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Mikhail Shishkin
Topic Started: May 17 2012, 07:23 PM (4,477 Views)
alliknowis
Literary lunatic
[ *  *  * ]
From what I've read he seems to be generally acknowledged critically as the greatest Russian novelist of the past decade or two.

Reads the following short story and two novel excerpts translated into English and tell me there's not something magical about his writing...

1993 short story "Calligraphy Lesson"
http://wordswithoutborders.org/article/calligraphy-lesson

excerpt from 2005 novel "Maiden-Hair"
http://worldliteraturetoday.com/we-cant-go-living-way-mikhail-shishkin

excerpt from 2010 novel "Letter Book"
http://booksfromrussia.org/translation/letter-book

From wiki:

Mikhail Pavlovich Shishkin (Russian: Михаил Павлович Шишкин, born 18 January 1961) is a Russian writer. He is widely considered as one of the best contemporary Russian writers and praised for depth and complexity of his books and for his perfect command of Russian literary language.[1][2][3][4][5]

Biography

Mikhail Shishkin was born in 1961 in Moscow.
Shishkin studied English and German at Moscow State Pedagogical Institute. After graduation he worked as a street sweeper, road worker, journalist, school teacher, and translator. He debuted as a writer in 1993, when his short story "Calligraphy Lesson" was published in Znamya magazine. Since 1995 he has lived in Zurich, Switzerland.[6][7] He averages one book every five years.[8]
Shishkin's books have been translated into more than ten languages.[9] His prose is universally praised for style, e.g., "Shishkin's language is wonderfully lucid and concise. Without sounding archaic, it reaches over the heads of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (whose relationship with the Russian language was often uneasy) to the tradition of Pushkin." He deals with universal themes like death, resurrection, and love.[10] Shishkin has been compared to numerous great writers, including Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce,[11] while he admits to being influenced by Chekhov along with Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Bunin, saying "Bunin taught me not to compromise, and to go on believing in myself. Chekhov passed on his sense of humanity – that there can’t be any wholly negative characters in your text. And from Tolstoy I learned not to be afraid of being naïve."[11]

Bibliography

Fiction

"Calligraphy Lesson", short story (1993)
One Night Befalls Us All / Всех ожидает одна ночь, novel (1993)
Blind Musician / Слепой музыкант, novella (1994)
The Taking of Izmail / Взятие Измаила, novel (1999) - Russian Booker Prize (2000)
Saved language, short story (2001)
Maiden Hair / Венерин Волос, novel (2005) - Big Book Award (2006), National Best-Seller Prize (2006)
Pismovnik ("Letter Book") / Письмовник, novel (2010) - Big Book Award (2011)

Non-Fiction

Russian Switzerland / Русская Швейцария literary and historical guidebook (2000)
Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapovo, in the Steps of Byron and Tolstoy / Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapowo, Auf den Spuren von Byron und Tolstoj (2002), an essay collection, in German (2002) - Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger - 2005
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
[ *  *  * ]
Name
Michail Schischkin
Country
Russia / Switzerland
Born 1961 in Moscow, Russian novelist Mikhail Shishkin spent the first thirty years of his life in an environment characterized by “Communist lies”. Like many of his countrymen, at an early age he discovered literary as a more truthful alternative world, and first began feeling like a “proud citizen of his country responsible for its future” since the beginning of perestroika. After completing his German and English studies at the Moscow State Pedagogical University, he worked as a journalist and schoolteacher – not least for having participated in the large-scale project of social change – until he moved to Switzerland, for love and not for politics, in 1995. By then the young writer had been honoured for writing the best Russian debut. Shishkin’s fear of running out of literary material in tranquil Switzerland was quickly proved unfounded (quote: “The Russian writer needs Russian tension”). During his nearly ten years of service as translator and interpreter for the Migration Office of the Canton of Zurich and other authorities, he learned more about war, torture and expulsion from so-called applicants from all parts of the former Soviet Union than in his Russian homeland.
The thousands of authentic case histories significantly inspired his third novel, “Maiden’s Hair”, which first appeared in German five years after the publication of its original edition. Five years was how long publishers in Germany hesitated, unlike in France and Italy. Yet Mikhail Shishkin, who speaks eloquently in German and researched the portrayal of the Germans in Russian literature, has long been among the most respected writers in Russia, where he enjoys a readership in the hundreds of thousands and also received every prestigious literary award granted there, including the Russian Booker Prize for his second novel, “Vzyatie Izmaila” (The Taking of Izmail, 1999). Nevertheless, in the German-speaking world, there was a reluctance to contend with complex, narrative constructions demanding the reader’s full attention, and for which one is later rewarded – with an inexhaustible wealth of stories which eavesdrop on reality and lead into the world of poetry, myths, and fantasy. Shishkin insists that nothing he describes is invented; everything he writes has been personally experienced, read, or overheard: as a writer he is not only a creator, but a collector and guardian as well. This applies as much to the horrifying fate of the asylum seekers the interpreter – Shishkin’s alter ego and the main character of the novel “Maiden’s Hair” – has to translate as it does to the fictional but exceedingly realistic diary of romance singer Bella, whose life spans the entire “cursed Russian” twentieth century – from the 1905/1917 Revolution to the Second Chechen War. Regardless of which side they are on, all the victims are evoked in the novel.

