Showing posts from July, 2013

Vladimir Nabokov on the art of translation

Three grades of evil can be discerned in the queer world of verbal transmigration. The first, and lesser one, comprises obvious errors due to ignorance or misguided knowledge. This is mere human frailty and thus excusable. The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms; or subjects scholarship to primness: he is as ready to know less than the author as he is to think he knows better. The third, and worst, degree of turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a shape, vilely beautified in such a fashion as to conform to the notions and prejudices of a given public. This is a crime, to be punished by the stocks as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days.

 The howlers included in the first category be in their turn divided into two classes…

Rosa Luxemburg: Life of Korolenko

“My soul, of a threefold nationality, has at last found a home – and this above all in the literature of Russia,” Korolenko says in his memoirs. This literature, which to Korolenko was fatherland, home, and nationality, and which he himself adorns, was historically unique.

For centuries, throughout the Middle Ages and down to the last third of the eighteenth century, Russia was enveloped in a crypt-like silence, in darkness and barbarism. She had no cultivated literary language, no scientific literature, no publishing houses, no libraries, no journals, no centers of cultural life. The gulf stream of the Renaissance, which had washed the shores of all other European countries and was responsible for a flowering garden of world literature, the rousing storms of the Reformation, the fiery breath of eighteenth-century philosophy-all this had left Russia untouched. The land of the czars possessed as yet no means for apprehending the light rays of Western culture, no mental soil in which its…

In Anton Pavlovich’s footsteps: Chekhov’s Sakhalin 123 years later


Natalia Bessmertnova - Swan Lake

Natalia Bessmertnova was born in Moscow 1941. Graduated from Moscow Choreographic School 1962 in the class of Sofia Golovkina. Her fragile waif-like beauty and inner mystery reminds that of Olga Spessivtzeva's. Just like Spessivtzeva she made the perfect Giselle. Coached by Marina Semyonova in the first Bolshoi years. Married to Yuri Grigorovich. Bessmertnova died in Moscow on 19 February 2008.

Repertoire includes: Giselle (Giselle), The Sleeping Beauty (Aurora), Swan Lake (Odette-Odile), Raymonda(Raymonda), Don Quixote (Kitri), Romeo and Juliet (Juliet), ChopinianaThe Legend of Love (Shyrin),Spartacus (Phrygia), Ivan the Terrible (Tsarina Anastasia). 

Gold Medal in Varna 1965
People's Artist of the USSR

SWAN LAKE (Bessmertnova-Bogatyrev, 1983)

Vladimir Mayakovsky: Past One O’Clock ...

Past one o’clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I’m in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation.

This poem was found among Mayakovsky’s papers after his suicide on April 14, 1930. He had used the middle section, with slight changes, as an epilogue to his suicide note.

Source: The Bedbug and selected poetry, translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey. Meridian Books, New York, 1960;

Aleksandr Tvardovsky - Biography

Born 21 June 1910 in the village of Zagorye, Smolensk district. His father was a literate blacksmith who scraped together enough money to buy a small plot of swampy land, which the family proudly worked.

As a youth, Travdovsky was active in his village Komsomol. In 1924 he began sending off to local newspapers poems about Komsomol activities and various local abuses. His first publication came in 1925 when the paper "Smolensk Village" printed the poem New Hut ("Novaya Izba"). Three years later, when he was 18, Tvardovsky gathered up all his poetry and went to Smolensk to visit the poet Mikhail Isakovsky. This first meeting was the start of a life-long friendship. Tvardovsky had only the incomplete education which a village school could offer. He and other young poets in Smolensk at that time were all in the same boat. As Tvardovsky later wrote:
Superficial reading and some small knowledge about the "little secrets" of the trade inspired in us dangerous illu…

Blue shawl - Синий платочек

'Blue shawl' (Siniy Platochek) "Синий платочек"
Is one of the best soviet lyric songs of WW2.
Music - E. Peterburgsky
Words - M. Maksimov, Ya. Galitsky 
Singer - Klavdia Shulzhenko

Ehrenburg’s life

The Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg has long seemed a significant, or at least a symptomatic figure. But significant or symptomatic of what? It is not merely that his career spanned from the first to the seventh decades of our century, with so many changes of fortune or direction, but also that he does not seem to have pulled the contradictions of his own personality together until the comparative and partial success of his last years. The late Anatol Goldberg’s quirky but often fascinating book reflects a rather similar disjunction, in a way which is helpful, if sometimes distracting, to our understanding of the issues involved.

