The Untranslated.

The Untranslated has been around since 2013; how am I just learning about it now? The About page says “The purpose of this blog is to bring to a wider attention significant literary works not yet translated into English,” and that’s so far up my alley it might as well be living in my house. Muireann Maguire linked, on Facebook, to the recent post The Virtuosi: Five Translators Whose Names are Hallmarks of Quality, which of course intrigued me, and I was stunned by the opening passage:

I have to confess that I don’t read works in English translation that often. The main reason is neither my language purism nor snobbishness but the prosaic lack of time: in order to maintain seven reading languages besides my native Russian and near-native English, I have to devote the bulk of my reading time to works of literature written in or translated into those languages, which is often a logistical, managerial and mental torment. The very nature of my blog presupposes a tangential role for English-language translators: they are rather the intended audience of The Untranslated, than its subject matter. Ideally, I would love them to read a review of some humongous, linguistically dazzling, arcana-laden novel (and there are quite a few reviewed here) and say: “Yes, I wanna do it!” Of course, you might wonder skeptically:”Is there still anyone left who can pull it off?” Are there human beings capable of translating such bemusing behemoths as Los Sorias and El Troiacord? such a paragon of untranslatable wordsmithery as Remember Famagusta? such unjustly underappreciated, uncomfortable, mesmerising masterworks as The Absolute Marshal and Corporal? The answer is yes.

And then when I clicked on the Remember Famagusta link I discovered there was an important Russian writer I’d never even heard of:

The English-speaking audience might have heard first the name of Alexander Goldstein from one of the most important contemporary Russian writers Mikhail Shishkin. During his talk at the Harriman Institute, Columbia, he actually said the following:

For me now the top of Russian literature is Alexander Goldstein. […] I’m sure in fifty years here at Columbia University and other American universities all professors will consider our time, our epoch, the epoch of Alexander Goldstein. And we, writers, will be just contemporaries of Alexander Goldstein. We just shared with him the epoch. […] And if you asked me, “What Russian writers are important and genius nowadays?” I would say: “Read Alexander Goldstein”.

[…] I’m not sure that Goldstein is really the genius Shishkin would like him to be, but upon reading his first novel Remember Famagusta, I was totally sold on the idea that there had not been a better stylist writing in Russian in the past century, except maybe Andrei Bely, Vladimir Nabokov and Sasha Sokolov.

Wow! I now want to read Goldstein (or Goldshtein, to better represent the Russian Гольдштейн), and of course I’m subscribing to the blog’s RSS feed. The five translators The Virtuosi focuses on are Adrian Nathan West, Charlotte Mandell, Brendan Riley, Isabel Fargo Cole, and Oliver Ready; see the post for extended samples of the work of each. And don’t miss the section on The Great Untranslated.


  1. Thanks a lot for this generous mention! I will do my best to keep informing my readers about the hidden treasures of world literature up for grabs for the adventurous spelunkers aka literary translators.

  2. I have been following The Untranslated since almost the beginning and can confirm that, along with The Complete Review ( it is one of the essential websites for anyone interested in modern literature.

  3. David Marjanović says

    Huh, there’s a vertebrate paleontologist named Mikhail Shishkin.

  4. I came across The Untranslated a few months ago and intended to write a comment drawing your attention to it somewhere here, but it got long and I never finished it. In preparation, I checked to see if you’d ever covered it before, and found that you had actually linked to and quoted this post in this post, but without mentioning the blog as a whole.

  5. I’ve been enjoying The Untranslated’s posts for a year or two (or three?) now and keep meaning to get to the Goldstein book on my shelf! I particularly appreciate the “Virtuosi” post for recognizing Oliver Ready’s very fine work.

  6. Alas, The Untranslated has ended its run.

  7. Looked at Remember Famagusta and I am shocked, shocked.

    This ought to be the most untranslatable novel ever published in Russian language.

