Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska’s “Granny”

Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska.jpg

I have to be careful on Sundays: nostalgia lurks behind every corner. On Sunday afternoons I often find myself leafing through crinkled papers marred by my childish scribbling or succumbing to the evocative mustiness of old books… Today I dug up a translation I started years ago, of a poem that, not altogether coincidentally, takes nostalgia as its subject. It is a playful, poignant lyric by Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (1891-1945), whose elegant verse earned her the title of the “Polish Sappho.” Perhaps a more accurate — and chronologically appropriate — monicker would be the “Polish Edna St. Vincent Millay” or, better yet, the “Polish Anna Akhmatova.” Like the early Akhmatova, Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska wrote with great nuance and classical clarity of women’s lives and loves. (And Akhmatova may have recognized the resemblance, as she translated Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska’s work into Russian.)

The poem below, “Granny” (“Babcia,” 1924), imagines the future existence of a Polish child of the century — a 24-year-old flapper — in 1974. The flapper-turned-granny, Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska predicts, will recall Prince Krakus, the legendary founder of the city of Kraków, and his daughter Princess Wanda, as well as to the French Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929) and Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935), who was Poland’s Chief of State from 1918 to 1922 and would again become its de facto leader in 1926. You’ll notice that the poet proves something of a seer, anticipating the invention of the iPhone, which she calls the “biophone.” Sadly, Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska would not live as long as her heroine; she died of cancer in Manchester in 1945.

Granny

Fifty years hence, she’ll sit down at the piano
(that very spring she’ll turn seventy-four):
a granny, who wore jumpers,
lived through the great and oh-so-dreary war,
saw trams glide through the streets,
the airplane take its first steps in the sky,
and people speaking without seeing one another
over the telephone.

The granny, who recalls Krakus and Wanda —
or who, in any case, recalls Foch and Piłsudski —
who was intoxicated by a jazz band
and who received her letters from the postman,

whose youth passed shabbily, without a kikimobile,
a biophone, a virocycle, or an astrodactyl —
watching her faded flicker with a wistful smile,
will play old-fashioned foxtrots on the piano.

1924

Advertisements

Odessa in London: Caroline Eden’s BLACK SEA

I’m writing from London, where next Tuesday, at Pushkin House, Robert Chandler and I will launch Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames, a remarkable, entirely original collection of poems that we’ve co-translated with Irina Mashinski and Maria Bloshteyn. The Financial Times have just published an excerpt from one of the most moving poems in the volume, a portrait of the Soviet Yiddish poet Leyb Kvitko, who was executed on August 12, 1952, a date about which I’ve written here.

Robert, Irina, Maria, and I have been working on this project for years, and the launch will surely be a powerful, cathartic experience for me . For now, I’m enjoying morning work sessions on Teffi and afternoon strolls about town. London has put on its most characteristic face, or at least the one I most enjoy — sporadically sunny and drizzly, chilly but not really cold. Perfect weather for long walks, and for reading in the evenings.

I should add that my reading material could not be more soothing, a bright ray of southern light in the autumnal north. Yesterday, my friend Caroline Eden presented me with a copy of her newly released Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes Through Darkness and Light. Far more than a cook book, it is a magnificent omnium gatherum of historical and literary anecdote, seasoned with the flavors and scents of Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Turkish food and drink.

Black Sea.jpg

Naturally, Odessa, the Pearl of the Black Sea, comes first — how could it not? — and Caroline was kind enough not only to quote from my translations of Isaac Babel, but also to serve up a meaty chunk of my version of Eduard Bagritsky’s rip-roaring poem “Smugglers.” She also got the Odessan culinary scoop of a lifetime — Babel’s favorite dishes, courtesy of his grandson, Andrei Malaev-Babel: “scrambled eggs with tomatoes and aubergine caviar ‘on ice.’” How I love that “caviar,” the very mention of which uncorks a flood of Proustian memories!

To give you a taste of Black Sea’s kaleidoscopic splendor, here are two pages — the first “a short mediation on [Sergei Eisenstein’s] The Battleship Potemkin,” the second a recipe for a “Potemkin Cocktail.”  (The location photography is by Theodore Kaye, and the food photography is by Ola O. Smit.)

Black Sea 46-47.jpg

Black Sea 48-49.jpg

Here’s to London and Odessa!