Ehrenburg was, above all, a representative of the literary-political intelligentsia that is to be found in continental Europe, particularly Eastern and Central Europe. (It is not really matched by anything we have in the Anglo-Saxon countries, except as an import, like the Russian word “intelligentsia” itself.) He started in extreme youth as almost a caricature o…

Diaries and Letters by Mikhail Bulgakov

Some great writers, such as Keats and Kafka, are also great letter-writers; others, such as Wordsworth and Proust, are not. You put down the letters of the former as stimulated as you would be by their poetry and fiction and you can enjoy them even if you have never read their other work. You only read the latter for what they tell us about authors we already admire and the times they lived in. Bulgakov belongs firmly in the latter category. I have rarely read the letters and diaries of an artist that were less intrinsically interesting. Both the diary and the letters start in the early 1920s. Bulgakov, newly married, had given up his career as a doctor in his twenties and had come to Moscow to make his name as a writer. He writes like any fledgling author: “My writing is progressing slowly, but at least it’s moving forward. I’m sure that’s the case. The only problem is that I’m never absolutely certain that what I’ve written is any good.” Though he states that world events are of such …

WWII - "Moscow Strikes Back" (1942) -Full Documentary

‘Perfection is always simple’ - Vasily Grossman

Armenia is a stony country, and one of the arts in which Armenians have most excelled is architecture. Few places illustrate this better than the monastery of Geghard, where two of the three adjacent churches have – literally – been gouged out of the mountainside. In one there is a spring. The water forms a large pool in a corner, then streams down a shallow channel across the centre of the church. Stone, of course, is everywhere – rough and smooth, plain and exuberantly carved.

Last October, I attended Sunday mass in the third of these churches, which stands just clear of the mountainside. A tall narrow window on the southern wall let in a slanting band of almost solid sunlight. Standing in the raised east end, close to the altar, were six priests, four wearing blue robes, one in white and gold, and one, a novice, in black. Sometimes they faced the altar, sometimes the congregation. The acoustics of this small, squat building, with its rounded apses and dome, were so perfect that thei…

Konstantin Simonov: Wait for me, and I'll come back!

to Valentina Serova

Wait for me, and I'll come back!
Wait with all you've got!
Wait, when dreary yellow rains
Tell you, you should not.
Wait when snow is falling fast,
Wait when summer's hot,
Wait when yesterdays are past,
Others are forgot.
Wait, when from that far-off place,
Letters don't arrive.
Wait, when those with whom you wait
Doubt if I'm alive.

Wait for me, and I'll come back!
Wait in patience yet
When they tell you off by heart
That you should forget.
Even when my dearest ones
Say that I am lost,
Even when my friends give up,
Sit and count the cost,
Drink a glass of bitter wine
To the fallen friend -
Wait! And do not drink with them!
Wait until the end!

Wait for me and I'll come back,
Dodging every fate!
"What a bit of luck!" they'll say,
Those that would not wait.
They will never understand
How amidst the strife,
By your waiting for me, dear,
You had saved my life.
Only you and I will know
How you got me through.
Simply …

Out of the ruins of Stalingrad - Vasily Grossman

Little by little, Vasily Grossman seems to be working his way into the consciousness of the modern world. If his name already means something to you, and especially if you have read his novel Life and Fate, you may share my view that it is only a matter of time before Grossman is acknowledged as one of the great writers of the 20th century. If today is the first time you have encountered his name, take note of it, for your life may be about to change.

All I can say is that my own life has changed. Late last year, a Guardian colleague asked me if I had read Life and Fate. I had not; the author's name meant nothing to me. My friend thought that Grossman had written the 20th century equivalent of War and Peace. Not surprisingly, I was intrigued. I looked in bookshops and found the historian Antony Beevor's new collection of Grossman's journalism, A Writer At War. The novel, though, was harder to come by. Eventually, I found a copy of Life and Fate. Or, to be more accurate, I fo…

Boris Grigoriev’s Les enfants

"...the vision of Grigoriev is in essence romantic. It is romantic as Gorky is romantic, romantic as are the soul-racked pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky. In brief, it is feeling, not form, that maintains ascendancy in these vital, invigorating canvases." - Christian Brinton, 1924