“Maiden’s Hair”, the species of fern from which the novel derives its title – in cold Russia, a popular houseplant which dies without human warmth, but which also spreads like ivy over old walls in Rome – corresponds with the many branching storylines of the novel, which is deeply rooted in the present and past, in the mythology before Christ and biblical tradition, and which likewise depicts war and art as constants of human culture, and celebrates the word as being something imperishable. The narrator bears witness like the Evangelists, offering in several voices a testimony embracing the whole of our existence on a material and spiritual level. In doing so, he artistically intertwines time periods and motives, playfully juggles the ambivalence of handed down wisdoms and the facts, and draws from the example of church founder, fisher of men, and gate keeper Saint Peter, who takes the form of civil servant Peter Fischer in the novel and who is requested to stop as many applicants as possible of passing through the gates of paradise into Switzerland. Later, among other locations, the narration leads to Petersburg/Petrograd and to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Eternal City, where the novel programmatically fades out.

Meanwhile the novel has appeared in German, exquisitely translated by Andreas Tretner, who decrypts the collected allusions and even carries over the most audacious palindromes, as well as captures the original’s richness of tone and imagery. This explains why the novel’s reception in Germany, despite the many hesitations of publishers, has been so overwhelming: soon after the publication of “Maiden’s Hair”, the author and the translator were honoured with the International Literary Award of the House of World Cultures in Berlin. The jury paid tribute to Shishkin as “a literary artist of the highest order” who has “developed a unique form for the novel” in which is combined “a chronicle of violence, a love story, an artist’s diary, and interrogation protocol that likewise moves within an intertextual fabric, which – above and beyond its outstanding quality – christens this novel world literature.” In addition, in the newspaper Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Ulrich M. Schmid declared “Maiden’s Hair” one of the “most important novels in modern Russian literature. Together, the stylistically inventive literature, psychologically astute viewpoint, and sense of composition form the basis for a masterly text, which redefines the novel as a genre. Mikhail Shishkin has a remarkably keen ear for the self-deceptions of his protagonists (the novel’s narrator included), and connects their stories in a shrewd construction capable of making even a Vladmir Nabokov green with envy.”

Text: Patricia Klobusiczky / English translation: Karl Edward Johnson

http://www.berliner-kuenstlerprogramm.de/en/gast_druck.php?id=1206
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
[ *  *  * ]
A “verbal chain” culminating in God: Mikhail Shishkin on Russian literature
At the end of October, I heard a lecture at UW-Madison by acclaimed Russian author Mikhail Shishkin that I have only just had time to revisit (for a full recording, see CREECA lecture archive).

His lecture was an incredibly interdisciplinary and gleefully stimulating—albeit only loosely coherent—bit of waxing philosophical on the meaning of Russian literature and its history and future. It was simultaneously a poetic take on linguistics, an allegorical take on political science, a mystical literary study, and a manically thematic and anachronous history. Nonetheless, it ended on a rather effete, New-Agey and possibly even Pentecostal note with Shishkin’s assertion that literature should be a road “to a place where all of us are loved and awaited to be saved,” a statement that was indeed meant in the religious sense these words imply.

Shishkin for the most part ruminated on three themes: the use of language, the situation of the modern Russian writer, and the religious-mystical meaning of literature.

“Words are guards that do not allow meaning and emotion to enter … and still, the verbal path is the only way to understanding.” In Shishkin’s view, language is at the root of both obstructions to divine love (no one loves as purely as mother and babe when they do so “sub-verbally”) and problems of intellectual and moral flaccidity in current literature. Thus, revamping commercially corrupted literature, and thereby alleviating the modern condition, centers on a reinvigoration of the language.

Shishkin obviously troubles himself over knowing the fundamentals of the written word, and avoiding them as such. “For me, the only way to create my own road is to write incorrectly … to say something correctly means to say nothing,” he said.

On the second theme, Shishkin laid out a history of Russian literature as the receptacle of “non-totalitarian consciousness” amid state-enforced conformity. To his mind, the totalitarian consciousness can be atomized into the state’s commands and the people’s prayers (mat swear words are the “living prayers spoken in the imprisoned country”). The “prison reality of the state gave its people a prison mentality” that “created a (Russian) language with an unprecedented power to humiliate.” When literary language arrived from the West in the 18th century, bringing along with it a respect for human dignity, Russian literature—in the hands of “colonists” like Dostoevksy and Chekhov—sought to “squeeze itself into the space between the insult and the groan.”

Russian writers never depended on the interest of readers, writing only for themselves or the Party, but were nonetheless accorded respect (see the old adage, “A poet in Russia is more than just a poet.”) After the fall, “Literature was left for those who cannot live without writing. Then the dollar came.” Shishkin, who wrote his first novel in teh 1980s, said that the new dependence on print run in the ‘90s was no better than previous dependence on the Soviet regime’s approval.

