Monday, February 19, 2024

Ukraine - A Spring for the Thirsty

Ukraine: A Spring for the Thirsty / ed. by Arthur Thompson
Dupond, c2022.
252 p.

Ukraine has been on my mind even more as we head up to the 2 year mark of the Russian invasion. I have been looking for some more Ukrainian reading, and came across this collection of interviews with five publishers and four translators, all talking about the actuality of translating work from Ukrainian (mostly to English). I am interested in having more Ukrainian fiction translated, and I am interested in translation itself, so I thought I might like this. I wasn't prepared for how fascinating I found it! 

It covers a lot of ground, although it was published in 2022, so a lot of it was researched and written prior to the full scale invasion, which has changed a lot -- including how many people are now aware of Ukraine. However, there were a few mentions of it in some of the conversations. 

The book interviews four translators - Uilleam Blacker, Mark Andryczyk, Michael M. Naydan, and one of my favourites, Nina Murray. They each talk about how they got into translating Ukrainian literature, and some of their ideas about future projects. There's also discussion of the details of translating, from the actual work to finding publishers for books they'd like to translate. 

The publishers interviewed start with Osnovy Publishing in Kyiv - a long-time publisher of Ukrainian language books and classics & non-fiction. When the current owner took it over from her parents a decade ago, she found that that formula wasn't working, and has moved to kids books, photo books and mainly English language publishing. It's a fascinating discussion of the way the book scene has changed, and what they do to keep Ukrainian literature flowing. 

Then we meet Lost Horse Press, a Seattle based poetry publisher. They have a Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series, in which most collections are published in a dual-language format. Their series editor is an academic specializing in Slavic studies, who also does translations from Ukrainian and Russian. This conversation covers a lot about the independent publishing scene in the US and what it's like to publish poetry as a small press. Also about how bigger houses don't want to take as many risks on 'unknown' literatures like Ukrainian. Really interesting overall, and now I have a list of poetry books to read. 

Next up is Glagoslav Publications, which publishes only in digital format (my library has many of their ebooks, which is a great help to me!) They operate from Ukraine, England and the Netherlands, and publish Ukrainian works as well as Russian, Belorusian, Georgian and the like, books from the wider region. They say they prefer classics as many of those have not been shared with the English speaking world, but at the time of the interview, they noted that there isn't the support for Ukrainian translations (ie: grants and government support) as for others like Polish literature. Hopefully that is now changing! This is a long-standing publisher so it was intriguing to see how they develop and what they focus on. 

Then we have Jantar Press, based in the UK and focused on publishing English translations of Central and Eastern European literature. They have one Ukrainian translation that I'm aware of, Andriy Lyubka's Carbide. It's interesting how the same issues come up in every interview - scarcity of translators from Ukrainian, few grants or governmental push to spread Ukrainian literature. 

And finally there is Deep Vellum, based in Dallas, and much better known already than it was just a few years ago. They've published a few excellent Ukrainian books so far, by big names like Serhiy Zhadan and Andriy Kurkov. The interview goes over some of their titles and the translators they've worked with, and also talks about the mechanics of running a small press interested in translations. 

Anyhow, these are not short interviews -- they are all lengthy and interesting and bring up different perspectives and ideas. I was so enthused by the idea of new translations by the end that I certainly hope the translators that were interviewed are getting more work now! 

And one more unmissable bit of this book is the Bibliography at the end. Absolutely invaluable. As they say, there are so few translations from Ukrainian that it is actually possible to make a list of them all -- they do note that their list can't be guaranteed to be comprehensive, but it's pretty close. It lists all Ukrainian fiction that has been translated into English between 1890-2022. There will be a bunch more to add since 2022 and continuing forward, probably more than the last ten years together. But this is a fantastic resource and a great reading list for anyone aiming to read more Ukrainian literature. They also mention the small excerpts of translations that can be found in journals like Apofenie or World Literature Today, or Ukrainian Literature: a Journal of Translations. Great places to check out. 

So you can see from my very wordy review of this book that I found it so good, so thorough, so intriguing. I hope that people interested in translation in general will find this one as it gives such a good look at publishing translations from a less trendy literature. So much to think about, and also a fabulous reading list included to get you started. Highly recommended. 

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