Ozerov and Sharov: Defying Categorization

Portraits_Without_Frames.jpg

Three days ago Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames, which Robert Chandler and I launched in London last month, was officially published, and this important, uncategorizable collection has already received a number of reviews from discerning readers who care far less about categories than about the virtues of individual books. One such ideal reader is, unsurprisingly, Kaggsy, who writes: “Each verse brilliantly conjures place, character, atmosphere; each subject exists in their own right and emerges fully formed from their word portrait. The parts build to a whole which is a wonderful primer on Russian creatives but also an incredible work of art in its own right.” And in a deeply insightful and well-informed piece at the Cleveland Review of Books, Alexander McConnell captures the complicated mood of Ozerov’s poems: “While certainly not nostalgic, Ozerov’s lamentations for those consumed by the Soviet experiment betray an ambivalence towards that experiment’s implosion and the evaporation of what Svetlana Boym calls ‘the unrealized dreams of the past and visions of the future that became obsolete.’” How true. The Soviet world was, after all, the only world that Ozerov knew intimately, firsthand; his own life, which began in 1914 and ended in 1996, was almost coterminous with that of the USSR.

McConnell quotes several portraits in his essay, including one of my favorites, “Mikhail Arkadyevich Svetlov,” in which Ozerov depicts, with great understanding, the witty Soviet poet’s descent into alcoholism:

“The unresolvable can be resolved
so unexpectedly,
so accidentally
by such a simple method.
Moisture with degrees of proof,
genuine, unfalsified proof . . .”
Svetlov stalled forever
on this simple, reliable,
tried-and-tested method
of answering the irrelevant
and tactless questions
posed by life . . .

You can read the entire poem online, at The Baffler’s website, along with portraits of “Sergey Sergeyevich Prokofiev” and, in Maria Bloshteyn’s effervescent translation, “Aram Ilyich Khachaturian.”

And since we’re on the subject of books that are hard to categorize, I will share my brief review of The Rehearsals, a masterpiece by the recently departed Russian novelist Vladimir Sharov, from the latest Literary Review. Oliver Ready, Sharov’s inspired translator, has written a moving tribute to the man for The Moscow Times. Non-subscribers only have access to my opening paragraph. Luckily, Caryl Emerson’s brilliant, beautifully crafted essay on Sharov and The Rehearsals is available for free at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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9 thoughts on “Ozerov and Sharov: Defying Categorization

  1. Ah, thank you Boris, that’s very kind! And yes – I’m not fond of sticking things in categories and I like books that fall into the cracks in between. Sharov is an author I very much want to add to my Wall of Russian Books and your opening paragraph only makes me keener…!

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    1. Melissa, I’m really looking forward to your thoughts! There is an almost classical, elegiac tone to some of Ozerov’s poems, which may strike a chord with you. And I’m almost certain you’ll like the opening portrait of Akhmatova. Thank you for your support!

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  2. Hi Boris! I just read the Ozerov poems… Thank you for putting him on our map. So many writers we just don’t know a thing about in the West. The poem on Svetlov—that strange fortuitous blessing, a weird Soviet O’Henry effect! And the Prokofiev pierces me…that dragging leg… the deaths on the same day. The fear of discussing a death other than the Visionary’s, is that it? Need to ponder further. And the Katchaturian made me smile… that he had somehow passed a point of no return, when he worried more about his shoes than the astonishing spectacle before him. And that the photographer was too stunned to take the photograph. . Can’t wait to read more of these portraits, I see Skylight has it in—such a terrific framework for a frameless work! Congratulations!

    Hope things are good with you! You must still be in NY—I was so excited to see on Jennifer’s FB that you’re doing a panel about Solzhenitsyn, on his 100th… So wish I could be there. I hope they tape it—we’ve never talked about Solzhenitsyn! I’m so interested to see where the conversation leads.

    http://www.janetfitchwrites.com

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    1. Janet, thank you for this sensitive reading — and glorious description — of Ozerov’s Portraits! My fellow translators and I will treasure your words about our “framework for a frameless work.” And I very much wish you were here for the Solzhenitsyn, but I’ll do my best to summarize the discussion both here on the blog and in person when I next see you.

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    1. I don’t mind at all! It’s an excellent essay. And I’m sure the novel is on Ready’s list. I believe he’s working on The Kingdom of Agamemnon, Sharov’s last novel, which was only published this year.

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