, European and world culture is very important.
He loved France a lot, and mentioned that several times. It is interesting to note that despite all the controversial attitude towards him, France is the first country where The Red Wheel was translated and published from beginning to end. All this is based on people who respect him very much. Also he used to collaborate with Claude Durand - a very good publisher and well-known person in France, who's passed away now. Durand made everything possible to proceed with The Red Wheel translation into French.
– Solzhenitsyn's 100th birthday is celebrated in France, right?
Yes. The first phase took place in March, when there was a book exhibition in Paris. Some events proceed in December, for example those at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. As far as I know Natalya Solzhenitsyn (ed. - the widow of the writer) went through pretty difficult year because there were many celebrations dedicated to Solzhenitsyn not only in France but also in other countries.
I think that there was a decline of interest in Solzhenitsyn after 1991. But I hope that there are certain things that will help to rediscover him. For now I'm talking only about France. It is very possible that French people will gradually develop genuine interest in him as a writer, which stands out not only in political context.
– Are you judging by book sales?
No, I can judge by the fact that critics have stopped talking about him with negativity and hatred, like it was before. And that's already good. It's also understandable that young book critics even don't know him. I think they will start reading him little by little.
Today young people in France read less and less, as well as everywhere but Russia (I'm not sure about that either). They see many volumes of The Red Wheel and get scared. But I think they would not totally forget about Solzhenitsyn.
Anne Coldefy-Faucard. Photo: portal-kultura.ru
In a way, Solzhenitsyn was on par with his century, that was dramatic and bloody. His destiny was also dramatic, as it encompasses Stalin's camp, immigration, sickness, return to Russia... His life is better to be estimated after some time passes, likewise his writings.
Definitely. I think people will come back to him to understand what was going on in 20th century. Solzhenitsyn is not a politically-oriented writer. He was called 'conservator' and even 'reactionary' but he's just a great writer indeed.
– Did you meet Aleksandr Isaevich in person?
– Yes, yes, however I saw him only two times, when he stayed in Paris. But we were writing to each other. When we've started working together there were no electronic mail but there was fax. Our French publisher organised our working process this way: when we had difficulties with interpreting original text we would fax our questions to Solzhenitsyn leaving space for answers. He was answering very fast, in frames of 24 hours. His answers were short but precise. As a young translator I was really touched because he'd always add some warm words at the end of our correspondence.
When I was invited to meet him for a first time I felt very shy. But, oddly enough, he was always very welcoming with people, despite that everyone imagined him as a gloomy and moody person as he was presented on TV.
One curious episode happened during the meeting. It was set that we divide each volume of The Red Wheel in various topics. One of us wanted to translate all chapters about Nicholas II, another about the Empress of Russia. I took Kolchak, Kornilov, and all street scenes because I think that they are genius since they are clearly influenced by literature and cinematography of 1920s.
Once the publisher invited us, translators, to a lunch with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. At the end of the lunch we were discussing our parts of translation. I was engaged in translating chapters involving one shallow actress. These chapters are short but very difficult. This actress irritated me a lot, and I was about to tell the writer that there are some characters that nobody likes, for example this actress, sorry about that... I told him that I'm translating a story of this actress. He's responded with joy, “Oh, I'm so happy that it's you translating these chapters!” Of course I kept quiet about my criticism.
Later, during other meeting I told him, “You know, I still resent you. I live so many years with your characters and this fact affects my life, even if I didn't work only on The Red Wheel. However I feel some kind of attachment... You have decided to discontinue, and it hurts me because I've got used to these characters and don't know what sort of future awaits them.” He asked, “About whom would you like me to tell you about?” I answered, that I'd like to know about Vorotyntsev, the main character. And then Solzhenitsyn said, “Let me tell you about him.”
And he told me about Vorotyntsev fate. It was very interesting. I realized that the writer kept everything in mind, and he can answer all my questions. I was very moved that Solzhenitsyn had found time to tell me the story of my favorite character. Although it would be better not to ask because he had a tragic fate.
At the Russian Book Seasons in Paris. Photo: Lada Vesna/ L'Observateur Russe
– Surprisingly, after your translation of The Red Wheel into French, the first English translation has finally initiated. Coincidence?
– I know one translator in Germany who translated several volumes of The Red Wheel. Aleksandr Isaevich knew German language and was following the work progress. According to Natalya Dmitrievna, the translation was just brilliant. Unfortunately, the translator passed away before finishing his work, so only few first volumes were published.
Indeed, there was no The Red Wheel translation in Great Britain until recently. The fact that work on it has finally begun is another sign that Solzhenitsyn is coming back. People will eventually come back to his viewpoint and to the fact that his book is not only an epoch documentation but also a good literature.
– What is the specifics of Russian literature in your opinion? Does it exist?
– Recently we had a book presentation where I was talking on this topic. First of all, what distinguishes Russian literature from the French one, for example? The fact that there's a connection between eras, which is very important. There are Russian writers today that argue with past generations.
Then, the Russian literature always goes about someone else's business – of course I'm joking. It deals with politics, philosophy. French literature is very diverse. It might criticize some downsides of society or politics but in completely other way. I guess literature has always played way much more important role in Russia then in France.
Third, the space plays a huge role in Russian literature. It is understandable, because Russia is not France. Curiously, literature critics in and outside Europe have became more interested in space than in time after “death” of ideology and history. Russian literature is a model for them, I guess.
Consider how many snowstorms in Russian literature! I've quoted five in my mini lecture. Pushkin and Tolstoy in the 19th century; Blok and Pilnyak in the 20th century, Sorokin in the 21st century. And each time a man gets lost in a snowstorm. In case if he survives, everything changes for him. And the same principle works for the country. I see it as further contemplating the destiny of Russia and its people, the essence of being Russian.
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