Interview with a Vampire Writer - Sergei Lukyanenko

Sergey Lukyanenko

He lives in Moscow, was born in Kazakhstan in 1968. Before becoming a writer, Lukyanenko worked as a professional psychiatrist as well as a journalist and editor at several magazines. He first became popular two decades ago, after the publication of his novels “Knights of Forty Islands” and “Labyrinth of Reflections.” Sergey Lukyanenko has written more than a hundred original works, including trilogies, novels, short stories, and tales. The “Watch” series, which has been adapted into several films and computer games, remains his most popular book collection abroad. He is a recipient of a number of Russian and international literary awards. Lukyanenko’s much-anticipated release, “New Watch.

RBTH: How popular are your books abroad?

Sergei Lukyanenko: I sell a lot of books in Germany, the U.K. and the U.S.  In France, there was an excellent translation, but the book fell flat for some reason. In the East, I sell surprisingly many books in Taiwan. I’ve sold about 100,000 copies of my books on mainland China, which isn’t bad. In Korea the numbers have also been average, and my books failed completely in Japan. It’s a mystery every time: either the translators didn’t know what they were doing, or the book simply didn’t come out at the right time.

RBTH: What do you demand from a translator, and what are your criteria for an ideal translation?

S.L.: Above all, translators must be native speakers. It’s not because they speak the language better – I understand that sometimes a foreigner can learn a language better than native speakers. It has more to do with intimate knowledge of the society for which the book is being translated. Ideally, a translator should come from the country the book will be read and critiqued, yet be closely familiar with the culture of the country where the book was written.

RBTH: Are you happy with screen adaptations of your books?

S.L.: Adapting a book into a film means translating it from the language of literature into the language of cinema. I wouldn’t say that I am totally satisfied with the movies that have been made, but I can’t say that they were bad either. I know for sure that the entire film crew tried to do their best. That’s why I love all those movies even though they are not without their flaws. It’s like the love you feel for your children – even if they misbehave, you still love them because they are your kids.

RBTH: What’s your take on the status of Russian literature abroad?

S.L.: Russian authors are being translated into many languages these days. In some countries interest is stronger, and there are other countries where it’s hard for Russian writers to make it. China is a rather difficult market for contemporary Russian writers; it’s hard to get published there. I think this has to do with the challenges of translation. Russian books are more successful in Europe, particularly in Germany and Great Britain. Germany is the absolute leader in terms of interest in Russian writers – I know that from my own experience and from that of my colleagues.

RBTH: What do you think could make Russian literature more popular abroad?

S.L.: I think government regulations and support – something writers demand occasionally – are of little help here. Of course, the state cannot help authors get published in other countries, or anything like that. I think that everything depends on the writers, because a writer who wants to be translated and published abroad faces a very difficult challenge: first of all, he must make sure that his book is cosmopolitan in the best sense of the word, that it is interesting to a global audience. Nobody is going to read about problems that they don’t care about. Secondly, the writer should not be detached from his own society and culture. If a Russian starts writing like an American, for example, he isn’t going to get translated in the United States – there are enough American writers there. It’s important that writers strike a balance between what’s interesting to people of different cultures, while not forgetting their own.

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