“Wish You Were Here” is a delightful memoiristic short story by Pavel Lembersky. It brings together the grungy old 42nd Street porn theaters, the New York City blackout of ‘77, JD Salinger, John Lennon, Central Park, American tourists in Moscow, and an immigrant’s gradual acculturation in one of the most exciting cities in the world, to form a work of beauty, humor, and intelligence.
The story is a cacophonic symphony that celebrates all the ugliness and prettiness and nastiness and love that make New York City such an interesting place to live. Con Ed goes bust one day and the streets go dark, but for a young Russian immigrant who’s just learning to make the city his own, there’s no need for panic. In the small armies of men breaking into stores and stealing vacuum cleaners, televisions, and lamps, he divines a sign of salvation: at least the criminal faction believes the electricity will eventually go back on. “Wish You Were Here” is also a romantic picaresque about a guy who’s just trying to find a place to make it with his girlfriend: a movie theater, a dark alley, his parents’ home. The story ends, as all New York stories should, with a miserable apartment search and a wall that looks out onto nothing. We are told, at one point, that “to stay in Brooklyn is to stay an immigrant forever.” This is a million-dollar line, but one that’s also bankrupt–for immigrant, as Lembersky shows, is just as much state of mind as street address.
- Ross Ufberg
Temptations of Translation
It is virtually impossible to render one’s visions in poetry, let alone in translating it. Ezra Pound wrote in ABC of Reading, “Poetry…is the most concentrated form of verbal expression.” The task gets even more difficult if we take into consideration that Georgy Ivanov’s later poetry is marked with a minimalist economy of means. One has to sacrifice something without losing what the great Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva once defined as “points of anguish” (bolevyie tochki), that is, the points of tension in the poem. In the first poem featured here, I changed the line that reads “I do not care what is going to be afterwards” into “I don’t care if after me there’s the deluge.” But I believe I preserved the unexpected hit of the last line “There is, finally, suicide.” In the second poem, I deemed it necessary to combine two perspectives: the poet’s rather skeptical view of life and his restrained and even estranged view of himself.
- Ian Probstein
Anatoly Gavrilov is a contemporary Russian writer of short stories. Born in Ukraine, and a graduate of the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute, Gavrilov now lives in Vladimir and works as a postman. His work was not published in the USSR until 1989. A writer of modest output, Gavrilov’s laconic style and experimental narratives have left their mark on modern Russian prose, particularly the so-called “new prose” movement. The mood of his works is pessimistic. His heroes are despondent and confounded by unexpected twists of fate. His basic theme is the futility of the little man’s existence–the writer has little faith in his heroes’ attempts to change the world. His artistic approach is one of unwavering authenticity and specificity.
As noted in the previously released Pierre Menard versions of the Alexander Blok lyric “A Girl Sang in a Church Choir,” the famous Quixote translator, having relocated to Bexley, in Greater London–the date of this move is unclear, though it was certainly after the summer of 1913, which he spent in Nimes–returned to the study of Russian, a lifelong pursuit, and, not unsurprisingly, turned his attention to the translation of some of the remarkable poetry then being published in Russia and, subsequently, the incipient USSR… (continued in post)
Gnedich (Vremya, Moscow, 2012) is a novel-in-verse about the first Russian translator of the Iliad, the romantic poet and librarian Nikolai Gnedich (1784-1833), who was also the author of the first Russian Gothic fiction. His brilliant translation, still the standard one in Russia, was both highly praised and mocked by Alexander Pushkin. Gnedich has been awarded the Anthologia prize and the Russian Prize (II category), was the finalist for the NoS and the Andrei Bely literary awards, and is currently nominated for the Bunin prize. Since Gnedich spent almost his entire life translating Homer’s epic poem, Maria Rybakova (usually a writer of prose) has chosen verse as the most appropriate stylistic means in recreating his life. To the English-speaking world, this genre of poetic biography is best exemplified by Ruth Padel’s Darwin: A Life in Poems. Gnedich consists of 12 songs (cantos). The novel depicts the lives of Gnedich and his best friend, Batyushkov, who is slowly losing his sanity, among the motifs from their poetry and the archaic imagery of the Homeric world. The space of the novel extends from St. Petersburg and Vologda to Paris and Naples, and from the boudoir of the famous actress (and Gnedich’s unrequited love) Semyonova to the Petersburg public library and the cubbyhole of Gnedich’s superstitious maidservant. The novel culminates in Batyushkov’s final breakdown in the lunatic asylum in Pirna (later a Nazi killing center) and Gnedich’s ruminations on the future tragic fate of Russia. Two excerpts of the novel have appeared on the Contemporary Russian Literature at the University of Virginia website.
