Thursday, May 24, 2007

Website editor's first entry:

To the London Review Review Bookshop for an evening of readings from books shortlisted for the Rossica Translation Prize. The prize, set up by Academia Rossica, recognises the best translations of books from Russian into English; crucially, three-quarters of the prize money goes to the translator and one quarter to the publisher. Certainly in the case of this year's shortlist it would be difficult to reward the authors, most of whom are no longer alive.

The six books in contention for the prize are: new translations of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and War and Peace; a travelogue about a road trip taken by two Russians across America in the 1930 (Ilf and Petrov's American Road Trip); Sonechka: a novella and stories by Ludmila Ulitskaya; Hamid Ismailov's The Railway, set in Uzbekistan; and a collection of surreal stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, who was only published in Russia decades after his death.

Introductions and readings from five of the books were given by the translators. Robert Chandler was moving about how privileged he felt to have worked on The Railway (Ismailov was at the event); Anthony Briggs' chose two episodes from War and Peace to illustrate Tolstoy's virtuosity, reading both with gusto; and Hugh Aplin read in measured tones about Ivan Ilyich's visit to his doctor.

Anne Fisher's rendering of the Russian into 1930s 'American' was the most modern of the evening, her accent - she is American - perfectly complementing her translation; and Arch Tait gave us a slow, composed reading from Sonechka about a deeply unsympathetic grandmother after telling us that he had completed his translation of Anna Politkovskaya's book on the day she was murdered.

Finally, the actor Andrew Sachs read one of Krzhizhanovsky's stories in its entirety, a surreal fable about a man whose box-like room magically expands when he paints a substance called Quadraturin on its walls. Sachs, a master of pacing and different voices, had already recorded Krzhizhanovsky's stories for BBC Radio 4 - this event gave him the opportunity to read one of them in its entirety.

Academia Rossica has done readers in the UK a great service with this award. Like the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, it reminds us that - surprise, surprise - people in other countries can write as well as 'western' authors. Durr.

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