Shishkin accurately describes the current situation in which literature, its decline marked by the ascension of pop authors like Oksana Robski, is so marginal and meaningless as a product for profit, it can paradoxically exist freely in Russia for the first time. But he sounds a tad curmudgeonly and simplistic in his rote condemnation of the downsides of the market economy.

For his third theme, Shishkin totters out onto a metaphysical limb and gets all mystical: The Russian author—Shishkin suddenly adopts the guise of a parenting help guru—loves his hero unconditionally, as Gogol does Akaki Akakievich. In this he touches the sacred, since in the beginning there was only a “clump of love, or, rather, the need for it,” which prompted God to create “his own child in order to love him.”

What follows is a bit of metaphorical logic stretched to the breaking point: “If the author loves Akaki Akakievich, who does not deserve to be loved, then the reader knows that God exists and loves him.” Thus, the author’s task is to combine words into “verbal chain” that culminates in God. The additional duty of the Russian author, it would seem, is to fight the totalitarian consciousness intrinsic to the Russian nation and the humiliation reflex intrinsic to the Russian language.

Shishkin claims it is impossible to offer a universal prescription as to how to achieve this, then proceeds to do exactly that, speaking from his own experience: To create his own “Russian arc,” the Russian writer must become hermit, i.e. leave, physically or metaphorically, bringing only his own experience and “ten centuries of the Cyrillic language.”

Although by the end I was worried Shishkin was trying to surreptitiously convert the audience to Scientology, I will admit the lecture was the most inimitable and far-reaching analysis of Russian literature that I have yet heard.

A few more chestnuts:

“Russian literature suffers from high blood pressure.”

“The letters I wrote at home had a completely different density abroad.” (Shishkin lives in Switzerland).

“Not writing is part of writing.”

“If the Russian border were closed, Russian literature would never have happened.”

To be successful in the current Russian book market, writers must write a lot, appear everywhere, and “try to create as many scandals as possible.”

The Russian reader is still looking for a book “whose author does not consider him an idiot looking for entertainment.”

http://eagleandthebear.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/shishkin-on-russian-literature/
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
[ *  *  * ]
MIKHAIL SHISHKIN: “THE IDEA BEHIND LETTER-BOOK CAME TO ME OVERNIGHT”
NOV 30, 2011

Writer Mikhail Shishkin, as is characteristic of “living classics”, is quite focused, exacting and unhurried. He diligently puts out one novel every five years, but each one is highly regarded by readers and critics alike. The winner of numerous literary awards, Shishkin has spent the past 15 years of his life living in Zurich. Recently he visited Moscow, where it was announced that he had won first prize of the Big Book Prize for his most recent novel Letter-Book. Here we republish an interview with the author from 2010. Mikhail Shishkin explains how he manages to get by outside his native language and cultural environment and shares his thoughts on his own creative work, modern literature, and life and the creative process in general.

– How is it possible to be a Russian writer and write about Russia while living far away from the Motherland?
– It seems that if you are a real writer, then everything that you experience is your capital, your deposit box, and it is not so important where you are. Your Motherland is where you are born, but it is not necessarily the place where you live. And everything that happens to you: whether you go to prison, get married, have children; whether you are a tiger trainer or a school teacher – this is all your capital from which books are born. If a writer remains in the country of his native language, then this is his capital; if he leaves the country of his native language, this is also his capital. I think that I was very lucky that due to certain family reasons I ended up living outside Russia. And it was this that helped me come to understand what my native language means to me.

– What is special about a writer living outside his native language environment?
– It is a widely held belief that a Russian writer cannot live without his native language – in foreign lands he will certainly be tortured with nostalgia. But those that promote this are probably not writers. Such ideas are those of leaders and tyrants who do not want to let writers go, as they are more difficult to control from afar. If we recall that such a text as Gogol’s Dead Souls (and what could be more Russian) was written in Rome, Switzerland and Paris.
I believe that it is unimportant where a writer lives. Furthermore, it seems to me that a writer must travel outside his own country, outside his own language, for a while. If you live in Switzerland, you see both Switzerland and your own reflection. How can you live your whole life without once looking in the mirror? Observing from a different perspective helps you understand your own country and yourself.

– How do you keep up with life in Russia? How do you keep informed about its constantly changing state of mind?
– When I lived in Russia, I was first and foremost interested in people, and I did not write about the country. But if I write about life, then I write about life in Russia. But when you leave Russia you come to understand that life there is not the entire world. It is only a small piece of an enormous world. And perhaps it is not the largest or most important piece.
I don’t think you need to write about Russia or about exotic Russian problems. You should write about people. Regardless of where you live, you should write about people and all their problems, which will be the same in Russia and in any other country.
Why to people in the West still read Tolstoy but ignore contemporary Russian authors? Of course they are translated but the print runs are minimal. And even if detective novels are translated, their readers are not the same that usually read detective novels. Russian detective novels are read in the West by those who are interested in Russian culture and Russia in general. They try to understand contemporary Russia through these books. Russian authors will once again be read in the West when they stop writing about the Russian exotic and begin writing about the reader, regardless of his nationality, be it a Chinese, American or perhaps a Swiss. After all, when someone in the West reads about Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Bolkonsky, he is practically reading about himself. When contemporary authors learn to write about people, for example, in the way that Tolstoy could, then a new wave of Russian literature will come, and it will be read everywhere. Until this happens, Russian literature will remain in its own little Russian ghetto.

