New York, NY, May 29, 2015 - Read Russia today announced the winner of the 2015 READ RUSSIA PRIZE, celebrating the best translation of Russian literature into English published in 2014: Vladimir Sharov’s Before and During, translated by Oliver Ready and published by Dedalus Books. The annual literary prize carries a cash award shared by translator and publisher.
In a unanimous vote the READ RUSSIA PRIZE jury of scholars, translators, and authors praised Ready’s translation in its citation:
Translation should not strive for perfection, but for excellence. Perfection is impossible, whereas excellence is only nearly impossible. And excellence is what Oliver Ready achieves in his rendering of Before and During by Vladimir Sharov. He captures the clear voice and confused mentality of the narrator who is able to love both Christ and Lenin, who prays for the sinner Ivan the Terrible and who tries to unravel the legacy of the Bolsheviks.
Vladimir Sharov was born in 1952, the same year as Vladimir Putin. We have heard a great deal from Putin both in terms of his speeches and press conferences as well as in his actions – which, as the saying goes, speak louder than words. In a time when the Russian and American leadership both speak past one another, it is especially important to hear other voices from Russia, voices that can speak directly to us and directly of Russia which we in the West all too easily either romanticize or demonize. And it is possible for us to hear Sharov’s voice due to the hundreds of hours of detail-by-detail labor on the part of Oliver Ready, a solitary effort that has now resulted in the public, i.e. published, version in English of Sharov’s own long and solitary labor. His translation gives us all both pleasure and practical value – it is, as they used to say, dulce et utile.
It is therefore fitting that the excellence of Ready’s achievement and the vision of Dedalus Books in publishing it be recognized by this prize.
Read Russia also presented a special jury award this year to celebrate the monumental achievement of two additional translations:
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Translated by Rosamund Bartlett
Published by Oxford University Press
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Translated by Marian Schwartz
Published by Yale University Press
The READ RUSSIA PRIZE jury wrote:
Why re-translate the classics? It’s often said that translations have a life span of 50 years, or that every generation needs its own translation of the classics. Tolstoy’s language has not aged for his Russian readers, but the language of his first English translators may now seem dated to the reader in the 21st century. More importantly, our understanding of Tolstoy has changed over the century since his death, as has our idea of what makes for a good translation. Both Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz have embraced the peculiarities, repetitions, and perceived awkwardness of Tolstoy’s style that often transgress all conventions of good English prose. Bartlett writes that her “translation seeks to preserve all the idiosyncrasies of Tolstoy’s inimitable style, as far as that is possible,” while Schwartz notes that she “found [Tolstoy’s] so-called roughness . . . both purposeful and exciting, and was eager to recreate Tolstoy’s style in English.” True, the two translators go about this in their own ways, and as one might suspect they have their own strengths and biases, but this foregrounding of style is everywhere felt in these new translations.
Ultimately, translation represents an act of interpretation. There is no doubt that these volumes, published so beautifully by excellent university presses, present to the English-language reader two magnificent interpreters of Tolstoy’s beloved novel.
The READ RUSSIA PRIZE carries a purse of up to $10,000, divided at the discretion of the Prize jury between translator and publisher of the winning volume.