Daniel Kalder in the Guardian has a good interview with Robert Chandler, who has translated Andrei Platonov’s novel The Foundation Pit [Russian Kotlovan] twice because “No other work of literature means so much to me” and “Platonov is hard to translate: in the early 1990s we were working in the dark.”
You’ve argued that Russians will eventually come to recognise Platonov as their greatest prose writer. Given that he’s up against titans such as Gogol, Tolstoy and Chekhov this is quite a claim.
Well, it probably sounds less startling to Russians than it does to English and Americans. I’ve met a huge number of Russian writers and critics who look on Platonov as their greatest prose writer of the last century. In my personal judgment, it was confirmed for me during the last stages of my work on Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, an anthology of short stories I compiled for Penguin Classics. I worked on this for several years, did most of the translations myself and revised them many times. I read through the proofs with enjoyment — I was still happy with the choices I had made — but there were only two writers whom I was still able to read with real wonder: Pushkin and Platonov. Even at this late stage I was still able to find new and surprising perceptions in Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades and Platonov’s The Return. This didn’t happen with any other writers.
Chandler is much more modest and sensible about translation than that guy Venuti, but then again, he’s just a translator, not a Grand Poobah of Translation Theory. And I really have to read The Foundation Pit sooner rather than later. [Update: I’m now reading it, and it’s as great as they say.] (Via Lizok.)
Incidentally, I ran across this great series of history shows presented by Nikolai Svanidze; each 45-minute episode (in Russian) features a year in the 20th century (starting with 1901) and focuses on one person or family. I’m going to be spending a lot of time with it.