– What is unique about Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapovo, which you wrote in German? Did the use of a different language change the manner in which you wrote it, your style?
– I know German as a foreign language. And the main particularity of any work written in a language that is foreign to the author is that it be written correctly. After all, people communicating through a foreign language strive to correctly present their thoughts. An author can write in his own language in the manner of his choosing. And a writer should write incorrectly. The artistry of a work depends on the degree to which it diverges from the norm: to present words in such a manner that it reaches the heart, and if you write in a textbook style it won’t do that. When I write in German I never write prose – only essays or articles. In the book you mentioned, the parts related to Russia I of course wrote in Russian, but when I wrote of things outside Russkiy Mir, I wrote in German and strived to do so correctly.

– How would you describe the art of writing? What is it? Work? A profession?
– If you look at it from the point of view that the writer creates a product, which the reader takes with him in the metro or train when he has nothing else to do, then writing doesn’t seem interesting to me. In this case it is a sort of service in exchange for money. A writer that clearly understands what is in demand on the market and strive to write books that will suit the majority of readers and know how to do this are simply serving the masses. Such authors serve the needs of the consumer. I have no right to pass judgment on this, as it is also needed. But for me personally this is not interesting, and I approach my own writing differently.
It seems to me that you cannot just decide to become a writer. If you are a normal person, you must recognize your responsibility to your family, to your children. You must make a living. And if you decide one day “I am a writer!” then this could lead to family catastrophe. In my opinion, you can only become a writer in a childish, instinctive manner. After all, when a child picks up a pencil and begins to write something, he doesn’t take account of what he is doing. In a sense it is of course an ailment, but a healthy one with which you can live to the end of your days.

– It’s understandable how the urge to write is born, but why did you continue to write?
– For me, writing is like an attempt to answer the questions that I asked myself as a child. Once I was walking along with my grandmother, and on the side of the road we saw a dead cat. And my grandmother went home, got a shovel and returned. And when she buried it on the side of the road, I suddenly realized that I too will someday die… And grandmother will die, and all the people that I love and that love me will die some day. And what can one do about this? And ever since I have been asking myself: is it possible to fight death?
It seems that words are these small pieces of eternity from which you can build a wall against death. And you start to think of them as protection form death, and it seems that the writers of books have found this loophole into immortality. But as a person changes, so do his answers to these very same questions. At 16 years of age, even before writing anything, I was sure that writing was the path for me to overcome my own death. But then at some point in time I came to realize that this won’t save me from death. Words, like a ship, promise to take you with them into eternity. But the ship sails of at night, and it turns out that the words attain immortality, but you remain there on shore.
At some point in my life I came to understand that death is a gift, and the same kind of gift as love. I realized that my appearance here on earth is an unbelievable privilege, and thus we should relish every second that we have been given. If it were not for the death of the closest and dearest people, we would never understand why we are here and why we have been placed on this earth.

– How do you begin writing: from some sort of idea, a plot line or simply the desire to create something new?
– There is an unwritten rule among authors – write one book a year, or at least one book every two years, otherwise you will quickly be forgotten. In this sense, I am absolutely not a professional but rather an amateur. A novel, in my opinion, is not born, out of an idea but rather in the absence of an idea. A novel appears out of a black hole, out of failure, from some sort of bottomless barrel that you fall into after finishing your previous text. A novel begins from a feeling of complete mediocrity, from the sense that you have been used. In the previous novel you created the Cosmos, but you cannot create the Cosmos again. You realize that you have been used, like a disposable pen, and you won’t write anything more in your life and it is impossible and intolerable to live any longer. And from this excruciating feeling, which could last a day, a month, a year or two, or more, that the next novel begins.

– Do you fear that you will not have enough energy for a new novel?
– I am convinced that every person who is engaged not only in absorbing things but also producing has one fear which will haunt him his entire life. This is the fear that the energy which makes it possible to create will leave him. And this is a tragedy, because by inertia you continue to be what they call you. You write because this is what they expect and not because some internal source of energy is making you write. I am scared to death of this. And I know from experience that following each novel this happens to me. When I finished Letter-Book, I was waiting for this downturn, and with it depression. But suddenly instead of this, some new ideas started appearing for some short texts, essays and even the next novel. Perhaps this can be explained by me having reached, let’s say, ‘creative maturity’.

– How do you collect materials for you future works?
– My life amounts to rummaging through everything that is happening around me: I select words, dialogs, situations… I chew them up, spit them out, chew them up, spite them out – and sometimes store something away in my depository. For example, while reading memoirs of some 19th century French explorer in Central Asia, I pay attention to some details about how he describes a train. And I jot down these details, bearing in mind that these details characterize the railroad at that time. I’m not sure why I do this. But if I suddenly need to send a hero to Central Asia, then he must go right at this time in history and not 20 years earlier or 20 years later, because I have an understanding of the reality at this particular time. And when an idea suddenly appears to write some novel, I peruse through my notes and create this new reality.

