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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A "very bouncy" translation of The Little Golden Calf

by Paul E. Richardson

The Louisville Courier-Journal has a nice feature this morning on Anne Fisher, the translator and driving force behind our new translation of The Little Golden Calf. It talks about how the book went in and out of favor with the Soviet regime, and how Anne was inspired to bring the work out in English because it had been so instrumental in forging her own understanding of all things Russian.

As an American undergraduate exchange student in Karelia, a province in northwestern Russia, Anne O. Fisher wanted to deepen her appreciation of her host country's culture. So her Russian classmates introduced her to a fictional confidence man, Ostap Bender, the hero of Ilya Ilf's and Evgeny Petrov's obscure satirical novels The Twelve Chairs and The Little Golden Calf "My friends told me, if you want to understand Russia, you have to read these books,â? said Fisher, who lives in Louisville and works as a Russian translator. She quickly became obsessed with the books and with Bender, a Huck Finn with a Slavic accent, a Marx Brother mugging among the Marxists. She went on to write her doctoral dissertation on Ilf and Petrov, then helped translate 2006's Ilf & Petrov's American Road Trip: the 1935 Travelogue of Two Soviet Writers, a Borat-like book about the satirists' journey across the United States.

There is also a bit that any translator can appreciate:

"I thought I knew these stories backwards and forwards, inside and out," Fisher said. "But as soon as I sat down and started translating, going over every word, I felt like I was enjoying them in a way I hadn't before, because I was fully understanding the extent of what makes them so funny and topical."

The Courier-Journal writer also spoke with Jeff Brooks about Anne's work:

"Bender's escapades in this novel amount to a tour of early Stalinist Russia on a full measure of laughing gas,â? said Jeffrey Brooks, professor of Russian history at the Johns Hopkins University and author of When Russia Learned to Read"Of course, Russia at that moment was violent and nasty. You would not know it from this novel, but then, humor requires some distance from some things," he added.

And it ends with a nice plug for the book:

Brooks calls Fisher's translation "very bouncy," giving it the advantage for being based on the most complete and least-censored original text available. Two comprehensive introductions and a full set of notes and appendices explaining the novel's colorful characters and frequent catchphrases offer English-speaking readers a detailed legend for the road map of Soviet culture provided by Ostap Bender's wild ride, keeping his irrepressible spirit alive.

Anne will be giving gave a reading of The Little Golden Calf at Carmichael's Bookstore in Louisville, in case anyone reading this is in striking distance (Wed, Feb 10, 7 pm). [Here is a photo of her hard at work (thanks to Gabriela Nunez):]