Columbia’s Russian Library.

Christine Dunbar provides An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles from Columbia University Press:

The first three books in the Russian Library will publish in December, and while the three have much in common—linguistic virtuosity being the most obvious example—they amply demonstrate the profusion of genres that make up Russian literature. […]

Andrei Platonov (1899-1951) was a supporter of the 1917 revolution, and in both his best-known novel The Foundation Pit and the plays in the Russian Library volume Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays one can see his sympathy for the dream of communism, even as he absolutely eviscerates the policies and realities of the contemporary Soviet Union. […]

Sinyavsky served six years in the gulag, and during this time, he wrote Strolls with Pushkin in letters to his wife. Given how integral the quotations from Pushkin are to the text, this is remarkable, as is, indeed, the text as a whole. Sinyavsky published Strolls under his pseudonym Abram Tertz, which is one clue that the book is not a straightforward work of literary criticism. […]

The final inaugural Russian Library title, Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov, seems at first glance like a straightforward novel, if one with an unreliable, and not particularly literate, narrator. But as the instability of the narrative line becomes more apparent, even generic boundaries start to break down. Whole chapters, for instance, consist of nothing but poetry. […] Between Dog and Wolf has been called untranslatable, and Alexander Boguslawski’s accomplishment with this translation cannot be overstated. The world of the novel is built on word play and literary allusions, with plot, that most easily of conveyed elements, hidden well in the background. Even the prose chapters—the majority of the book—make constant use of what we often think of as poetic devices. […] The literature generally describes Between Dog and Wolf as a modernist novel, with an oft-repeated comparison to Finnegans Wake, but much of it is built around that moment of recognition, so central to the delight of reading postmodern literature.

I may have to get the last one; even though I read Russian quite freely, I expect to need all the help I can get with something that’s compared to Finnegans Wake (Elena Kravchenko wrote in The Prose of Sasha Sokolov that it “remains the least read and studied of Sokolov’s texts thank to its linguistic inaccessibility”). Thanks, Trevor!

Unrelated, but those of you interested in both the Caucasus and podcasts might want to check out Exporting Ira Glass-style podcasts to post-Soviet nations, by Chava Gourarie.


  1. I love Sokolov and am glad to see this mini-revival going on. His _Shkola_ grabbed me early in undergrad and was one of the biggest reasons I fought my way toward reading fluency. I think his work compares favorably to Joyce, actually, and would love to see him get more attention.

  2. It says in WP that Sinyavsky was partly responsible for creating the infamous P & V.:

    Volokhonsky, who was born and raised in Leningrad, first visited the United States in the early 1970s and happened across Pevear’s Hudson Review article about Sinyavsky. At the time, Pevear believed Sinyavsky was still in a Russian prison; Volokhonsky had just helped him immigrate to Paris. Pevear was surprised and pleased to be mistaken: “Larissa had just helped Sinyavsky leave Russia,” Pevear recalled. “And she let me know that, while I’d said he was still in prison, he was actually in Paris. I was glad to know it.”

  3. “The final inaugural Russian Library title, Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov, seems at first glance like a straightforward novel…”

    A good joke. You have to be really, really overfed on incomprehensible modernists from Joyce to Gaddis to say that in earnest. To a reader reared on Russian fiction – even an advanced menu including, say, Platonov or Dobychin – it’s almost immediately obvious BD&W is anything but a straghtforward novel. Almost immediately means at the end of the first page, more or less.

    Both The School for Fools and BD&W are so good that it’s hard to even imagine a translator doing them justice. The Russian texts leave no doubt they are in a different league than most post-Silver Age Russian fiction, but will it be so obvious from the English renderings?

  4. Yeah, that’s the question.


  1. […] Christine Dunbar talks about more translations on Lizok’s list, of Platonov, Siniavskii, and Sokolov. Via Languagehat. […]

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