Friday, May 25, 2007

And the winner is ...

At a lavish ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London last night, the Rossica Translation Prize was awarded to Joanne Turnbull for her translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's 7 Stories. Her publisher, Glas, was recognised as well.

And Robert Chandler was specially commended, both for his translation of The Railway and in recognition of the excellent work he has done over the years in bringing Russian literature to an English readership.

If anyone ever needed an example of how to run a superb event, this was it - a stunning setting, champagne and canapes, a warm welcome from Academia Rossica, a distinguished and witty guest speaker (Michael Frayn: 'translation is impossible'), a lucid - and note-free - summation of the merits of each shortlisted title by Peter France (one of the judges), and two very happy winners.

Huw Molseed, Head of Websites at Booktrust, at The Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp.
This houses two of the earliest printing presses in the world, dating from the days of Jan I Moretus (1543 - 1610). The museum preserves the only complete set of Garamond's letter dies. The typographical collection of the Plantin-Moretus Museum is often called upon when old type fonts are digitized.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Economics of Attention by Richard A Lanham arrived at my house yesterday bought online and secondhand from Amazon , recommended by Professor Ronald Soetaert who gave a fascinating talk to members of the EUREAD reading promotion task force in Antwerp last week.

Soetart teaches teachers – his subject is the interconnectedness of different disciplines, and his talk was appropriately wide ranging. He spoke about research showing how a group of teenage Metal fans discuss their favourite music along very similar lines to academics discussing their field. Both groups frame their debate in the context of a canon of great work, a past golden age, an unappreciative general public etc.

Ronald also collects quotes from the many books which describe the great virtue of reading being that it gives one a ‘Second Life’. How come the same people who rave about the imaginary world of fiction find digital play so unnatural?

He’s interested in the complexity of computer games and the energy and intelligence that young people put into exploring them, without any encouragement from teachers or parents. It’s a bit like discovering your child has been locked away in his room secretly learning latin.

And he talked about Lanham’s work on the Age of Information in which what there’s a dearth of is not product but attention. From novelists to manufacturers, everyone is out to catch and claim your precious time. Reading Promotion organizations fly the flag for books not because we love ink, paper and cardboard but because we think reading fiction can capture the attention in a particularly imaginative and profound way. But if we focus on the issue of attention, we’re lead to look at other comparably grabbing activities, and to look at reading as it fits into the midst of our multi-modal lives.

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.