Posts Tagged ‘Sergei Dovlatov’
July 25, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
April 19, 2012 | by The Paris Review
“The only Russian writer whose works will be read all the way through”—that’s what Joseph Brodsky called Sergei Dovlatov. This prophecy has proved true (at least, one work at a time) for some of us here at the Review. To read Dovlatov is to love him, whether he’s telling stories of his Armenian-Russo-Jewish family, rediscovering the 1960s in the contents of an old suitcase, or relating the misadventures of an alcoholic docent at a Pushkin museum. He writes short, he writes sad, he writes funny. Dovlatov was born in 1941 and grew up in Leningrad. Although he could not get published at home, his early creative work found an audience in the West after friends helped smuggle it out of the USSR. Facing a campaign of harassment by the KGB, the writer emigrated to Queens in 1978, where he wrote books, stories, and journalism. He died in 1990.
Tomorrow there will be a celebration of Dovlatov’s work at the Frants Gallery in Soho, with readings by Lara Vapnyar and Barry Yourgrau (whose essay on Dovlatov, “The Troubadour of Honed Banality” appeared on the Daily). The night will mark the opening of an exhibition of Dovlatov illustrations by Alexander Florensky. For details on the event, see the Frants Gallery Web site.
January 25, 2012 | by Barry Yourgrau
A., my girlfriend, is originally from Moscow. Her mother lives around the corner from us in Queens and throws dinner parties. It’s mainly an older, cultured ex-Soviet crowd. Lots of vodka, lots of overeating zakuski (appetizers to accompany vodka)—hours of nostalgic guffawing (Soviet jokes) and choral crooning (dissident songs and Stalinist patriotic rousers, with equal pleasure). Not speaking the lingo, I grin a lot—a genial, inebriated, slightly patronized potted plant.
The air of these evenings is thick with Russian irony and cultural chauvinism. Pushkin is beyond all criticism. “How dare you even pronounce his name with your filthy mouth,” A. will flare up, not altogether faking her indignance.
Or an old photographer-pal of Brodsky’s from Leningrad (inevitably old pals of Brodsky’s are present) will assert that Russian translations of Hemingway far surpass the originals.
This latter bit of flag-waving causes me to reflect that much of the literature that deeply influenced me as a writer I read in English translation. Foremost stands Isaac Babel, whose compressed, lyric violence overwhelmed me in my twenties. Then there was Bulgakov; even P—n’s fate-haunted tales. Later, in my early days with A., while she was away and I mooched disconsolately in her apartment, I read in translation Shalamov’s horrifying, degraded, flickering Kolyma Tales about his frozen years in the Siberian Gulag. I kept dropping the book and pacing away, moaning and clutching my head at the savagery, the unspeakable pathos. Then there were Cendrars and Simenon, Borges and César Aira (another alchemical Argentinean, rendered brilliantly by Chris Andrews) .
But, however good the English versions, there’s always in these books a slight straining—a hovering sense of idioms being just off. Read More »