My Debt to HIAS

HIAS.png

The devastating news out of Pittsburgh, about which I cannot say much, brought attention to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) — an organization to which my family and I owe our American life. It was HIAS that afforded us passage to the United States in 1991. And nine years later, HIAS again offered a helping hand: a generous scholarship that helped me pay for my first year at UCLA. I myself can’t judge whether they’ve received a decent return on this particular investment, but I do know that, for 137 years, they have brought — and continue to bring — honor to this country. I’ll offer one example.

In the magnificent, meandering closing sentence of his autobiography Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov gives us the pleasure of spotting, for ourselves, the first sign of his family’s near-miraculous means of escape from Europe in 1939:

There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbor, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture — Find What the Sailor Has Hidden — that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.

The “splendid ship” was the Champlain, a French liner chartered by HIAS to deliver refugees to the United States. Nabokov’s biographer Brian Boyd fills in the picture, “The organization was directed by Yakov Frumkin, an old friend of Nabokov’s father, who like many other Russian Jews was glad to be able to repay the dead man for his bold stands against the Kishinyov pogroms and the Beilis trial by now offering his son a cabin for half fare.”

“For the rest of his years,” Maxim D. Shrayer tells us, “Nabokov remained grateful for the Jewish support.” That debt is one of the few things I can confidently claim to share with Nabokov. But aren’t all readers of English literature who delight in Nabokov’s unparalleled stratagems indebted to HIAS? Really, aren’t we all?

Barbara Toporska’s “The Chronicle” in Ambit 234

Barbara Toporska.jpg

Barbara Toporska (1913–1985)

On Monday, October 22, the Tate Modern’s Terrace Bar will host the launch of the 234th issue of Ambit, a consistently exciting venue for poetry and, increasingly, for poetry in translation. Much of the credit for all this excitement goes to poet, translator, and critic André Naffis-Sahely, who recently joined the journal’s staff as poetry editor. André was kind enough to include one of my translations in the latest issue. It is a poem by the little-known Polish émigré novelist, poet, and journalist Barbara Toporska, who was married to the somewhat better known Józef Mackiewicz (1902–1985). The couple left their homeland in 1945 and lived in exile, often in extreme poverty, until their deaths in 1985. (Toporska and Mackiewicz were devoted to one another; she survived him by less than six months.)

Mackiewicz, who claimed to be “anticommunist by nationality,” was one of the first to expose the “Katyn massacre” — the systematic murder, on the orders of Stalin, of some 22,000 Poles, including 8,000 military officers, by the Soviet secret police in April and May 1940. Incidentally, one of the few imprisoned Polish officers to escape death at Katyn, Józef Czapski (1896-1993), was a noted writer and artist, whose work is now being published by NYRB Classics, in translations by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Eric Karpeles. Mackiewicz’s prose is also ripe for rediscovery, but it is his wife’s poetry that made the most profound impression on me. I was introduced to both authors by the remarkable Nina Karsov, who keeps their work in print through her London-based publishing house, Kontra.

It’s a shame I can’t be at the Ambit launch in person, and I send the readers my best wishes from abroad. The distance, though, feels somehow appropriate. Below is Toporska’s poem, a distillation of the exilic experience, which is dedicated to the memory of another political émigré.

The Chronicle

In memory of Stanisław Kodź (1898–1966)

Dr. (of Law) A. Lonely
political émigré
died
on Sunday
of heart failure
at a Munich hotel.

There is snow in the street
this November in Munich
the walls swayed like veils
the ceiling came down
and dusk glazed the windows
with a silver like silence
then night brushed it off
with the glare of the streetlights.

In the morning the phone rang
servants knocked at the door
locksmith
policeman
doctor —
death was sudden and lonely.

While Lonely — he sails
far away by his lonesome
on this ashen grey Sunday
with snow at the window
growing younger each moment
than all things on the course
of this Europe in autumn
this Munich in autumn.

***

Full stop. End of entry.
“Political commentary?”
cold
cigarette
smoke
in a lump of soil from the homeland.

