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“…these outré, overblown, audaciously otiose stories”

April 3, 2013

Russian Dinosaur has a post (and promises two more) on translating the Gothic, early Soviet short stories of Aleksandr Chaianov (1888-1937):

I was convinced I was channeling Chaianov’s own drifting mind as he’d worked in Berlin ninety years previously, fantasizing about Venetian sunlight. I was re-entering the writer’s world via the Berlin sidewalk, coming up in the cellar of a Venetian antiquary with the canal sparkling outside the windows, surrounded by baroque cupids and Florentine tables, about to meet my own gaze in a haunted mirror. The hero buys the haunted mirror and brings it home to Moscow, only to have his reflection take over his life and destroy his beloved. The story flowed: ‘Afterwards, Aleksey never could explain his mirror experiences to his friends using the ordinary ideas and images of our world. What’s more, his badly shaken mind retained almost no recollection of the days just before his terrifying adventure in the mirror.’ If only I had checked the last line of the story: The Venetian Mirror was actually written in London, during Chaianov’s posting there in 1922. So much for the sum of insight; I couldn’t even get my dates right.

Yet insight, however delusional, is vital. Without that sense of (misguided) affinity, without that imaginative quickening and the sense of appreciation and gratitude I bore for Chaianov, his stories would still be seeking a translator.

She goes on to tell about the practical matter of finding a publisher for the 90-year-old short stories of an “obscure Russian agronomist” and how the selection of stories in Red Spectres came about. I look forward to reading more about the experience of translating them!

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