A School for Fools by Sasha Sokolov

A School for Fools

A school for Fools by Sash Sokolov

Russian fiction

Original title – Школа для дураков

Translator – Alexander Boguslawski

Source – personnel copy

I’m a bit late joining in Lizzy Siddals NYRB fortnight. I have a lot of there books on my shelves and haven’t reviewed too many on the blog so I had hope get a few more read but I have managed this so far and part way in two other books. This is what we like about NYRB well I do they seem to republish books that may have not got put out again this came out to a seventies as it had been one of those books that when it came out in Russia was put around underground in Samizdat copies. Sasha Sokolov. Tried many times to escape Soviet Russia once via Iran he was caught and only family connection saved him from a long prison sentence. He then manages in 1975 to escape and eventually became a Canadian citizen. He has published another book that has only just been translated I have that on my tbr pile. This is considered a modernist masterpiece.

This is what the teacher Pavel was saying, standing on the shore of the Lethe. River water dripped from his washed ears, and the river itself flowed slowly past him and past us with all its fishes, flat bottom boats, ancient ssailboats, reflected clouds with those who are invisible and those who will drown, with frogs eggs, algae , relentless water striders, torn piece of net m grains of sand from the beloved seashore and golden braclets lost by someone, with empty cans and heavy hats of Monomakh

Surreal passages like this make me wonder if there was anopther level we miss in english in the original Russian but the richness of his words can be seen like treacle going slowly down your throat.

Now this is one of those books that you get to the end of and really need to start again , but this time around I haven’t time anyway the book starts with one narrator telling of his school the school of fools( a school for those disturbed kids)  of the title and his summers at a dacha cottage that many Russian do during the summer escaping the city. His romance or lack of it (yes it is one of those books that you are never quite sure what is real ) with Veta. Now that sounds enough but then we get a second narrator that seems to be another side of our first narrator telling is a more far-fetched tale. This other voice is almost a monologue at times. The action flips from summer to the school and at times is surreal things like a bizarre dress code from the headmaster of the school. As time and what is life drift and we see the world through our narrators disturbed views of the world a hard world at times and memories of summers and school days all get mixed as well as strange digressions here and there as the book goes on. It is like a memory of a drunken few years glimmers of lives mixed with the dreams of life.

But Veta dosen’t hear. During the night of your arrival in the land of the lonely Goatsucker, the thirty-year-old teacher at our school.Veta Arkadievna, the strict teacher of botany, biology, and anatomy, dances and drinks winer in the best restaurant in the city with soem young, yes, relatively young man – funny, mart, and generpus. Soon the music will end – drunken violinist and drummers, piano players and trumpeters will get off the stage.

Veta is someone he is in love with at times and other not during the book !!!

Now this is one of the oddest books I have read it is hard to get a handle on and is what we well I read translation for Sokolov himself is considered a master of the Russian language on par with the likes Of Joyce with English of Schmidt in German and those two are two I have picked as for me it has nods to the Schmidt novella I read a few years ago with detached and strange Narrators and the stream of consciosness style at times is a nod to Joyces style. It maybe is also a way of capturing the madness of Soviet Russia at times the two extremes of the world the summers at the Dacha and the school reflecting Soviet life at times. Also, the playful nature of the words sometimes reminds me of how Anthony Burgess used language the translator is a lifelong friend of Sokolov so kept some Russian words in the text. He also wrote the intro. A great first choice for my NYRB fortnight.

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Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Russian fiction

original title – Последняя Москва.

Translator – Christopher Culver

Source – review copy

Well its a second visit to the Russia this woman in translation month , This time we have a historic novel about writers. Natalia Gromova is from a russian military family , she has lived in Moscow since an early agee and got a job at 16 working in the state historical library whilst finishing her studies , she has work for the Soviet encyclopedia in the past but since the mid 90s has been writing books that she use the historic archives to put together historic novels from original diaries , letters and articles of the time .

Alexander Fyodorovich served Russian literature like a priest: literature had completely replaced religion for his generation. But neither literature nor culture , as it became clear later, could save them from the chaos of revolution and then all ugly realities of Soviet life. many of these high-born gymnasium teachers and university professors looked at the complex issues of society and politics with disgust, and the consequences of this naturally fell on the heads of their children, who swept into the maelstrom of history.

I loved this passage about how literature took over religion in some in the 30’s

Moscow in the 1930’s is set during those pre war years of Stalin rule , we are drawn into a world of house and place that arent there anymore .This stitches together the diaries of writers like Olga Bessarabova, Vavara Grigiryena  are the two main sources for this work  well-known and now even forgotten to paint a picture of a world of writing at the time the friendships . People like Maria Belkina a well-known writer in her time but now forgotten to us in english. I loved the way Natalia brought us behind the doors of these writers as they discuss the works of the day and the writers Bulgakov who at the time was working on his own masterpiece that was set also in Moscow the Master and the Margarita during the 30’s .Daniil andreyev is another character who is in the story he was even in the book arrested by Stalin it turns out a lot of his great works were destroyed by The state secret police .