    Brief excerpt:

    Ya ne khochu, ne khochu pisat’ kritiku, v tupikovoy kvartirke svoyey, moim ne smushchayas’ prisutstviyem, naoborot, nagrevayas’ ot publiki, dazhe v yedinstvennom yeye zhalchayshem chisle, vosklitsal poet-perevodchik i po stolu, pokrytomu domashney skaterkoy, raz, drugoy, tretiy gremel kulakom, takoye otritsaniye v cheloveke. Bylo eto ne v den’ pokaza mne yego kritiki, chast’yu napechatannoy v tolstom stolichnom, chast’yu tol’ko yeshche i tak daleye. O nem chto-to budet potom, dalekogo zhivogo prizovu pominal’no. Padla, ne voz’mu, sheptal telefonu Sasha Saturov, padla, ne voz’mu, gromche na vtorom zvonke povtoryal, padla, ne voz’mu, polnoglasno na pyatom krichal i, puntsoveya, volnuyas’, tozhe stuchal po stolu i ne bral; ne pozvolyal i drugim, kto byl ryadom. S ennykh por, etim priblizitel’nym oborotom oznachim stershuyusya datu, Sasha Saturov, utkonos krugloglazyy, shchekastyy, iz spravochnykh podsporiy redaktsii, ch’i opusnyye opusy, on ikh tak nazyval, o brus’yakh, batutakh, shpagatakh i prob’yetsya li «fakel» v vyshayshuyu ligu (on svoim pryamo tak lyubil govorit’ — vyshayshaya, iz inogo kakogo-to slavyanskogo sloga, tak dazhe v zametkakh pisal, daby prevoskhodnaya eta stepen’ privilas’ russkomu yazyku, konservatoru par excellance, i vytesnila sushchestvuyushchuyu, korrektory ispravlyali, odnako) byli ne khuzhe prochikh tekstov redaktsii, gde ya izvel god v sostradanii sirym, tupym, bez-uchastnym, vrode menya samogo, — Saturov, dobryak, kompaneyskogo nrava Saturov s ennykh por nevinnym chislilsya psikhopatom. Konchil plokho: mesyats v bol’nitse dlya nervnykh, podlechilsya, schitalos’, no, obvykshis’ opyat’ na svobode, s zametkami, ne ustupayushchimi prezhnim, vdrug umchalsya po zhelobu v zhadnyy rastrub, sginul, vsosannyy meditsinoy. Sluchayno, ran’she drugikh sosluzhivnykh svideteley, ya zastal Sashu na pike yego pravoty, molcha lezushchim v petlyu iz otrezannogo shnura telefona, pochti dobravshimsya uzhe do karniza, da troye muzhchin, pribezhavshikh na krik, vynesli yemu drugoy prigovor.

  8. I tried to translate, had to stop after four sentences.

    I don’t want, I don’t want to write criticism, in his dead end apartment, not embarrassed by my presence, on the contrary, warming up from the public, even in such regrettable number, exclaimed the poet-translator, and hit once or twice with a thunderous sound the home tablecloth covered table, so much denial in the man. It was not on the day when his criticism was shown to me, printed in a thick capital city journal, only partially and so on. Something will come about him later, I will call upon his distant living memory. I’ll not take it, bastard, Sasha Saturov whispered to the phone, bastard, I won’t take it, he repeated it louder on the second ring, bastard, I won’t take it; he shouted by the fifth ring, becoming crimson, worried, hit the table and wouldn’t take call and would not allow others who were nearby.

    And the whole novel is written like that.

  9. That’s from the start of the novel; for those who, like me, find it easier to read Russian in Cyrillic, here’s the passage:

    Я не хочу, не хочу писать критику, в тупиковой квартирке своей, моим не смущаясь присутствием, наоборот, нагреваясь от публики, даже в единственном ее жалчайшем числе, восклицал поэт-переводчик и по столу, покрытому домашней скатеркой, раз, другой, третий гремел кулаком, такое отрицание в человеке. Было это не в день показа мне его критики, частью напечатанной в толстом столичном, частью только еще и так далее. О нем что-то будет потом, далекого живого призову поминально. Падла, не возьму, шептал телефону Саша Сатуров, падла, не возьму, громче на втором звонке повторял, падла, не возьму, полногласно на пятом кричал и, пунцовея, волнуясь, тоже стучал по столу и не брал; не позволял и другим, кто был рядом. С энных пор, этим приблизительным оборотом означим стершуюся дату, Саша Сатуров, утконос круглоглазый, щекастый из справочных подспорий редакции, чьи опусные опусы, он их так называл, о брусьях, батутах, шпагатах и пробьется ли «Факел» в вышайшую лигу (он своим прямо так любил говорить — вышайшая, из иного какого-то славянского слога, так даже в заметках писал, дабы превосходная эта степень привилась русскому языку, консерватору par excellence, и вытеснила существующую, корректоры исправляли, однако) были не хуже прочих текстов редакции, где я извел год в компании сирых, тупых, безучастных, вроде меня самого, — Сатуров, добряк, компанейского нрава Сатуров с энных пор невинным числился психопатом. Кончил плохо: месяц в больнице для нервных, подлечился, считалось, но, обвыкшись опять на свободе, с заметками, не уступающими прежним, вдруг умчался по желобу в жадный раструб, сгинул, всосанный медициной. Случайно, раньше других сослуживных свидетелей, я застал Сашу на пике его правоты, молча лезущим в петлю из отрезанного шнура телефона, почти добравшимся уже до карниза, да трое мужчин, прибежавших на крик, вынесли ему другой приговор.

