Posts Tagged ‘Dmitri Bykov’

Dmitri Bykov on Mayakovsky, MacDougall Arts 15 March

March 20, 2013
Dmitri Bykov

Dmitri Bykov

After a suitable delay, Dmitri Bykov appeared and said he was surprised to see so many people come to see him talk about Mayakovsky.  His book on the poet would be coming out towards the end of the year.  Mayakovsky’s life had been poisoned by a feeling of being out of place, guilt, and a need for vindication.  He had been great as a formulator of slogans, phrases that would immediately serve as newspaper headlines.

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Mayakovsky should have become a visual artist rather than a literary one, but literature had been the fashionable career choice in his time rather like physics in the 1960s.  [Could Mayakovsky have become a physicist?–well he was drawn to scientists in any case.]  He had suffered and even rusted internally from not having contact with anything–not with nature nor with people nor eve with the texts of other authors.  He had along with Slutsky produced a method by which anything could be turned into poetry, and he was very keen on the Cheka.  Perhaps his best work was Conversation with a tax inspector about poetry, which showed the full extent of his Bazarov tendencies–he was simply not at home with other people.

All of which sounds very like Milan Kundera’s general denunciation of poets in Life is elsewhere



If not Gorenshtein, then who? A survey

July 14, 2011

'Friedrich Gorenstein'

Not Gorenshtein

A publisher writes (about Psalom):

Another question in my head is how many UK readers would find the
centrality of its religious discussion puts them off the book? Not a
literary question, but just a question of not losing money, which
happens very easily in publishing.

Of course Dostoyevsky puts religion centre-stage too, but then he
cannily puts in a murder ‘whodunnit’ as well (in the Brothers

I could imagine a US publisher might find it easier, with religion
being so much more widely discussed and practiced there..?

Further witnesses testify:

When Gorenstein was alive I tried to find him a US publisher but the answer was that his novels are too long and complicated and unless there is a generous grant the project is unrealizable. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky might have got the same response today if they tried to get published for the first time.


In 1991, Houghton Mifflin published Bernard Meares’s translation of TRAVELING COMPANIONS. At the time I heard that the book did so poorly, Gorenstein became unpublishable here.

This is a situation I come across fairly frequently. If a foreign author’s first book doesn’t do well, other publishers are reluctant to touch anything else. In this case, I think part of the problem was the choice of book, which, unlike other works by Gorenstein I’ve read, is largely talking heads. Pity the poor translator expected to make something marketable of that.

I have no idea who made the decision to publish that particular book, but I suspect this was simply the one that was brought to the publisher’s attention.

Well there could be some whiff of an underpriced (intellectual) property there, at least in the US.

Who then?

But what are the alternatives?  The trouble with very many contemporary Russian novels is that they require far too much knowledge of the Russian background (historical, literary, day-to-day) for what the foreign reader is going to get out of them.  There’s a general question as to whether Russian writing is drowning or indeed has already drowned in intertextuality, but that’s another question.

So who is there if you’ve decided you want to publish a translated Russian novel?  Olga Slavnikova often (not always) comes on like she wants to be a Russian Henry James so that you would be completely unable to draw a picture of what’s happening in any particular scene, never mind say why they’re doing what they’re doing.  Dmitri Bykov’s books tend to be long and complicated and also pretty slackly written.  Mikhail Elizarov’s Bibliotekar’ requires an unhealthily-detailed knowledge of Russian and Soviet history to understand, and there’s always the unpleasant possibility he might mean it seriously.  Something like Pokhoronite menya za plintusom (Pavel Sanaev) is fine in its own context, but will it mean anything to anybody else?

Take a survey!

Anyway, I’ve created a survey ( Click here to take survey) for people to give their own views and suggestions. The question is:

A publisher wishes to publish in English Russian fiction from the last 40 years. He would like to publish something worthwhile, and also not lose money. Which of the following would you recommend?

Do have a go! I’ll publish the results here…