Stubbornly Multilingual.

Josephine Stefani, who identifies herself as “Stubbornly multilingual,” responds to the Quora question “What are some good novels that don’t have an English language version?” I love this sort of thing, and you’ve got to be impressed with her wide range of literatures. She starts off with Ana María Matute (who “is someone in the Spanish-speaking community”), Ahmadou Kourouma (“considered a classic in the Ivory Coast” — I actually have his Monnew, though I haven’t read it yet), and Moussa Ould Ebnou (“Considered one of Mauritania’s greatest novelists”); here are her Russian picks:

Evgeniy Vodolazkin (who is, unfortunately, listed as “Volodazkin”) — I love the casual “You may, however, be able to locate some of these books in Romanian or Lithuanian.”

Lidia Charskaya:

Her books about boarding schools (Zapiski Institutki) and Sibirochka: Knyazhna Dzavakha are among her most famous, but they have not seen the kind of popularity they should have had in English because children’s books don’t appear to be a priority for foreign language translation. I mean, where’s the serfdom, the Russian revolution?

I have her Gazavat but (sigh) haven’t read it.

Maks Fray (Svetlana Martynchik and Igor’ Styopin), “a huge name when it comes to contemporary Russian language literature. They’re not very critically-acclaimed, however, aside from a few secondary literary prizes here and there, given the fact that their material isn’t usually considered ‘serious literature’.”

Dina Rubina: “The Russian-Israeli author is not a new name to anyone keeping up with modern Russian literature, but her latest book, Babiy Veter, published just early this year, has not yet been translated.”

Lyudmila Ulitskaya: “One of my new favourite authors, Lyudmila Ulitskaya is well known for her intergenerational family sagas in the backdrop of political turmoil.”

There’s lots more there; check it out. (Thanks, Bathrobe!)


  1. I don’t have anything very insightful to say. Just not to leave this as an orphan post.

    Here’s entry for Narine Abgaryan, who is Armenian and writes on Armenian issues, but in Russian:

    Out of all the authors listed in this category [Authors whose works won’t be well-received by English speakers], I believe that Narine Abgaryan is probably the most likely out of all of them to be translated in the future: she is an extremely talented writer who sheds light on Armenian issues and has attracted a bit of a cult following in Russian-speaking circles. The only slight problem is that her works on ‘Armenian issues’ aren’t about politics or the Armenian Genocide or inter-generational trauma or anything of the kind. Rather, she talks about life in simple Armenian villages, the kind of people she grew up with, the beauty and simplicity of family and human relationships … heartwarming tales, tales that restore your faith in humanity, tales that make you laugh and cry. Whether there is space for that in Anglophone literature … I guess we’ll find out if her works ever get published. Some works to get you started: Manyunya; S Neba Upali Tri Yabloka; Lyudi, Kotoryy Vsegda So Mnoy. [Manuna; Three apples has fallen from the sky; People who are always with me]

    Just to add a personal reader’s perspective. Rubina is a very solid writer. Her early stories and novellas are on a more recreational side. Funny and engaging, without much depth, but thankfully without pretense to one either. People of the air trilogy (Style of Leonardo, White pigeon of Cordova, and Petrushka’s Syndrome. These is wikipedia translations. The first one should have been “Leonardo’s hand [like in handwriting or … style]” and in the second one “dove” would be better) is no less engaging, but more deep, though not without some cheap affect. I did not read her latest novels.

  2. January First-of-May says

    A few of the early works of Max Frei (this is the official transliteration) do, in fact, have some English translations, published by Overlook Press – though their choice of the books’ names is, how to say it, a bit idiosyncratic (it’s kind of self-consistent, but past the first work it has nothing to do with the original Russian).
    Everything after the first 4 or 5 books, however, remains untranslated (and I won’t be surprised if some of those works wouldn’t get a translation for decades).

    The works of one of my own favorite Russian authors, Natalya Korostelyova, had technically never been officially published in Russian either (they’re only available online and in elaborate fan printings).

    Of course my main Russian favorites are people who don’t get translated because they’re so insanely obscure – Viktor Krotov (perhaps my single favorite author, but I probably wouldn’t have heard of him if I didn’t know him personally – he’s fairly obscure even in Russia), his son Anton Krotov (whose only English book is the short Practice of Free Travels booklet, which had been translated into something like half a dozen languages by now), and of course the much more famous but still somewhat obscure Andrey Zhvalevsky (both with Myt’ko and with Pasternak – the work that initiated me to his stories was the surprisingly original Porry Gatter, but his later works tend to be, if anything, even better; weirdly, one had been translated into Italian).