This transposition of “The Nose” by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol represents the first publication of a story in this newly developed genre. It takes Gogol’s original narrative (about a man who loses his nose) and shifts it from Saint Petersburg, Russia in the 19th century to New York City in the 21st century on a systematic basis similar to translation.
In the essay accompanying his transposition, Henry Whittlesey explains some of the differences between translation, transposition, and adaptation, since transposition falls between translation and adaptation. The transposition of “The Nose” represents a purely literary transposition that retains the form and shifts the content of the original story. This essay looks into five important aspects related to a transposition of content: character, setting, consciousness, identity, and the narrator’s voice. As the content shifts from 19th-century Saint Petersburg to 21st-century New York, these five elements undergo various degrees of transfiguration, depending on the extent to which their manifestation in the original is commensurate with the given phenomenon in the present day.
This was the first English translation of Victory over the Sun, which was originally performed in 1913. A re-creation of the original 1913 production using Larissa Shmailo’s translation was held in conjunction with the exhibition The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (July 8 - September 28, 1980), and at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. November 20, 1980 - February 15, 1981. This translation has also been performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and at theaters and museums internationally.
Original production credits: text by Alexei Kruchenykh; prologue by Velimir Khlebnikov; music by Mikhail Matiushin; and stage and costume designs by Kazimir Malevich.
Anatoly Gavrilov’s minimalist style is marked by extreme laconism and painstaking lexical and grammatical selection, which affords his stories a measure of heightened density. He belongs to what Osip Mandelstam called a “minor line” of Russian literature–the tradition that began with Nikolai Gogol, Evgenii Boratynskii, and Fedor Sologub, and continued in the twentieth century with Daniil Kharms, Leonid Dobychin, and Evgenii Kharitonov. While attention to word selection and style unites him with such Modernist master stylists as Bruno Schulz, Isaak Babel, and Vladimir Nabokov, his poetics are certainly more comparable to Kafka and Beckett. The marginally tragic-comical distance Gavrilov establishes to his narrators/protagonists is reminiscent of Robert Walser. Here’s an excerpt from a recent review of Gavrilov’s collection by Igor’ Klekh (translated by Sasha Spektor):
“Gavrilov is a grotesque, hallucinogenic, extremely formal writer–somewhat in the tradition of French literature. The exquisite style together with the notorious atrociousness of the described subject, the absence of falsity–this is all that Gavrilov can offer to his real, potential, and hypothetical readers. The music that he, in his words, “hates,” determines the construction of his texts. Rhythm is the main structural element of Gavrilov’s prose. While the words can be chosen randomly, what’s important is their repetition, each time performed with a precise degree of difference. This dance of the simplest words, the whirlwind of dance positions hypnotizes the reader.”
Polina Barskova is known as one of the best Russian poets of her generation. She has won a number of awards for her poetry.
Known for his famous definition of Acmeism as “nostalgia (or thirst) for world culture,” in the later poem of 1933 Osip Mandelstam wrote: “Do not tempt foreign tongues–attempt forgetting them, alas,/Because your teeth will never bite the glass,” which seems to deny everything he believed.
Having gone through all the circles of earthly hell and purgatory and anticipating his own arrest and perhaps death, Mandelstam, nevertheless, claims that heaven is a “lifetime home” creating thus his own pattern of “Paradiso terrestre.”
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced)
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format)