Russian and Ukrainian, Spring-Summer 2013

And Other Stories’ long-held plan to create a special reading group series in collaboration with the European Society of Authors has received some welcome funding from the Michalski Foundation. Our inaugural reading group in this series will focus on a number of Russian and Ukrainian titles listed in the three “Finnegan’s Lists” so far released by the Society. The Finnegan’s Lists propose titles recommended by high profile authors including Oksana Zabuzhko, Ilma Rakusa, Andrei Kurkov and Vassili Golovanov. Future reading groups in this series are likely to look at Arabic, German and French titles – not all at once! Our discussion, both online and in person, might lead to one or more of the featured books being published in English.

This group is chaired by Anna Aslanyan, who can be reached via info@andotherstories.org for more specific information.

The reading period is May – July 2013.

three-in-one logo

Authors

1. May: Андрей Балдин, “Протяжение точки” – Andrey Baldin, Point Extended

2. June: Bohdan Ihor Antonych, poems

3. July: Тарас Прохасько, “НепрОсті” – Taras Prokhasko, The UnSimple

Please email us at info@andotherstories.org if you would like to get involved or receive further information about the above books. We look forward to hearing your comments and seeing your sample translations.

How it works

  1. Extracts and further information will be added to this website – see the relevant author’s page. If you have trouble finding a title we may have a copy. Do email us at info@andotherstories.org saying which book you would like to read.
  2. Read the excerpts or a whole book or two, then comment online via the author pages.
  3. Come to a meet-up to discuss what has been read. You can be sure of lively, well informed discussion (read: friendly disagreement!).

Where and When

Our final meeting is to be held on Wednesday the 10th of July at 6pm at the Clore Ballroom (level 2, at the back of the building, not near the river), Southbank Centre, London.

7 Comments

  1. Bryan Karetnyk says:

    I’ve enjoyed the book immensely so far: it is well written and very well designed – its aesthetic and balance of textual and visual content appeals to me greatly. The concept of the book is interesting and engaging (although this would probably be limited to those in the English-speaking market who have an interest in Russia and Russian literature, which wouldn’t be so great for the publisher). The envisaged series of titles in a similar vein seems like a very worthwhile and interesting project in the long-run. Overall, I consider the book to be very deserving of translation into English.
    On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think that it’s the right book for AOS. Compared with AOS’s existing backlist and publishing schedule, Point Extended simply wouldn’t fit in. I doubt whether the majority of AOS’s existing readership would be interested in a book of this sort, bearing in mind its genre and subject matter. The title would be better suited to a publisher whose publishing schedule it really fits in with.
    As I see it at the moment, the greatest stumbling block is the suitability of the book for publication by AOS.

    Reply
  2. Kathryn Collins says:

    “Протяжение точки” has made for refreshing reading. The style is conversational yet elegant and even poetic at times. It’s also interesting how Baldin’s contemporary style helps to reinforce the modern relevance of a historical piece.
    In terms of subject matter, it seems to me, this book marks a significant departure from the current tendency in popular fiction towards very personal emotional stories. I’ve really enjoyed being taken on a philosophical, almost spiritual, cultural-linguistic journey through that era of great European writers and philosophers. I do think the overt theme of “the Russian language” poses a challenge to us when presenting it in translation – making it relevant to an audience with possibly no knowledge of the Russian language or culture – but that’s exciting to embrace to see if we can make it work and the text is rich in broader themes (such as self-exploration) which definitely makes it achievable.

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  3. Steve Komarnyckyj says:

    My thoughts on this work are that it is a beautifully phrased account of the development of “modern” Russian. It seems quite unusual to me that Baldin really evokes the physical environment in which the writers lived and worked and gives a fascinating account of the development of modern Russian.

