title: 'Russian English Translation' published: true publish_date: '31-08-2016 14:56' taxonomy: category:
- Politics tag:
- Maxim Gorky
- Nikolai Gogol 'Post Type':
What are the difficulties of translating Russian novels into English? And what kinds of relationships do translators develop with the authors they translate? VoRís Anna Fomicheva went along to the SLOVO literary festival in London to delve into the minds of leading literary translators. Translators are often invisible heroes. Their influence on the texts we read is often unnoticed and little appreciated. But a translatorís personality, and their relationship with the author, inevitably leave a mark on the final result, even if we canít always feel it. So, do some authors work with some translators better than others? At the Slovo literary festival earlier this month, we met Hugh Aplin and Arch Tait, who are both translators of Russian literature into English. A question of temperament Hugh Aplin is renowned for his translations of 19th and early 20th-century classics, like Dostoevskyís Notes from the Undergroundor Bulgakovís The Master and Margarita. But he says that the satirical writer Nikolai Gogol is closest to his temperament. "I think itís a humour thing as far as heís concerned. And certainly I have been asked whether I would translate Dead Souls, because again somebody else thinks that my voice would perhaps fit. "The problem there is, although I donít generally mind retranslating works, there is a very very good translation of Dead Souls, which is only about six or seven years old. "So Iím rather loath to be compared with such good translation so soon after it was produced." Voices that come through Arch Tait, the leading translator of contemporary Russian fiction and non-fiction, spoke of his emotional kinship with two bestselling authors. "Ithink my all-time favourite has to be Lyudmila Ulitskaya. I just love the tone that she has. Iím a lapsed Presbyterian, somewhere in my distant past and she has this strong moral voice that always comes through. Somebody said that the main character in all her novels is actually the narrator, or the implied narrator. And I donít have a problem with that, I love it, I think itís very nice. I loved translating ĎDaniel Stein, Interpreterí, which I hope is going to be a great success in the United States and in this country. "And Iím looking forward, I hope in the future, to carry on translating her." "I would have liked to have translated Victor Pelevin. I love his sense of humour, but that hasnít happened. Nevertheless, heís been very successful in the West and deservedly so. Heís got a very wicked sense of humour, and I think heís a real sparkler." Does translating fiction from earlier periods in Russian history differ from translating contemporary works? And how do translators keep up with the rapidly changing Russian language? Keeping up with the lingo Arch Tait again. "One of the great shocks of the perestroika period, I guess, was suddenly it turned out that you didnít actually know Russian. You knew a very selective, puritanical, rather prurient version of Russian. "And suddenly people were writingÖ Initially, just in reaction they were kind of writing scabrous, sort of lavatory fiction. But that didnít last for long, that pased. But the language changed enormously. "There was a time when I was having to look up endless words, which I simply had never come across before. Very colloquial, some of them dialect, but very racy, very lively, very authentic, and something that would have had Maxim Gorkyturning in his grave," says Arch Tait. Best pub companions I asked the translators which classic Russian writers they thought would make the best pub companions. Arch Tait had distinct preferences: "I have a slight allergy to classical Russian writers. One I would really not like to drink a pint with is Lev Tolstoy. I have a lot of sympathy for him, andÖ Nevertheless, I think it was Akhmatova who said he was Ďthe great heresiarchí, which is splendid characterisation. And somehow heís somebody I donít quite trust. Chekhov was quite critical of Tolstoy andÖ Chekhov is actually the guy I would quite like to go to the pub with. "Iím a great admirer of Chekhov. But he felt that both Tolstoy and Gorky were writers you couldnít quite trust, you couldnít quite believe. They were writing about stuff they hadnít really experienced, but maybe they felt they should have experienced, and it would be good for their readers to believe theyíd experienced it." Hugh Aplin also goes for Chekhov: "This is the game I play with my students. You certainly wouldnít go with Tolstoy. Dostoevsky would be a bit too intense. "GogolÖHe might be funny for a while, but then heíd probably get weird. I think itís going to be Pushkin. Or possibly Chekhov, strangely. Pushkin would probably end up going off with a woman halfway through the evening. So I think perhaps Chekhov would be the best." Hidden heroes When reading fiction, we often think of writers as our interlocutors, companions or even friends. Some of us would love to be able to phone up our favourite authors for a chat, just as the protagonist of JD Salingerís The Catcher in the Rye dreamt of doing. But when reading fiction in translation, it is the invisible translator who helps us to get closer to the writers we love and understand better what they are trying to say.