    До меня доносится иногда, что фамилия Сатурова была Аствацатуров.

    I added the next line because I find it curious that there’s now a writer with the odd name Аствацатуров. Did Goldstein call him into existence?

  10. Ah, apparently it’s an Armenian name = Astvatsaturian.

  11. I guess Աստուածայան, from Աստուած ‘God.’

  12. PlasticPaddy says

    Holy mother of God (I am not exclaiming but trabslating astvatsatsin.). I suspect the surname is invented, there are many churches dedicated to her, including a prominent and historic one in yerevan.

  13. Thanks!

  14. PlasticPaddy says

    The surname exists but I cannot find a reference in Armenia (may be alphabet). But you were right.

    ASDVADZADOURian (A) Gift of God, God-given, heaven-sent.

  15. Try Ацвацатуров

  16. John Cowan says

    Frye actually talks about this rhythm, which is distinct from the rhythms of continuous verse, drama, and prose fiction. He calls it the rhythm of association, or less politely babble, and it is the underlying form of the lyric poem. In continuous verse, prototypically the epic, we have a reciter telling us the story; in drama, the author is mostly hidden and the characters act out the story for us; in prose fiction, we read the story privately for ourselves, and can go back and skip around all we like. But in lyric, the poet speaks to himself, and we overhear him thinking. That, I think, is what’s happening here.

    It can be hard to take in large doses, which is why most lyrics are fairly short. Another long example, in English this time, is the first part (and to some degree the second part) of Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury).

    The Anatomy of Criticism (searchable PDF). The discussion of the lyric rhythm begins on p. 270 (PDF page 287).

  17. (Тер-)Аствацатурян isn’t that rare. There’s also Цатурян, s shorter version perhaps. Goldstein lived in Baku for most of his life so it shouldn’t be surprising if his characters have Armenian names.

    This passage above is a mixed bag if you ask me – at times elegant, at times pretentious. At any rate, his sentences are long but parseable.

  18. If they weren’t parseable it would be gibberish, not literature!

  19. Stu Clayton says

    There are people who sometimes argue (with the present instance only as a talking point) so as to take “if they weren’t parseable it would be gibberish” as implying “if they are parseable, they’re not gibberish”. It’s a beguiling take on semantics when you have no sense of humor.

  20. I agree it’s possible to write parseable sentences which are still gibberish.

    Not sure if this is the case here.

  21. Stu Clayton says

    Do you mean that a confident decision on whether it’s gibberish might depend in particular on whether alternative parsings can be found that reveal more sense ? Or just that you’re not sure whether it’s gibberish ?

    Maybe it doesn’t matter, given that sense can be found anywhere. It’s inescapable, as Luhmann put it. That is a very sobering thought.

    It’s also a thought that provides relief, in that it suggests you don’t have to read gigantic shaggy-dog novels to get the message.

  22. I mean I haven’t read the whole novel, just skimmed the beginning. But I can already see that despite barely parseable sentences there is something resembling plot and action and vivid characters. So probably it is not gibberish.

    I’d have to read it to make sure, but probably won’t. Anyway, LH informs us that people who actually read it say that it is not.

  23. Well, both Shishkin and Andrei (of The Untranslated) say it’s great, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt since they’ve read it and we haven’t.

  24. I don’t find this passage gibberish. Maybe in some parts meaning is not crystal clear, but overall there is as much clarity as you can get in the beginning of a novel that begins in the middle.

Speak Your Mind