Vladimir Britanishsky’s “The Wandering Artists”

Britanishky and Astafieva.jpg

Vladimir Britanishsky with his wife, Natalia Astafieva

The Russian poet and translator Vladimir Britanishsky (1933-2015) never achieved fame abroad, but he did contribute, unintentionally, to the rise of a poet who took the West by storm. In a 2004 interview, the painter Oleg Tselkov, who was close to Joseph Brodsky, recalled a conversation with his late friend:

“Do you know how I started writing poetry?” Joseph once asked me in a totally unexpected and beside the point way. “Does the name Britanishsky mean anything to you?”— “Yes,” I reply, “Vladimir Britanishsky, I knew him, he was a Petersburg poet, well-known in our circle.” “Well then,” Joseph continues, “I used to hear everyone around me talking about Britanishsky, Britanishsky! So I took a piece of paper and started writing poetry myself, and I saw that it was not difficult for me at all. And ever since then I have been writing poetry.” (Translated by Tatiana Retivov.)

But Britanishsky is more than a footnote in the myth of Brodsky. He was a distinguished, distinctive poet, whose great subjects were the natural world and visual art. These preoccupations were partly determined by, and partly determined, his biography: he was the son of a painter, Lev Britanishsky, and received training as a geologist at the Leningrad Mining Institute. In fact, he was one of a handful of “miner” poets, who found freedom and inspiration by heading out from the capitals on geological expeditions; their work embodied the spirit of the post-Stalinist “Thaw” in Soviet culture. Britanishky’s first collection, Explorations (Poiski), appeared in 1958, and he continued to publish painstakingly “exploratory” poems until his death three years ago. It is precisely this “exploratory” quality — this urge to get to the bottom of things — that makes his work so haunting.

In the poem below, from the mid-1980s, Britanishsky tries to get to the bottom of his admiration for the group of 19th-century Russian painters known as “the Wanderers” (Peredvizhniki). These great realists, who collectively rebelled against the thematic restrictions imposed by the Imperial Academy of Arts, served as the aesthetic model for the Stalinist artistic doctrine of Socialist Realism. But in fact, the goals of the two schools could not have been more different: whereas the Socialist Realists painted scenes of the Soviet Union as it should have been, in accordance with Soviet ideology, the Wanderers painted Russia as it really was, sometimes lush and beautiful but often blighted and desolate. In appropriately plodding, heavy verse, Britanishsky rescues the Wanderers from Soviet co-optation. He finds in them a model for genuine commitment to truth and fairness, and for genuine artistic camaraderie. The painters to whom he refers by name are Illarion Pryanishnikov (1840-1894), Vasily Perov (1834-1882), and Alexei Savrasov (1830-1897).

Pryanishnikov - Empties - 1872.jpg

Illarion Pryanishnikov, “Empties” (1872)

A version of my translation was first published in the winter 2015 issue of the now defunct and much-missed literary journal Chtenia: Readings from Russia, about a month after Britanishsky passed away. You can find the original poem, “Peredvizhnichestvo,” at the poet’s website.

The Wandering Artists

Yes, all the same — I’d like to thank the Wanderers,
their style of painting, weightier than fetters,
their wearisome, ascetic grayness-brownness,
their glumly lenten self-restrainedness,
didacticism and tendentiousness,
their finger-prodding way of bearing witness,
with their illusions from the 1860s,
and with their poor folk, loved above all else,
and with their speakers of the truth, the holy fools,
and with their nobles, whom they ridiculed.
Yes, all the same — I’d like to thank the Wanderers,
their saintly truthfulness, their true-to-lifeness,
depicting Russia as it was, unvarnished,
made up of peasants and of exiled convicts,
never ignoring the real facts of life:
Pryanishnikov’s empty carts, victims of fire,
Perov’s drowned maidens and his funerals,
his ragged clothes, bast shoes, pitiful scarecrows,
his slums — befouled, because they’re genuine,
full of cramped rooms, wallpaper peeling,
and in each one consumptive artists dying,
all of them cranks or outright lunatics.
I’d like to thank all the nomadic Wanderers
who took the roads beyond the walls of capitals,
where — past Savrasov’s crooked, gangly
birch trees, looking rather ugly —
unmeasured landscapes greet the eye:
the northern forests, southern fields of rye,
and little rivers, churches, dove gray villages,
almost the ones of Blok and of Yesenin…
I’d like to thank all the nomadic Wanderers,
but thank their Wandering righteousness thrice over,
which ventured to sustain or to recover
a workshop spirit of camaraderie in artists,
a sense of brotherhood, of honesty, of fairness…
I’d like to thank them for all this. But in particular —
it’s for ourselves that I must thank the Wanderers,
whose spirit still lives on in us, survives in us,
not bright, a little dimmed, a little dulled,
but present, like a conscience and a soul.