– Tell us, please, about how did you come up with your novel Letter-Book?
– My latest novel was really difficult for me, as nothing was working out. I was staying outside Berlin living on a stipend. It was wintertime. There is a lake there called Wannsee, and every day I strolled out to this frozen lake and was haunted by this horrible feeling. I understood that four years had passed since by previous book, and I hadn’t really written anything since. In that area lies the grave of one of my favorite writers – Heinrich von Kliest (he committed suicide on the lakeshore). And when I walked by that place every day I thought, “My God, but he was right!” And if the ice had given way beneath my feet, I would have felt the joy of deliverance. I reached the very absolute end, taking myself apart into little pieces, and then one morning I woke up and all the pieces had fallen into place overnight – the idea of a correspondence dawned on me. And then I spent a whole year writing it down. How the idea of Letter-Book came to me overnight, I still am not able to explain…

– What is the book about?
– Letter-Book, like Maidenhair, is about everything. This is the shortest of my books – the correspondence between two people in love who write each other letters. There is of course a historical background behind the book: the hero finds himself in China in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, when Russians together with the Japanese, French, English and Americans marched on Beijing. There was a sense that this would be the last war.

– What is the overriding image of your heroes? Who are they?
– When I open a contemporary novel I am often shocked by the description of the characters. Authors assimilate ready-made heroes and play off the readers associations, for example: “he looks like Schwarzenegger.” In the world of my heroes, there is no Schwarzenegger and there cannot be. And my characters cannot even imagine what the real Schwarzenegger looks like. While my secondary characters may be described with some single detail about external appearance, the main heroes always go without a description. And this is the case for one simple reason: all of my heroes are me. I pluck myself into various characters primarily based on age: the young man who is struggling to figure things out, the adult who is similar to who I am now and the old man that I may become someday. All male heroes are a unified ‘I’, and all female heroes are my perception of a woman. So all of my books are intertwined, leaving only the boundary between man and woman. And in all my novels there are really only two heroes – he and she.

– How important to you are critics’ assessments of your work?
– When you publish for the first time, it seems that this is very important. You read about yourself, worry a lot and, it is particularly painful when you see negative reviews. But it is important to recognize that critics do not write about you, but rather they use writers as support for their own ideas and disputes with their own opponents. And this really doesn’t have anything to with what you wrote. But when you are young and inexperienced, criticism can kill you. It can be unjust and boorish. But if criticism has this effect then I think that this is a good thing, as young authors should be chastise, doused in mud – everything that might make them stop from writing. And if they do quit, that means that they are not true writers, and this will be better both for their families and for world literature. A true writer will not stop writing for anything.
As far as the significance others opinions for me, I can say that at some point I came to the following conclusion: regardless of what you write, there will be 10 people who say that you have saved world literature and 100 people who say that you wrote utter rubbish, and the rest of mankind won’t even know that your book exists. And this is something you just need to live with.

– Are the opinions of readers important to you?
– It’s a bit more complicated with the readers. At the beginning if you are dependent on the print run, then the opinion of readers is the most important thing for you. But then you stop being honest with yourself and are quick to make compromises. As soon as you start thinking about whether someone will like your writing, then you stop being yourself and start providing a service. And if you don’t want to be in the service industry, you shouldn’t think about the reader.

– Which contemporary Russian authors catch your attention?
– It seems to me that there have always been several authors who sit in their attics and write brilliant texts. But we cannot appreciate the brilliance of these texts – this will perhaps only become clear a hundred years from now. If you take, for example, the 1920s, then we now speak of very different authors than those who were well-known back then. And those who not recognized then are now accepted as representatives of that era. I am sure that from our time, for example, such authors as Alexander Goldstein, who unfortunately died before his time, will live on. He was ahead of his time, published but not read. He will be joined by others whom I do not know, and they will represent Russian prose of the early 21st century.

http://www.russkiymir.ru/russkiymir/en/publications/interview/interview0020.html
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
[ *  *  * ]
Head versus hand
Mikhail Shishkin, one of Russian's greatest contemporary novelists, has been translated into German for the first time - by Andreas Tretner. They talk to Ekkehard Knörer about "Venushaar" which won this year's German International Literature Award.

Der Freitag: Mr. Shishkin, you are in a peculiar situation. In Russia as an author you are widely read, celebrated, and you have received all the top literary awards. But since 1995 you have been living in Switzerland, where very few people know your work. Only now with "Venushaar" – which was originally published in 2005 as "Venerin Volos" – are you being translated into German for the first time. How have you adjusted to this discrepancy in the public eye?

Mikhail Shishkin: It has indeed been quite strange. I write in Russian and of course I'm happy about my Russian readers and the appreciation for my books in Russia. But German is the language spoken where I live. My novels have been translated into many languages – but where I actually live there has been nothing. Which is why I'm so overjoyed that DVA has at last dared to bring out a translation. Before that there were lots and lots of rejections from German publishers, almost always with the explanation that my books were too demanding and therefore too risky. It makes me wonder, how stupid do publishers think their readers are?

And what about your relationship to Russian literature, how do you see that?

