Book Prize Winners for 2010

Best Contribution to Language Pedagogy

Comer, William J. A Day Without Lying (День без вранья) by Viktoria Tokareva. A glossed edition for intermediate-level students of Russian with vocabulary, exercises, and commentaries. Bloomington, IN: Slavica, 2008.

William Comer’s edition of Tokareva’s short story is a shining example of theoretically grounded and innovative pedagogy. The book specifically targets lower intermediate-level readers, which means that students of the language as early as third semester can have the rewarding experience of using Russian to discuss and write about a 7,000-word short story read in the original. Comer draws on current research in second language reading as the basis for of a wealth of clearly sequenced classroom and homework tasks that focus students’ attention on the connections between language form and the creation of literary meaning. “Matrix” activities guide students through the process of noticing language in the text and recasting it into language they can use to talk about the text. Comprehension activities go beyond checking basic understanding of the plot to help readers to access and contextualize literary aspects of the work while also increasing facility with spoken and written Russian. Comer supplements the volume with an excellent companion website. The student version offers information about reading strategies and provides partial answer keys to exercises. The instructor site is a gold mine for anyone using the book. In addition to the kinds of visual and audio support we have come to expect from textbook websites (a bank of related images and an audio recording of the text), there are sets of comprehension quizzes in English and in Russian, and suggested formats and topics for tests and essays. But the true gem here, a feature unique among edited readers, are the fully detailed day-by-day lesson plans. These not only demonstrate how the author envisions working with the book; they also model for the profession as a whole a successful pedagogy of foreign language reading. Comer’s path-breaking volume sets the standard for language classroom work on literary texts, and it exemplifies the very best in language pedagogy.

Best Contribution to Slavic Linguistics

Gvozdanović, Jadranka. Celtic and Slavic and the Great Migrations: Reconstructing Linguistic Prehistory. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2009.

Jadranka Gvozdanović’s monograph brings together a wealth of linguistic, archeological and cultural material to shed new light on the relationships between the Slavic and Celtic branches of Indo-European. In the best traditions of previous scholarship, she combines a meticulous attention to the details that support her argument with insights into how linguistic and cultural change can be related. In doing so, she employs traditional linguistic reconstructive techniques to supply data for an overarching thesis involving discussions of identity construal and cultural contact. Gvozdanovic starts by turning a piece of received wisdom into a line of enquiry: Before evolving into the individual Slavic languages, Slavic underwent two intensive periods of linguistic change, each followed by long periods of stability. Using this as a starting point, she sets out to investigate where the impetus for these type-changing shifts came from. Her investigation relates traditional overviews of comparative Slavic phonology and prosody to the historical and archeological record, gradually building her case that it was the Slavs’ role in the great migrations of the post-Roman era and the intensive contacts with the Celts that ensued at various points which set these changes in motion. Gvozdanović brings in evidence from burial practices, lexical studies, accounts of religious missions in Slavic lands, and the archeology of migration on Indo-European territory. She convincingly makes a case that the major changes in Slavic phonology and prosody in Slavic prehistory bring it closer to a model best attributed to Celtic, and she provides plausible potential sources and vectors to explain how these Celtic features made their way into Slavic. Her valuable and provocative contribution to the prehistory of the Slavic languages is worthy of recognition by the field at large.

Best Book in Literary/Cultural Studies

Papazian, Elizabeth Astrid. Manufacturing Truth: The Documentary Moment in Early Soviet Culture. Dekalb: IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009.

With impressive perspicacity, Elizabeth Papazian’s Manufacturing Truth explores the aesthetics of the document as part of Soviet culture’s striving for “authenticity” in the 1920s-30s. Attentive to historical detail, sensitive to nuance, and sophisticated in its literary, film, and cultural analysis, the monograph succeeds in contributing smart insights to all these fields within Slavic Studies. Papazian’s concept of the “documentary moment” embraces sundry genres and Kulturarbeiter loosely united by their faith in “documentation” as a mode of conveying a reality illuminated by a new Truth. Her purview takes into account not only such classics of the documentary on screen and page as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Tret’iakov, but also Mikhail Zoshchenko as the author of Blue Book and Letters to the Writer and Maksim Gor’kii as the organizer of and contributor to numerous documentary projects such as the infamous volume on the Belomor Canal. In tracing the evolution of documentary forms in early Soviet culture, Papazian reveals previously unnoticed or disregarded power lines uniting the Soviet avant-garde, realism, modernism, and, eventually, Socialist Realism. Perhaps most importantly, Manufacturing Truth identifies the mutations undergone by the concept of Truth in Soviet culture. The three promises that inspired the documentary turn in the 1920s–promises of objectivity, instrumentality, and a direct relationship between author and reader—she argues, dramatically disintegrated into illusions. These promises-turned-illusions ultimately shaped the foundation of Socialist Realist myth-making, turning “authenticity,” “document,” and “truth” into their doppelgängers.

Best Translation into English

Ilf, Ilya, and Evgeny Petrov. The Little Golden Calf. Montpelier, VT: Russian Life Books, 2009. Translation by Anne O. Fisher.

Conveying cultural difference is always a challenge to the translator, but conveying the cultural difference peculiar to humor is a particularly daunting challenge. The rare translator who rises to the occasion deserves special recognition. Anne O. Fisher is just such a translator. She has not merely given us yet another Little Golden Calf in English (it is the third); she has given us one that will elicit the belly laughs Ilf and Petrov are famous for. She has also done so without sacrificing accuracy, thereby giving the lie to the bromide traduttore traditore, “the translator is a traitor.” This and the fact that Fisher wrote her dissertation on The Little Golden Calf and The Twelve Chairs vindicates the translators’ new mantra: translation is interpretation. Part and parcel of the translation are the essential and unfailingly illuminating notes. Thanks to Anne Fisher, Ostap Bender never had it so good: she has given him a whole new audience.