Out of the Past: The Russian Futurists, a Russian Dinosaur, and the BBC Looks Back

Shemshurin, Burlyuk, and Mayakovsky - Moscow, 1914.jpg

Andrey Shemshurin, David Burlyuk, and Vladimir Mayakovsky
Moscow, 1914

This past week has brought in a couple of eloquent, deeply engaged reviews that demonstrate, among other things, that books can find their ideal readers years, even decades, after publication. At Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, Karen Langley — a great advocate of Russian lit in translation — posted a gloriously enthusiastic response to my chapbook of four Russian futurist manifestos, titled A Slap in the Face and rereleased by Insert Blanc Press, a scappy LA-based publisher of avant-garde conceptual writing, in summer 2017 (the original pamphlet appeared in 2013). She rightly notes that the book’s layout, with ample illustrations, enriches the reader’s experience. The futurists, who were trailblazers in the field of book art, would have approved.

Elsewhere, Russian Dinosaur turned its fierce attention to the latest issue of Cardinal Points, and presented its findings as a series of revelations:

First revelation: exciting translations of forgotten works by two outstanding Russian emigre authors, Yuri Felsen (pen name of Nikolai Berngardovich Freydenshtein) and Vasily Yanovsky (two short stories translated by Yanovsky’s wife, Isabella Levitin).

[S]econd revelation[:] Maria Tsvetaeva’s drama Fortune (Fortuna), translated by Maya Chhabra. I did not know that Tsetaeva had written a play (in fact, she wrote at least three verse plays); this one retells, in five colourful episodes, the life of Armand-Louis de Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun (later Duc de Biron and generally known as Biron, 1747-1793).

[F]inal revelation[:] Stephen Pearl’s humorous and interrogative article about his translation of Ivan Goncharov’s 1869 novel Obryv, always known in English as The Precipice.

Dinosaur also commends another extremely worthy publication, the East-West Review, the official journal of the Great Britain-Russia Society, which is available only in print, by subscription.

Speaking of great British venues, I was honored to appear in the latest — and last — series of the BBC Radio 4 program World War One: The Cultural Front, discussing Marc Chagall, Kazimir Malevich, and Isaac Babel with Francine Stock.

Teffi Lives

teffi-with-guitar.jpg

Teffi with Guitar, St. Petersburg, 1915
(Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Library,
Bakhmeteff Archive, Nadezhda Teffi Papers)

My admiration for the great Russian writer known as Teffi (né Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, 1872-1952) knows no bounds — and is no secret to readers of this blog or of my anthology of writings from the Russian Revolution. And so, when I was asked to endorse Edythe Haber’s elegant and engrossing new biography, titled Teffi: A Life of Letters and of Laughter, I jumped at the chance. It was a thrill to read this revelatory book before its official publication (September in the UK, January in the US). The biography is crammed with insights and studded with wonderful quotations from letters, interviews, and other long-buried sources. Here, for example, is a comment that exposes the wellsprings of Teffi’s art — her magical ability not only to balance but to blend the deepest melancholy with irresistible gaiety:

I was born in St. Petersburg in the springtime and, as everyone knows, our St. Petersburg spring is extremely changeable: now the sun is shining, now it’s raining. Therefore, like the pediment of a Greek theater, I also have two faces, one laughing and one weeping.

As Haber notes in her introduction, it is only recently that “very good translations have brought Teffi burgeoning recognition in the English-speaking world and elsewhere, where her writing has proven fresh and compelling to the present day.” That burgeoning recognition is largely due to the efforts of Robert and Elizabeth Chandler and the crack team of Teffi translators they have assembled, which includes Clare Kitson, Rose France, Anne Marie Jackson, and Irina Steinberg.

