If the purpose of reading a translation is to know the culture from which the original comes, shouldn’t we comprehend it in its entirety, warts-and-all, so to speak? Shouldn’t we let post-Soviet people and their politics speak for themselves? Perhaps, like with Limonov, the English translation of Sankya says more about its American, or English-speaking, audience than the original’s Russian one. Perhaps the problem comes from the Western audience’s need for heroes, who, like fictional characters, don’t exist.
Here’s my essay on a Russian and English reading of Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin, twice winner of the Russian Big Book Prize (sounds better in Russian).
“In Maidenhair, the haunting trauma of a Russian background, exotic to most Americans, shapes characters’ lives, whether they are victims or perpetrators of violence. In contrast, Westerners in the novel make naïve attempt to “have” such experiences. Despite the suffering depicted in it, through this juxtaposition of cynicism and naïveté, experience and innocence, Maidenhair achieves a poignant beauty.”