By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2
‘To Introduce Contemporary Slavic Literature’At the Web site Russia Behind the Headlines, Alexandra Guzeva reports on Glagoslav Publications, a publishing house that specializes in translating modern Slavic literature into English and Dutch.
Launched in 2011, Glagoslav currently publishes close to 25 books per year, with print runs of 1,000-2,500 copies each.
Guzeva spoke with Maxim Hodak, Glagoslav Publications’ Managing Director, and Ksenia Papazova, Glagoslav’s Editor about their books and the challenges they face in publishing Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian literature in translation. Some highlights:
Russia Behind the Headlines: How did it all start? Who was behind the idea and the first publications?
Maxim Hodak: It started when we realized that the presence of Slavic literature in translation on the international book market was very limited. There are special divisions for translated literature at major international publishers and a number of small independent presses that translate Russian literature occasionally along with other literatures from around the globe.
However, none of the publishers specialize in translations of Slavic literature into English entirely. By that I mean Eastern European literature and specifically Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian works.
Another reason for Glagoslav’s appearance was to introduce English-speaking readers to contemporary Slavic literature, as the amount of this literature available in translation is even smaller.
Among the translations that appear nowadays, you can hardly find any modern Russian literature, as publishers mainly focus on the Russian classics such as Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Dostoevsky and other well-known names.
RBTH: Why are Dutch and English the two languages you work with?
MH: The idea of translating into two languages was a strategic decision. Since our aim is to bring Slavic literature to a broad audience, English seemed to be the best option in terms of achieving our goal. More and more people around the world can read English…
Our second office is located in The Netherlands, where the majority of our staff lives and works. Thus, the second division of Glagoslav appeared to bring more translations of Russian literature to Dutch readers.
RBTH: What’s the main challenge for a publisher of Russian literature in translation?
Ksenia Papazova: One of the great challenges is to choose the books that we want to translate and publish. There are so many brilliant books that haven’t been translated yet, but you have to limit yourself to just a few of them.
It’s a heartbreaking procedure for us at times. So, we had to make a very unusual decision—we try to publish one book per author to make it a bit more fair. Yet, there are still so many books and so many authors waiting to be discovered by English readers.
RBTH: What’s your all-time bestseller?
KP: There are several bestsellers at Glagoslav. To name but a few they are: Kobzar, a collection of poems by Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko; a Dutch translation of Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky; and Gnedich, a novel-in-verse by Maria Rybakova. As you can see, all these books are very different, so this means that our readers are diverse, too.
RBTH: Why are these books popular?
KP: It was fairly predictable that Kobzar would sell well, as it is one of the classics of Ukrainian literature. The classic authors tend to sell much better than contemporary authors. It is safe to read the classics: the “classics” label is a guarantee of quality, so you are not likely to regret buying the book and reading it.
RBTH: What about the Metro series and Gnedich?
KP: As for the Metro series by Dmitry Glukhovsky, its success was quite predictable, too, as the people who read these kinds of series form special communities and are usually very loyal and motivated to keep reading the books. This is a treasured niche for publishers.
As for Gnedich, it’s a real gem. We didn’t expect this novel-in-verse about Gnedich’s translation of The Iliad into Russian to be of interest to English-speaking readers. It’s true that Nikolai Gnedich [1784-1833], a romantic poet and the first person to translate The Iliad into Russian, was a very authoritative and important figure in Russian philology and poetry, but what can he have to say to English-speaking readers? Well, it seems that this book has something important to say to them too, and this simply demonstrates the magic of words.