Their work is ongoing. As a matter of fact, just a few weeks ago, the Chandlers’ exquisite translation of “Solovki” — “one of Teffi’s best works,” Haber writes, in which “spontaneous feeling breaks through the stultified surface of human relationships” — appeared in Natasha Perova’s anthology Slav Sisters: The Dedalus Book of Russian Women’s Literature, which also features the prose of Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova, Svetlana Alexievich, among others. I recommend it to anyone interested in the experience of women — and not just women — in Russia from the 1910s to the present day. (I should say that I translated one of the pieces in the volume, the literary scholar Lydia Ginzburg’s painful reckoning with personal grief and remorse, which I have called “Conscience Deluded.”) Slav Sisters was recently reviewed, alongside Zoshchenko’s Sentimental Tales, in Russian Art + Culture.

“He Knew Them All”: On Georgy Shengeli

Georgy_Shengeli.jpg

A couple of days ago, Muireann Maguire — a Senior Lecturer in Russian at Exeter, who, in her spare time (ha!), blogs wittily at the Russian Dinosaur — wrote to me about her plans to translate the prose of Georgy Shengeli (1894-1956), who is remembered mostly, if at all, as a poet. Shengeli is far from a household name in Russia today, but he was highly regarded by the writers of his generation. Unfortunately, his career as a poet and verse theorist took a bad turn in 1927, when he published a booklet criticizing Mayakovsky, who was by then the most powerful poet in the Soviet Union. A polemic ensued, from which Shengeli did not emerge unscathed; he withdrew into translation, editing, and teaching. In the 1930s he headed the “Literatures of the Peoples of the USSR” division of the State Publishing House, commissioning translations from colleagues like Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova, who were unable to publish their own verse. In 1939 he took up a professorship at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, but it appears he didn’t like the work; he saw many of his students as careerists, who set little store by the poetic tradition to which he had dedicated his entire life. In one of his last poems, written in 1955, Shengeli casts a wistful backward glance at the great flowering of poetic culture he had witnessed in his youth. The names in the poem belong to Andrey Bely, Valery Bryusov, Konstantin Balmont, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Maximilian Voloshin, Igor Severyanin, Ivan Bunin, Anna Akhmatova, Vladimir Narbut (certainly not Vladimir Mayakovsky!), Vyacheslav Ivanov, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Alexander Blok.

He knew them all, saw nearly all of them:
Andrey, Valery, Konstantin,
Osip, and Boris, Maximilian,
Igor, Ivan, Anna, Sergey,
Vladimir, Vyacheslav, Marina,
Alexander — an unrivaled chorus,
a stellar constellation of fourteen.

That fireworks display of names!
How history would cheer their victory!
Was this not Peter’s triumph? Not the coming
of the Third Rome? The feast
to celebrate the marriage of the West
with Russia’s boundless, all-embracing soul?

He knew them all. He spoke of them
to his ungrateful students, and they listened
respectfully, weighing their options:
How much demand is there today for star shine?
A safer bet would be the dullness of a hymn
or anthem made to order.

And he fell silent. Keeping to himself
his memories of the marvelous constellation,
which would remain unique forever…
He was old
and sad, like the last gun of a salute.

Shengeli is also one of the subjects in Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames. The poem, beautifully translated by Maria Bloshteyn, begins:

In the narrow hallway Akhmatova
repeated what she had said
in the room an hour earlier:
“Do something for Shengeli,
don’t forget about him,
please reread his poems…”

Shengeli isn’t forgotten. I myself will try to “do something” for his poems, and thanks to Muireann, anglophone readers will soon be able to discover his prose as well.

Cardinal Points, vol. 8

CP8 Cover.jpg

Last year’s volume of Cardinal Points included a “special focus” on the prose of poet Elena Shvarts (1948-2010). If this year’s volume, now available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions, has a special focus, it is on émigré writing. I was very proud to include the work of Yuri Felsen (1894-1943) and V. S. Yanovsky (1906-1989), two leading — and quite different — voices of the post-Revolutionary Russian emigration. Both authors were featured in Bryan Karetnyk’s indispensable anthology Russian Émigré Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky (2017). Here, Bryan presents an excerpt from Felsen’s first novel, Deceit (Obman, 1930), and Alexis Levitin, Yanovsky’s stepson — who is himself an accomplished translator from the Portuguese — shares his mother’s translations of two of Yanovsky’s stories. Other highlights include the first English translation of Marina Tsvetaeva’s verse play Fortune (Fortuna, 1919) by Maya Chhabra, Dmitri Manin’s phenomenally inventive renditions of poems by Nikolay Zabolotsky (1903-1958) and Alexander Galich (1918-1977), and fascinating essays on the translator’s art (with samples) by Stephen Capus and Stephen Pearl. Below is the full table of contents, including this year’s winning entries in the annual Compass Translation Award, which was dedicated, for the first time, to a living poet — Maria Stepanova. As usual, I thank my brilliant co-editor, Irina Mashinski, as well as Brown University’s Department of Slavic Studies.