Shishkin: Unfortunately in the course of the 20th century, Russian literature has fallen by the wayside. If you put people in a cage, they cut themselves off, and this gives rise to a form of subculture that has its own language, its own jokes, and the people lose interest in what is happening outside. The orientation towards the outside world was prohibited for years. For decades Russian literature missed out on all narrative developments in world literature. It will have to work through all of this now, catch up, before it can find its way back to independent development. But now it's time to take a step forward. Which is why I think, yes, it's important for an author to live abroad for a while. If you don't, it's like living in a house without mirrors. And you need mirrors to understand yourself.

Andreas Tretner: By the way, it's a lot more difficult to translate things that have been written from inside a mirrorless cage. You often have to explain things to the reader at great length, and in words that can never really be appropriate. Literature which is open to the world, and which is therefore able to move beyond the closed space it stems from, can be translated much more easily. And for me "Venushaar" exemplifies this sort of open literature.

Shishkin: So I was sitting in Zurich, in my little apartment opposite the Nordheim crematorium, and writing in Russian. And while doing this I always, without compromise, had my "ideal reader" in front of me.

What is your ideal reader like?

Shishkin: Well he stands beside me and likes everything I like. And hates what I hate. The risk with this is that you are left alone with your ideal reader. But I was lucky enough to have lots of real readers in Russia, in my homeland. The prizes are great, so are the stage adaptations, but the most important thing for me was meeting my real readers in the provinces. A year ago I went on a reading tour through the small towns of the Vologda region, a hotbed of small-town mentality. It was a gathering for provincial intelligence: teachers, apothecaries, librarians. And they all had my books on them and were talking about how important they were for them. I found it very moving. The role and importance of literature in Russia is hard to compare with any other country in the world. Reading in Russia is a struggle for self-preservation, for maintaining human dignity in the face of degrading political reality.

Are you able to imagine your German readers?

Shishkin: It's difficult. I hope of course that there will be readers here for whom my book can be meaningful in some way. And of course it will not be my words, but Andreas' which will be to thank if it is. But things are different in Russia. Something happened there that I will never forget: I was sitting in a cafe in Moscow, and my novel "Wsjatie Ismaila" (the taking of Izmail) had just been published. A woman came up to me, who obviously recognised me and she spoke the tremendous sentence: "You have saved Russian literature for me." In moments like this a man can die in peace.

Herr Tretner, in one regard "Venushaar" was an unusual experience for you too. You had to translate an author who himself speaks, understands and reads German very well. Did this make things easier for you or more difficult?

Tretner: It was indeed the first time I found myself in such a situation. And I could certainly imagine it hampering a translator. In the beginning I was more nervous than I would be otherwise, but it didn't take us long to find a common basis. We already knew one another, I knew his "voice", which I think is very important. So really it was not all that different from the usual situation. One thing, though, was that the author then became my first editor. We could always discuss subtleties that were particularly tricky. But he never tried to talk me into anything. All in all it was certainly more time consuming than usual, it was also a great way to work. But I think the situation was probably more difficult for Mikhail. After all, he had to live with what I was making out of his words, of his book.

Shishkin: I would compare the situation with the theatre – like a director, a translator must feel completely free. The translation is like an adaption for the stage, an interpretation. My job was simply to explain things which I can explain because of my Russian background. But very soon he was alone with the text, alone with the German language.

Tretner: I think that as a translator, I have to be something like the ideal reader you spoke of earlier, or at least I have to try to get as close to this as possible. "Venushaar" is a very special case. Even just on the basic plot level, one of the main characters is a translator – a colleague, so to speak. But this also applies on a far more fundamental level. Essentially the book is about the resurrection or the reconstitution of the world through language. Which is what translation is. Many of the things that are dealt with explicitly in this book come very close to this impossibility which is in the very nature of translation. You often have to tear things apart to allow an image of the original to reemerge.

Shishkin: But this is also the task of the author himself. It makes me think of a formative experience in my youth. I was in love for the first time and I wanted to declare my feelings to the other person. What could I say that would really express how I felt? This is something, I think, that always applies. The words, the sentences we have are long dead – hackneyed, exhausted, used a thousand times before. And yet it is the job of the writer to breathe life into these words again. To say something that is alive using words that are dead. And that can only succeed if you not only use the words, but also the space around them. Resurrection is a key word here. The motto of "Venushaare" is a quotation from the Syriac revelation of Baruch, an apocryphal Christian text. One sentence of the motto – you could almost call it the credo of the entire novel – goes: "Because the world was created through the word, and through the word we will be resurrected." I reread the revelation of Baruch. I found the rest of the motto – but this sentence doesn't exist in the revelation.

This is something the translators have picked up on more than anyone one else. I have to admit that I put the words into Baruch's mouth. I wanted to have this sentence in my motto. I searched and searched and I was convinced that something like this existed in the Bible. I didn't find it – so what could I do?

