Cardinal Points, vol. 11

My indefatigable fellow editor, Irina Mashinski, informs me that the latest volume of Cardinal Points, our annual journal of Slavic literature and translation, is available for purchase. As always, I thank Irina for her heroic efforts and Brown University’s Department of Slavic Studies for their support. See here for volume 10 (2020), here for volume 9 (2019), here for volume 8 (2018), here for volume 7 (2017), and here for the journal’s website. This year I also thank our new designer, Ruby Miller.

This is the eleventh volume of Cardinal Points, and as we round the bend into 2020s, I want to highlight a number of contributions that both look back on the Soviet experience and speak with uncanny directness to the current moment. In “We’re Terrorists,” a story translated by Sara Jolly and Irina Steinberg, Polina Zherebtsova, who grew up in Chechnya during the wars of the 1990s and is of mixed heritage, recalls how she and her friends playacted acts of terror from both sides of the conflict. (You can read more about Zherebtsova here.) And in “Hostile Territory,” Lena Wolf, who grew up in Soviet Kazakhstan and is of German extraction, remembers her teacher forcing her to bandage her own head during basic military training, because her classmates have a hard time deciding whether they should help a German if war really broke out. Other pieces in the journal revisit the tumultuous years leading up to the 1917 revolutions and the subsequent civil war (an excerpt from Homero Freitas de Andrade’s superb biography of Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Kevin Windle), the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (harrowing child’s-eye-view poems by Anna J. Jasinska), the memory of the Leningrad Blockade of 1941-42 (a stately elegy by Svetlana Evdokimova, translated from the Russian by Stephen Capus, as well as James Manteith’s essay on translating the poems of Anna Alekseeva), and offer a portrait of Soviet society coming apart at the seams during Perestroika (an entertaining, colorful excerpt from a novel by Alexei Nikitin, translated by Catherine O’Neil).

Yet this year’s selection also evokes more peaceful moods, pointing to the comforts of nature and community, which may be available to us even under the worst of circumstances. The great literary scholar Avril Pyman chronicles her summers in the Soviet countryside in the 1960s and ’70s, while Kevin Windle translated the nature notes of Ivan Sokolov-Mikitov. Both these moods — terror and consolation, the all-too-real and the transcendentally sublime — appear in two masterpieces of translation, which we are lucky to feature in their entirety: Stephen Capus’s extraordinary version of Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem and Kevin Kearney’s equally extraordinary rendition of Adam Mickiewicz’s The Crimean Sonnets. I will end by quoting the dedication to Requiem:

Mountains are known to bend beneath such sorrow
And mighty rivers to cease to run;
But the prison doors will still stand firm tomorrow,
And behind them the cells will still resemble burrows,
And sadness will long for death to come.
For some cool breezes blow as day is dawning,
Others rejoice in sunsets – but here
Our days are all alike, monotonous, boring:
The hateful grating of keys in locks each morning
And the tramp of boots are all we can hear.
We arose at dawn, as if to pray together;
Through the ravaged city we made our way;
And the morning sun was low in the sky, the Neva
Was veiled in mist as, paler than ghosts, we gathered
And the sound of hope seemed so far away.
The sentence falls… She feels the tears searing
Her eyes, and now she’s all alone;
And they’ll cast her down, their fingers tearing
The life from her heart, coarse and uncaring;
But she’ll stagger on down her lonely road …
We were thrown together in hell – and yet still I miss them,
Those random friends; and I wonder where they are:
What memories crowd the bright full moon, what visions
Haunt them now in their cold Siberian prison?
And I send this farewell greeting from afar.

March 1940


Homero Freitas de Andrade, “A Writer is Born: An Excerpt from The Devil at Large in Moscow: The Life of Mikhail Bulgakov” (trans. from the Portuguese by Kevin Windle)
Zsuzsa Hetényi, “Lying to Ourselves”
Alexei Nikitin, “Small-time Scammers: An Excerpt from Victory Park” (trans. from the Russian by Catherine O’Neil)
Avril Pyman, “Summers in the Country, USSR 1965-1974”
Ivan Sokolov-Mikitov, “Nature Notes: A Selection of Sketches from Travels and A Hunter’s Stories” (trans. from the Russian by Kevin Windle)
Gaither Stewart, “The Director and the Books (…of the Gogol Library in Rome)”
Yevsey Tseytlin, “Emigration as a Dream” (trans. from the Russian by Veniamin Gushchin)
Lena Wolf, “Hostile Territory”
Polina Zherebtsova, “We’re Terrorists” (trans. from the Russian by Sara Jolly and Irina Steinberg)


Anna Akhmatova, Requiem (trans. from the Russian by Stephen Capus)
Svetlana Evdokimova, Four Poems (trans. from the Russian by Stephen Capus)
Anna J. Jasinska, “Glass Balloon: A Triptych”
Adam Mickiewicz, The Crimean Sonnets (trans. from the Polish by Kevin Kearney)
Antony Wood, Original English Verse in the Onegin Stanza: Portrait of an Englishman (Excerpts) and “To Stanley”

The Art of Translation

James Manteith, “‘Seeking Ghosts of Clinking Coins’: Shelters and Travels with Anna Alekseeva”

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