Prose

Yuri Felsen, An Excerpt from Deceit (trans. from the Russian by Bryan Karetnyk)
Delia Radu, An Excerpt from The Book of Becoming Mothers
Ian Ross Singleton, An Excerpt from Odessitka
V. S. Yanovsky, “Our Hospital” (trans. from the Russian by Isabella Levitin)
V. S. Yanovsky, “The Adventures of Oscar Quinn” (trans. from the Russian by Isabella Levitin)

Poetry

Innokenty Annensky, Three “Trefoils” from The Cypress Chest (1910) (trans. from the Russian by Devon Miller-Duggan and Nancy Tittler)
Alexander Blok, The Twelve (trans. from the Russian by Betsy Hulick)
Marina Eskina, “How We Buried You I Don’t Remember” (trans. from the Russian by Ian Ross Singleton)
Alexander Galich, “The Mainland Queen: A Labor Camp Ballad Written in a State of Delirium” (trans. from the Russian by Dmitri Manin)
Ben Holland, “The Queen of Spades: A Ballad Adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s Short”
Story Patrick Meighan, “Slovinky, I and II”
Slava Nurgaliev, “The game of soccer, the unfinished” (trans. from the Russian by Yevgeniy Sokolovsky)
Gerard Sarnat, “Don’t Tread on Me”
Marina Tsvetaeva, Four Poems from 1922 (trans. from the Russian by Mary Jane White)
Nikolay Zabolotsky, Three Poems from Columns (trans. from Russian by Dmitri Manin)

Drama

Marina Tsvetaeva, Fortune (trans. from the Russian by Maya Chhabra)

The Art of Translation

Stephen Capus, “Rhyme and Reason in the Poetry of Georgy Ivanov”
Stephen Pearl, “‘Malinovka Heights’: Ruminations on Translating Ivan Goncharov’s Obryv

THE COMPASS TRANSLATION AWARD: RUSSIAN POETRY IN ENGLISH
Alexander Veytsman, Compass Competition Director

Maria Stepanova, in translations by Dmitri Manin, Zachary Murphy King, and Jamie Olson

Women in Translation Month

Edinburgh Panel.jpg

It’s Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth, for the Twitter savvy), and I’ve spent the past few days listening to an exemplary translating woman discuss the finer points of her art and craft in various tents at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Jennifer was representing her Man Booker International-winning translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, which came out in the States last week and has been getting rave reviews in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, NPR, and elsewhere.  On one of her panels, Jennifer was joined by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the doyenne of Polish translators, whose rendition of Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead will appear from Fitzcarraldo Editions on September 12.

Sharing the stage with Michael Hofmann and Frank Wynne, Jennifer and Antonia spoke to a packed venue and held the audience riveted. The next day, at high noon, Wynne took on Ros Schwartz in a (thankfully bloodless) “translation duel,” moderated by Daniel Hahn. It was an absolute dead heat (tempted as I am to pun on Frank’s name). The real winners, of course, were in the audience!

I was moved and encouraged by the turnout at these events. Translation has come such a long way in the past few decades… Its practitioners are no longer invisible intermediaries; now they draw crowds at literary festivals. And so much of that progress owes to the hard work of my brilliant women colleagues.

I’ll let one such colleague have the last word. A few days ago, LARB published Yuliya Komska’s fascinating interview with the English-to-Ukrainian translator Tetiana Savchynska, who says the following about translation’s capacity to enrich the literary landscape, to help us acknowledge difference without succumbing to bigotry: “I often imagine a world without Babel, as it were — everyone still using the same language. I contemplate this possibility not only because I would be unemployed, but also because our literary world would look so different if there were no cultural and linguistic differences among communities large and small. Linguistically (though not politically), it can seem that we are inevitably headed toward a world without boundaries, with literatures becoming more uniform and less steeped in discrete cultures. Perhaps translation can work against that. It dismantles some borders but also preserves and guards the uniqueness of what is held within them.”