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  4. Maria Ieshchenko says:

    Andrey Baldin’s Point Extended is an astonishing revelation of how the language can be shaped by the so-called optical conclusions of its contributors, experienced as they travel within and outside of their native “linguistic space”. Baldin picks the most prominent figures of the period of the Russian language’s metamorphosis (the 18th century onwards) and follows them throughout their European discoveries that, one by one, become bricks in the house of the future linguistic revolution. His characters, although diverse and often opposed, are similar in the way they pursue their common aim, which is to explore the language and get it out of its somnambular state. While they share the goal, each has a completely different vision. Their tug of war shakes the world of words – but wasn’t it, after all, the only way to find the most balanced and elastic form of existence for the Russian language?
    The book appeals to one of the most common and yet least explored states of an individual, that of «being away». Nikolay Karamzin travelled to Europe in search of new words, with an imaginary empty bag and a strong intention to fill it up with the freshest linguistic achievements of the Germans, the French, the Swiss and the British. A convinced instrumentalist, and hardly having crossed the border before, he realized that the tissue of the imaginary bag was too thin to handle the weight of the European linguistic space. Even so, he returned enlightened and enthusiastic, with an extended vision, knowing that he could never get back to the point of departure again.
    If Karamzin is an open-minded, nostalgic but curious traveller, Shishkov, another of Baldin’s characters, is the most ungrateful one. Having hit the heavy door of the Ottoman influence on the continent, he quickly becomes jaded with his discoveries and sticks to the conclusion that «the older the better». His trajectory is that of an inert bullet that doesn’t want to get out of the gun, because that is where it belongs. His hatred for change grows into a stubborn will to reverse linguistic developments and to return to the cradle of the Russian language.
    Baldin keeps Pushkin for dessert, chronologically and emotionally, as the poet’s state of «being away» leads to the most revolutionary changes in the Russian linguistic space. The difference is that, unlike the others, Pushkin didn’t choose to leave the centre of that space – he was sent away, which makes his experience more memorable and its outcome more radical.
    At some point all Baldin’s protagonists, no matter what their motifs, view their native linguistic space from an outsider’s perspective, as if peeking behind the scenes. Some of them feel scared, others resentful or pensive. Whatever their optical conclusions, all these characters eventually come to drive the change that we see today as the linguistic revolution. Once you’ve tasted the air, you will never want to breathe in the water again.

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  5. Anna Aslanyan says:

    Clever, well written, with a panoply of literary precedents worth returning to or discovering anew, this book should lend itself easily to translation (not in the sense that it is an easy one to do, but because there are numerous passages where a translator can make a lot of mileage out of wordplay – see also Kathryn Collins’s comment). It might potentially appeal to British readers, especially those interested in Russian classics. Bryan Karetnyk makes a fair point about this title’s incompatibility with AOS’ established corpus of books. On the other hand, by mixing and matching pieces from Point Extended and a sequel to it, Five Questions for Leo Tolstoy, one could create a volume that would be less audience-specific, more universal and hence suitable for a wider audience. This might, in fact, help AOS to reach out to new readers.

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  6. Maria Ieshchenko says:

    I’ve been looking through Baldin’s book, especially those bits where he talks about Karamzin’s experience, and I noticed an obvious dimension of the text that seems sure to catch the attention of English readers while remaining less relevant to Russian readers. Baldin describes Western Europe of that time in a rather flattering way, giving examples of how its linguistic space nourished Russian travellers and shaped their perspective towards the Russian language and its development (or stagnation). I think it is another reason to consider this book as a precious historical guide that can capture a wide audience, including those who are not particularly attracted to Russian culture, but curious to find out how representatives of this culture saw the Western world of that time.
    I have another small remark concerning the length and the complexity of phrases used by Baldin. It seems to me that he chose this style on purpose, being completely aware of a certain discomfort the reader can experience as well as the level of attention needed to make one’s way through the book. I presume his reasoning was the following: it is improper to use simple language and basic phrases when you talk about the birth of a language. So basically, his style just emphasizes the spasmodic reality of a language being shaped.

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  7. Steve Komarnyckyj says:

    Baldin’s book seems like a very entertaining text with a lot of evocative images. I enjoyed the translation too like the incidental touches such as the description of Moscow in the sunset with the walls becoming chunks of fired clay. I didn’t know about the gulf between Russia’s spoken and written language or how much the language changed over the last few centuries or that German was an influence via Karamzin on its development. I certainly get a strong sense of a voice from reading the translations. – it’s quite dazzling in a way as if he was juggling several balls, a travel book, a dissertation, a playful canter through Russian literature. However is he taking on too much, will the genre busting work for everyone? I would also have liked, on a note which is, of course, probably biassed, to have seen something about the interaction between Russian and Ukrainian identities languages and literatures.

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