The Bookshelf: Homeward from Heaven.

I’m always griping about publishers commissioning the umpteenth translation of Anna Karenina rather than looking for something interesting that hasn’t appeared in English yet, so I’m especially appreciative of Columbia University Press’s Russian Library series (see this post on their Krzhizhanovsky edition, with prior links), which does exactly that, and does it very well. They have now published Boris Poplavsky’s Homeward from Heaven, translated by Bryan Karetnyk (see this post), and have been kind enough to send me a copy. As is usual with Russian Library, it comes with an informative introduction by the translator and a full set of end notes that not only explain the realia of the novel (“The Paris-Midi was a midday newspaper in daily circulation between 1911 and 1944. It enjoyed wide popularity and catered principally to a working readership at a time when two-hour lunch breaks were still common…”) but quote long chunks from the typescript (the textual history of the novel is complicated) and French lyrics used in the text (in both French and English). The publisher’s summary says:

The novel’s protagonist and sometime narrator is Oleg, whose intense love for two women leads him along a journey of spiritual transfiguration. He follows Tania to a seaside resort, but after a passionate dalliance she jilts him. In the cafés of Montparnasse, Oleg meets Katia, with whom he finds physical intimacy and emotional candor, yet is unable to banish a lingering sense of existential disquiet and destitution. When he encounters Tania again in Paris, his quest to comprehend the laws of spiritual and physical love begins anew, with results that are both profound and tragic.

Taken by Poplavsky’s contemporaries to be semiautobiographical, Homeward from Heaven stands out for its uncompromising depictions of sexuality and deprivation. Richly allusive and symbolic, the novel mixes psychological confession, philosophical reflection, and social critique in prose that is by turns poetic, mystical, and erotic. It is at once a work of daring literary modernism and an immersive meditation on the émigré condition.

You can read an appreciative review at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. Karetnyk’s Englishing is eloquent and convincing, and I’m glad he’s chosen to focus on little-known writers like Gaito Gazdanov, Yuri Felzen, and now Poplavsky rather than on the usual suspects. Kudos to him and to CUP!


  1. Dan Milton says

    I looked for Boris Poplavsky in Wikipedia and found only an article in something called I have no idea what this. The article seems quite informative but rather odd stylistically (a translation from Russian?).
    Hat, would you consider cleaning it up and adding to the standard Wikipedia?

  2. I soured on trying to do anything more than fix typos in Wikipedia after one too many altercations with officious editors who protected their pet articles and waved the rulebook at anyone who disagreed, but maybe I’ll try my hand tomorrow, when it’s a bit cooler…

  3. Wikidata serves as an index to information on any topic across wikipedia and other wikimedia projects in all languages.

    wikidata’s entry for Boris Ûlianovič Poplavskij links to wikipedia articles in de fr ru and zh but not en.

    an article in something called I have no idea what this.

    I think’s algorithm is (1) copy the article if there is one, otherwise (2a) pick the article for some appropriate value of foo and (2b) machine translate it from foo to en.

  4. Pox on those copycat Wikipedia sites, and disgrace upon search engines that put them at the top of the list. As far as I can tell their purpose is to be a vehicle for advertising.

  5. January First-of-May says

    and disgrace upon search engines that put them at the top of the list

    In my experience it’s less “top of the list” and more “high up unless there’s something actually relevant in the right language”. Though it’s still usually pretty high up.

    Honestly the real problem is SEO being a thing that exists and is apparently not considered something to get rid of.
    (Pinterest is a particularly bad case, because on the search results it looks like it actually has relevant context, but the relevant context is in fact usually unavailable behind all the ads.)

  6. @Y, but they offer new functionality.

    When I edit WP, I do it not to support the project. I do it for readers. Limiting distribution of my edits is not what I am interested in.

    How do you tell projects that are actually useful to someone (because they provide new interface or because they provide translations) from projects that ONLY annoy users who need WP instead?

  7. @drasvi, I haven’t seen any that offer more functionality. At best a different (not better) user interface than the original, always with more opaque cookies, and sometimes with advertising.

  8. @Y, one of them (often offered in search results several years ago) has wildly different interface.

    I do not remember what it was… Perhaps it was some previous version of
    but at the moment it does not look “wildly different”. It is difficult to say what is convenent for whom.

    Then machine translated WP (discussed here) is also new functionality. Yes, I can find an artcile in Persian then open GT and put it in there… well, I even can try to decipher the Persian text on my own. But maybe it is less convenient for some.

  9. David Marjanović says

    behind all the ads

    The great advantage of Firefox is that there are adblockers for it that block all ads, even the “acceptable” ones as self-servingly defined by Google (and therefore Chrome).

  10. Yes, I haven’t seen ads for years. Go Firefox!

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