The more I read , the more colourful a picture I got of an old Moscow home . There were more than enough of these in the past. TO a degree, these Moscow homes were literary figures in themselves: fro the Rostovs happy home on Provarskaya street in War and Peace to the home of Gromeko family on the Arbat in Doctor Zhivago. Here the doors were always wide open, the house would teem with guests, a number of relatives would be resident, and holidays would be regularly celebrated, with Christmas festivities for children and adults

In her diary, Olga Bessarabova described the Dobrov home in the same way

An open door for the writer of the day to spend time with Olga and her family .

This is one of those books you need a notebook next to you as you read to note the names of the writers mention and their works . I did this and then looked to see what is available not much but I still have some to check out further Andreyev for example his later book roza mir , rose of the world came out in the late 90’s. Natalia Gromova brings a long gone Moscow to life , this is one of a number of books she has written using the same technique of real diaries and setting as a frame for her novels .I found this compelling if a slow read so much to absorb makes it a book that I will be rereading and discovering again.

 

What’s going on in the world of translation !

Well it’s been a while since I round-up some Gems and news I’ve come across in the world of translation .So after a week away from the blog it seemed a nice way to ease myself back into the old routine .First of is one of two new publishers that have crossed my path in recent times A publishing house called Deep Vellum ,set in Texas ,they have three title coming soon I believe ,the first is a collection of short stories from Mikhail Shishkin ,I shall be reviewing The light and the dark by him soon and from that could see his short stories being quite tasty pieces ,Sergio Pitol the Mexican writer and translator is the second writer ,he has won the prestigious Cervantes prize in the past .Lastly they are publishing A member of the Oulipo group of writers Anne Garreta ,she was first member  to be  born and chosen to join the group after it was founded ,She has won the Prix Médicis in 2002 for her book not a day

the_missing_year

Next up is a remind I think but their first book is due very soon and it is the New York based New vessel Press the first book is The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal a man who was a mute spend six decades paint the history of his village on the shores facing Uruguay ,when his sons die they find these scrolls .This reminds me rather of the story of the outsider art of the American Henry Darger who spent year writing an epic saga called the Vivian girls .The book is due out as an Ebook on the 15th July one for the Dairy I think !!.

This week saws the winner of the Oxford Weidenfield Translation prize announced –

Tess Lewis for Lukas Bärfuss, One Hundred Days (Granta)
Louise B. Popkin for Mario Benedetti, Witness (White Pine Press)
Sam Taylor for Laurent Binet, HHhH (Harvill Secker)
Frank Wynne for Alonso Cueto, The Blue Hour (Heinemann)
Philip Boehm for Herta Müller, The Hunger Angel (Portobello)
Mike Mitchell for Jean-Pierre Ohl, The Lairds of Cromarty (Dedalus)

hunger angel

The winner  was The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller  here is my Review  .I may also draw your attention to another book from the shortlist  ,here is My review of The Blue Hour ,A book overlooked I feel as it is better than the more well-known Red April also set in Peru .

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Also a reminder for the forthcoming Thomas Bernhard week .I have a specially commissioned  piece this Thursday that I have been lucky to get from another writer about his love of Thomas Bernhard .

The New Moscow Philosophy by Vyacheslav Pyetsukh

Source- Review copy

Translator – Krystyna Anna Steiger

Vyacheslav Pyetsuka is a Russian writer ,he is a trained historian ,he taught  russian and world history until the avant grade nature of his fiction lead to him losing his job ,he has since published numerous books in Russia ,and has had a number of his short stories translated ,notably in the new russian writing collection from Penguin .This book came out in Russia in 1989 and is new from Twisted spoon the czech based publisher .

The novel is set over course of a weekend and we follow it from friday to monday as the members of a collective household in Moscow gather and discuss what happened to the old women that had a flat in the building and who will get the space that is now free she isn’t there any more this book has echo’s of crime and punishment by Dostoyevsky ,like that book there is a large cast of people involved in the story telling process fourteen in all .The book is like a russian doll it becomes more and more as we move along we find out that the disappearance of  Alexandra Sergeyevena Pumpianskaya (don’t you just love that name ) may have more too it than first thought ,hence the echo to C&P was this a murder ,well we never know this isn’t a crime book it is a book about russian life ,art and philosophy as the tenants talk we see the previous hundred year of russian life and art mention in snippets .

Though it may seem speculative at first if not futile, investigating the relationship between life and what we call literature would be useful at this point .The relationship in question is extremely abtrusive undertaking, but is tempting  to try nonetheless .First it’s tempting to ascertain to what degree literature is a game and to what a book of fates , a textbook of life .

The opening of the second part “saturday”

Now this book is a must for any Russian lit fan ,as follows of this blog know I m russian lit light my self  but slowly working on this ,so I found this a book that sent me rushing to google at times to find out about this and that as I went a long ,so it gave me more of a passion to discover more russian Literature old and new and any book that makes you do that is always worth picking up .I think the other echo with C&P is the time when C&P was written Russia was a land of uncertain futures and this book in 1989 is the same this is just the time the new age of russia was happening .We also see how important space and station can be in a large city as the people in the building argue over this vacant space .all this and a lengthy discourse between two of them on the nature of what is evil .I must say the translator Krystyna Anna Steiger ,has manage to keep together what is a complex and mutlilayered book ,still hugely readable in English .

Have you a favourite new russian writer ?

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