"Venushaar" is a book full of voices, materials, evidence, references, it is up there with world literature from Xenophon to Gogol, from Russian folktales to Poe. Which is an enormous challenge for the translator – this constant shifting in pitch, the voices, the swelling and subsiding of a vast choir. Herr Tretner, how did you manage?
Tretner: Yes, in the parts you are talking about – there are others too, particularly the accounts by the singer Isabella Yurieva – the voices shift and change, almost morph into one another at times, forcing me continually to readjust, refocus. The most difficult part was the crescendo at the end, where the characters and voices are layered almost to the point of indistinguishability. In passages like this the book, I think, can truly be described in musical metaphors: with tonal pitches, the exposition of themes and changes of key. This also shows, by the way, that certain questions about the book are not easy to answer. After all, what is a Pederecki symphony about? What do we experience there? It can be like this with "Venushaar" as well.

Shishkin: As far as I'm concerned, the book is built very simply. A very clear construction. In the beginning there are lots of voices, realities, truths, which are played off against one another. You could not get farther apart than an asylum seeker and the person refusing him entry. Then things move in the direction of mutual understanding. These voices, levels of consciousness move towards one another, interweave. It's as simple as that.

Tretner: But it's no way near that simple. At least as soon as you move in closer. There are repulsions, turmoil, conflicts, despite the clarity of the basic direction.

I must follow this up with a question to the author. How does this choir come into being, the turbulence in single strains, this rise and fall of voices? How does it start, how is it composed?

Shishkin: To be honest, I have no idea. It's always a battle between my head and my hand. I think something up, I work out a story line, I'm happy with it all – but my hand won't do it. It won't obey me. So I have to give up and wait until the hand writes by itself. There's a master and servant here. The master is the novel and I am its servant. Which is why I can never answer questions like: Why do you write that, why like this and not like that. I just write and at the end say: Yes, that's good.

But there must be times when the writing hand need a good slap and to be reprimanded for not getting it right.

Shishkin: Of course, always. Which is why I don't write a novel each year, I need five years every time. I never get any quicker, I cannot force anything. I simply have to wait until it's ready. And I never know beforehand when that will be. I never set the final full stop. Only the novel itself knows. It sets the full stop.

--------------------------------

Background:

Mikhail Shishkin, born 1961 is regarded as Russia's greatest contemporary writer and has received all the leading literary awards. "Venushaar" is the first translation of his work into German. Shishkin left Russia for personal reasons in 1995 and moved to Zurich where he worked as a translator for the Swiss immigration office. He took an apartment in Moscow again last year and travels back and forth between Russia and Switzerland.

Andreas Tretner, born 1959, has been working as a literary translator from the Russian, Czech and Bulgarian since 1985. He is the German voice of authors such as Viktor Pelevin, Vladimir Sorokin and Boris Akunin. In 2001 he was awarded the Paul Celan prize of the German Literature Fund.

"Venushaar"
It all begins in Kreuzlingen, on the Swiss border. An asylum seeker and an immigration officer sit facing one another. But quickly their dialogue opens into a choir of voices which sings sometimes as one, sometimes at cross purposes. The war in Chechnya is overlaid with the Persian war described in Xenophon's "Anabasis". An interpreter travels to Rome where he learns that in the eyes of his wife he is merely a bad copy of her late first husband. Descriptions of 20th century Russia are woven in as diary entries by the (real-life) singer Isabella Yuriyeva. Michael Shishkin calls into the vast echo chambers of world literature – from Poe to Gogol – and they call back.

Together Mikhail Shishkin and Andreas Tretner will receive the International Literature Award – House of World Cultures on 29 June.

*

This article was originally published in Der Freitag on 21 June, 2011.

http://www.signandsight.com/features/2152.html
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
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English translation of Maiden-Hair due out in October from Open Letter

http://catalog.openletterbooks.org/authors/36
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His most recent novel "Letter-Book" is coming out in German in October. The title is "Briefsteller". The translation is by the same translator as of Maidenhair, Andreas Tretner.

Shishkin got the international literature prize of the town Leuk (Switzerland) for the German translation of Maidenhair:
http://www.spycher-literaturpreis.info/preistraeger/michail-schischkin.html

Quite an interesting bunch of writers who got the award:
2011 Marie NDiaye , Michail Pawlowitsch Schischkin
2010 László Krasznahorkai, Alissa Walser
2009 Sibylle Lewitscharoff
2008 Ulrich Peltzer
2007 Lukas Bärfuss, Barbara Köhler
2006 Gerhard Falkner, Gilles Rozier
2005 Barbara Honigmann, Adam Zagajewski
2004 Marcel Beyer, Felicitas Hoppe
2003 Martin Mosebach, Daniel de Roulet
2002 Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Hofmann
2001 Durs Grünbein, Thomas Hettche

Since he lives in Switzerland and knows German very well, the upcoming book might be a chance to go and meet him at a reading or something!! A very interesting writer for sure.
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
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BirneHelene
May 18 2012, 05:50 AM
His most recent novel "Letter-Book" is coming out in German in October. The title is "Briefsteller". The translation is by the same translator as of Maidenhair, Andreas Tretner.