    Then there’s William Seabrook’s Robert Wood, um, I mean, Doctor Wood: Modern Wizard of the Laboratory, which is fairly well known in its Russian translation (I had three copies at home, from two different editions, and commonly encountered quotations from it online), but is so insanely obscure in English that apparently even people who already were interested in Seabrook’s works have mostly never heard of it (or, at least, so says a LJ post from a guy who did manage to acquire a copy).
    To a lesser extent, the same thing happened to The Magic Anatomy Book – a lot ot people know it in Russian, but the English original is obscure, and in fact if you try to search for the English title most of the reviews are for the Russian translation!

    Dina Rubina and Lyudmila Ulitskaya are, perhaps sadly, only names for me. The other three (Vodolazkin, Charskaya, Abgaryan) are not even that (I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of any of those before this post).

    There are probably some other good Russian authors that I couldn’t think of immediately.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your perspectives!

  4. It has just occurred to me that Lisa Hayden, who translated Vodolazkin’s Laurus into English, should be a foremost authority on contemporary Russian literature.

    On Dina Rubina, I agree with D.O. that she’s a solid writer: she has a sense of humor and knows how to engage the reader without hinting at some bigger meaning, message or allegory.

  5. Whether there is space for that in Anglophone literature

    Questionless, there is. Whether it can be made to run the double gauntlet of the cynical critics and the fickle public is indeed a question.

  6. On Dina Rubina, I agree with D.O. that she’s a solid writer

    Question for either of you: where should I start if I wanted to give her a try?

  7. First off, thank you, Aleksei K., for your very kind mention. Since you mentioned Vodolazkin, I’ll start with him. Though only Vodolazkin’s Laurus is available in English at the moment, two more books are on the way: my translation of The Aviator is on the way next spring (I’m working on revisions now!) and Solovyov and Larionov is coming later, next fall I believe. Both are from Oneworld. The other two Vodolazkin books that Ms. Stefani lists are collections: one contains (put briefly) essays and interview/Q&A material, the other contains Solovyov and Larionov plus a long story/novella and a few brief pieces, at least two of which appeared in the other collection. I’m also translating Narine Abgaryan’s Three Apples Fell from the Sky for Oneworld; I don’t know the estimated publication date.

    languagehat, in answer to your question about where to start with Dina Rubina: I’ve often heard that her short stories are her best writing, though I’m more familiar with her longer work, where (of what I’ve read in full or attempted over the years) I most enjoyed На солнечной стороне улицы. I have not, however, read either Белая голубка Кордовы or Синдром Петрушки, novels that colleagues have recommended to me. Both are on the shelves…

    I’ll leave things at that for now since The Aviator awaits!

  8. Let me join the small chorus of praise for Dina Rubina. I hadn’t heard of her before this year, when my wife brought home a collection of short(ish) stories by her from the local Russian library in Bonn. I quite liked them. Some of her stories and excerpts from her novels are available on her website, among others Один интеллигент уселся на дороге, which is also in that story collection my wife checked out from the library.

  9. Thanks, Lizok and Hans!

  10. I have very little to say about modern Russian literature, but I liked stubbornly multilingual Josephine Stephanie.

    I assume she is Jo Stefani @jostephine on Twitter.

    Her profile says
    “Languages, geography, history, politics, gastronomy, travel, the arts and life. Culturally confused world citizen. [HK, RU, ES, ID, MY, UK]”

    Aren’t we all?

  11. We are indeed!

  12. Jo Stephani is one of the jewels of Quora, and I’m glad to have made her acquaintance while there. We both have Armenian partners, which means that in theory, we owe each other some Ararat brandy…

  13. One of the highlights of my trip to Aleppo many years ago was drinking “seven-star Armenian brandy” on the terrace of the Baron Hotel. I also visited the Armenian quarter and had a priest read to me from an Armenian Bible.

  14. January First-of-May says

    The works of one of my own favorite Russian authors, Natalya Korostelyova, had technically never been officially published in Russian either (they’re only available online and in elaborate fan printings).

    Not Natalya, of course (I probably confused her with my linguistics teacher), but Anna Korostelyova (or Korosteleva), somewhat known on LH for Flowers of Cinnamon, Smell of Plum (in the original Russian, Цветы корицы, запах сливы), a novel about a Chinese student who suddenly ended up studying Russian at Moscow State University, and who has a lot of unexpected backstory to his family.

  15. «Перед многими городскими банями-хаммомами когда-то (в моем детстве) сидели на земле узбечки и продавали катык для мытья волос. Шел бойко» [Инф.: Медора Б.]; узбечки шли из предместий в город и, подходя к домам, в 6–7 часов утра зычно, растянуто выкрикивали: «Кислое молоко!». Фонетически точно это передала Дина Рубина: «Моль-лё-коу! Кислий-пресний мол-лё-ко-у!… Кисляймляка! Кисляймляка» (из романа «На солнечной стороне улицы»).

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