Painted in 1922-23, Les enfants is a powerful image that showcases Boris Grigoriev's unique abilities as a portraitist. Documented in Grigoriev's personal archive (Fig. 1), this painting is a testament to Grigoriev's skill at rendering emotional intensity and his propensity to imbue a canvas with palpable drama. Furthermore, the painting dates from Grigoriev's seminal period in New York, during which he exhibited widely with great success, was lauded by the critic Christian Brinton and enthusiastically promoted by James Rosenberg, the founder of the influential New Gallery in New York. Grigoriev's arresting figures made a profound impression upon the American public who were enthralled…

Russian Booker Nominees Listed

The “long list” for the Russian equivalent of the prestigious literary award was announced at a press conference on Wednesday. Twenty-four hopefuls have entered the running, whittled down from 87. The final shortlist of six candidates is to be announced on October 3.

The award is considered one of the most prestigious literary honors in the country, and this year marks the 22nd time it will be granted to one of the prime writing talents in Russia.
This year’s nominees include Yevgeny Vodolazkin for “Laurus,” which has been signed to six countries including the UK; five-time nominee Alexei Slapovsky for “Back,” and scholar, columnist, and one-time “Student Booker” winner Maya Kucherskaya for “Aunt Motya.” The selection of candidates span a vast array of literary styles.

Winners will receive 1.5 million rubles ($45,552), with the six finalists each being given a lump sum of 150,000 rubles. The final winner will be announced on December 4.
“This list contains many new names, and the quality …

Zemfira: Walk

Directed by Renata Litvinova

Understanding Mayakovsky, the dark and beautiful “cloud in trousers”

Vladimir Mayakovsky had just turned 13 when he read Marx for the first time. Soon he participated in secret meetings and handed out Bolshevik Party pamphlets. In 1909, he was arrested for the third time as a teenager and spent eleven months in Butyrka Prison. In the solitude of cell 103, Mayakovsky honed his writing and his art. Soon after imprisonment he would be known as an actor, playwright, journalist, cartoonist, draftsman, children’s book author, cultural agitator, and above all, a poet whose gaze was set on the future. “My verse will reach you/across the peaks of ages,/over the heads/of governments and poets.”

“I remember when my brother came out of prison we were all so excited. The first thing he did was go and wash his hands,” his sister had recalled. Those who knew him intimately recalled his obsession with cleanliness, and the fact that he carried his own soap.

Mayakovsky was born on July 7th, 1893, in Baghdati, a small town in Georgia where his father worked as a forest ra…

Stalin and the Betrayal of Leningrad

Poets and Czars From Pushkin to Putin: the sad tale of democracy in Russia

It was only a century ago that Russia was the center of world literature. Writers streamed from all over the world to Yasnaya Polyana to bow before Tolstoy, like pilgrims to Jerusalem. And in Russia the authority of this writer was so great that, should he, the great writer, have decided, say, to be elected czar, it is doubtful that Nicholas II could have held on to his throne. The snag is that Tolstoy didn’t consider power to be worth a brass farthing—and that it is impossible to be elected czar: in Russia, legitimate power is derived only from God. It is also impossible, I should add, to be elected a great writer. But where did this power of literature come from in Russia?

At the time that Shakespeare was penning Hamlet’s monologue in the West, in Russia there were no poets or writers to speak of. There were only czars and holy fools. God gave the Russian people the king-emperor and the fool-in-Christ. The former held sway over the lives and deaths of his subjects, the latter was the…

Dostoevsky, Inequality, and Tsarnaev’s Humanity

IT BEGINS with a once-promising student and a number of contributing factors that could perhaps have been tolerated in isolation, but in their confluence bring about horrific crimes. The student is “a strikingly handsome young man, with fine dark eyes, brown hair, and a slender well-knit figure, taller than the average.” He lives alone in a city of thousands, and unbeknownst to his distantly located but eminently involved mother, he has abandoned his schoolwork. His ideological commitments have become increasingly extreme and convoluted, and despite evidently having maintained at one time a rational, moderate worldview, he has “recently become superstitious.” He is poor, disenfranchised, and angry, and he is planning cold-blooded murder. The target is a matter of concentrated rage and coincidental opportunity. Though he has meditated upon murder for some time, his plans are expedited when it becomes clear to him that the perfect set of circumstances have arisen for him to carry out his …