September/October 2017 Current Moscow Time: 04:57:40
19 October 2017


  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Translator Update #1: Getting to know Nanidat

Welcome to the first of a series of updates from me, your humble translator, which I will be writing as I work on the translation of Dmitry Chen’s Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas. This is a small but sincere thank you for your sponsorship. Much like our hero, I have no carved-in-concrete plan for any of it but am simply inviting you to share my impressions and discoveries as I go along.

Two months in (real time, not novel time), my journey with our narrator and hero, Nanidat Maniakh, has only begun, but already I feel quite at home in the world of his story. Having barely arrived back in his beloved Samarkand from another long trading trip to Imperial China, he is hustled away in the dead of night to put him out of danger (that doesn’t work, but if it had, there’d be no story) and given a mysterious errand that neither he nor his readers yet fully understand.

Beyond the plotline, though, I quickly learned that this is a gloriously visual, tactile, sensual piece of writing, with its louring fortresses, prickly badlands, fragrant gardens singing with water, the comforting aroma of fresh bread, the racket and jostle of a sun-baked bazaar, the stench and copious bodily fluids of a hospital with empty coffers, and so much more.

There is a powerful distancing mechanism in operation here that excludes the modern sensibilities. Real as he is, Nanidat Maniakh is very much a man of his time and place—self-aware, self-deprecating but also delightfully self-confident and, it seems, endlessly resourceful. But this is no magic carpet ride, either. It is grittily true, seen through Maniakh’s clear eyes, yet with none of the irritating omniscience that can often leave us in awe of the narrator but rarely endears us to him.

So far, Maniakh has been making his way without much of a plan, just doing the best he can to stay alive and one step ahead of those who are obviously invested in seeing him dead. The people he has met along the way are previously known to him or (mostly) random strangers, but all have meandered in and out of his life and gone off to follow their own destinies. We can’t know if we will ever see them again. But each adds another tile or two to the mosaic that is his life in exile.

One such character is a caravan mistress—no heroine, she, but still Maniakh’s unlikely savior in a time of great peril. She wants to know more about him; he has secrets that he wants to keep:

So then, with another sigh, I gave the matron a tale about something else altogether.

About how we lay on a rug, Aspanak, that loathsome lad, and I, both with hands clasped together and chins just grazing them. And directly before our eyes stood two identical and marvelous objects. They were large. . . my God in heaven, simply enormous—bigger than both our heads! . . heavy, compact constructions, like little dwellings made of pure silver. Their flat, polished bases rested sturdily on Zargisu’s rug, and the two side walls of each curved smoothly upward to meet at a silver loop in the form of thick, knotted vine strands.

And in the milky gleam of those walls was a whole world, a vanished and half-forgotten world of loveliness. Interlaced in cambered coils were wondrous beasts with arched necks, arrows frozen in flight behind them and letters in human form, and above them all, Khosrow the Great, King of Kings, his lance angled downward.

These were the silver stirrups of a prince of vanquished Iran.

Recently Published Titles

June 20, 2017
Woe From Wit (bilingual)
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.

January 9, 2017
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.

December 12, 2016
Murder and the Muse
Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.

December 1, 2016
The Moscow Eccentric
The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.

July 1, 2016
The Spine of Russia
The Spine of Russia

This coffee table book is the photographic journal of an epic 6000-kilometer road trip. The book includes over 200 compelling images of Russians and Russian places met along the way, plus a dozen texts (in both English and Russian) on everything from business to education, from roads to fools.

June 1, 2016
Driving Down Russia's Spine
Driving Down Russia's Spine

This book is the story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. It is a story told with humor and with the insight derived from the author’s three decades of intimate interactions with Russia.

October 15, 2015
Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction
Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction

For over 100 years, most of the science fiction produced by the world’s largest country has been beyond the reach of Western readers. This new collection changes that, bringing a large body of influential works into the English orbit. 

July 1, 2015
The Latchkey Murders
The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...

July 1, 2015
Okudzhava Bilingual
Okudzhava Bilingual

A look at the life and work of Bulat Okudzhava, King of the Bards. Thematic sections have short introductions, and all poems and stories in this volume are presented side by side in English and Russian.

May 1, 2015
Bears in the Caviar
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.

December 1, 2014
East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia
East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia

The very word Siberia evokes a history and reputation as awesome as it is enthralling. In this acclaimed book on Russia’s conquest of its eastern realms, Benson Bobrick offers a story that is both rich and subtle, broad and deep. 

November 3, 2014
The Little Humpbacked Horse
The Little Humpbacked Horse

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.