Shishkin got the international literature prize of the town Leuk (Switzerland) for the German translation of Maidenhair:
http://www.spycher-literaturpreis.info/preistraeger/michail-schischkin.html

Quite an interesting bunch of writers who got the award:
2011 Marie NDiaye , Michail Pawlowitsch Schischkin
2010 László Krasznahorkai, Alissa Walser
2009 Sibylle Lewitscharoff
2008 Ulrich Peltzer
2007 Lukas Bärfuss, Barbara Köhler
2006 Gerhard Falkner, Gilles Rozier
2005 Barbara Honigmann, Adam Zagajewski
2004 Marcel Beyer, Felicitas Hoppe
2003 Martin Mosebach, Daniel de Roulet
2002 Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Hofmann
2001 Durs Grünbein, Thomas Hettche

Since he lives in Switzerland and knows German very well, the upcoming book might be a chance to go and meet him at a reading or something!! A very interesting writer for sure.
The excerpt from Letter-Book I posted above is excellent, the man is a gifted gifted writer.
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Will Evans is very enthusiastic about Maidenhair:
http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=4302

Quote:
 
Maidenhair is the first Russian book of the 21st-century to appear in English translation that can be truly counted as an instant classic in the broad field of world literature, capable of being taught in university classrooms and discussed in book clubs for centuries to come. Every individual, every emotion, every idea that humanity has ever generated and will forever generate is encapsulated in the 500 pages of Maidenhair. With its perfect combination of style and substance, Maidenhair might just be the book you’ve been waiting your entire life to read.
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Understanding is Not the Most Important Thing: Shishkin, Schwartz, and Post in Conversation
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
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BirneHelene
Aug 1 2012, 06:35 AM
Will Evans is very enthusiastic about Maidenhair:
http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=4302

Quote:
 
Maidenhair is the first Russian book of the 21st-century to appear in English translation that can be truly counted as an instant classic in the broad field of world literature, capable of being taught in university classrooms and discussed in book clubs for centuries to come. Every individual, every emotion, every idea that humanity has ever generated and will forever generate is encapsulated in the 500 pages of Maidenhair. With its perfect combination of style and substance, Maidenhair might just be the book you’ve been waiting your entire life to read.
I've read it. Don't know what to say....too overwhelmed. One of the greatest books I have ever ever read. There is not a better writer at work today anywhere.
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alliknowis
Aug 1 2012, 06:40 PM
I've read it.
How did you get your hands on a copy? *jealous*


Quote:
 
October 23, 2012
Novel
Paperback, 506 pages
$17.95 $14.35
5.5" x 8.5"
978-1-934824-36-8
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alliknowis
Literary lunatic
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Canox
Aug 2 2012, 12:21 AM
alliknowis
Aug 1 2012, 06:40 PM
I've read it.
How did you get your hands on a copy? *jealous*


Quote:
 
October 23, 2012
Novel
Paperback, 506 pages
$17.95 $14.35
5.5" x 8.5"
978-1-934824-36-8
You can buy it directly from Open Letter -- not sure why it's not even listed as a pre-order on Amazon yet.
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alliknowis
Aug 2 2012, 02:52 AM
You can buy it directly from Open Letter -- not sure why it's not even listed as a pre-order on Amazon yet.
Scott Esposito asked Chad W. Post on Twitter about this and Chad answered something about 'spreadsheet issues'... whatever that means...
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alliknowis
Aug 2 2012, 02:52 AM
you can buy it directly from Open Letter
Almost immediately impulse-bought it, but was saved by lack of credit card. *whew*
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miercuri
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pocket sized
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Pismovnik is supposed to be published here this summer too, but the publisher's site doesn't say much. Thread piqued my interest.
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Canox
Aug 2 2012, 03:14 AM
alliknowis
Aug 2 2012, 02:52 AM
you can buy it directly from Open Letter
Almost immediately impulse-bought it, but was saved by lack of credit card. *whew*
German paperback coming out in December, Geman translation got several awards, Schischkin worked close together with the translator (Schischkin speaks German fluently)
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BirneHelene
Aug 2 2012, 06:53 AM
Canox
Aug 2 2012, 03:14 AM
alliknowis
Aug 2 2012, 02:52 AM
you can buy it directly from Open Letter
Almost immediately impulse-bought it, but was saved by lack of credit card. *whew*
German paperback coming out in December, Geman translation got several awards, Schischkin worked close together with the translator (Schischkin speaks German fluently)
While the awards are worthless (I have a long list of unbearable translations that won major awards), the last point is very valid.

Found a cheap signed (?!!?) copy of the hc. Ordered it. Ada, this had better be good. I'm rather broke. But a well read person's passionate endorsement of a 500+ page novel - irresistible.
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Canox
Aug 2 2012, 07:02 AM
Found a cheap signed (?!!?) copy of the hc. Ordered it.
Ha and I know where you found it ;) I saw this offer also weeks ago, but was put off by the strange fact that a) a signed copy as new for 50% of the original price and b) a seller without any rating and anything else to offer !??!

I wish you luck :)
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BirneHelene
Aug 2 2012, 07:10 AM
Canox
Aug 2 2012, 07:02 AM
Found a cheap signed (?!!?) copy of the hc. Ordered it.
Ha and I know where you found it ;) I saw this offer also weeks ago, but was put off by the strange fact that a) a signed copy as new for 50% of the original price and b) a seller without any rating and anything else to offer !??!

I wish you luck :)
AAAAAAARgh. Curse you!
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