Edyta M. Bojanowska, A World of Empires: The Russian Voyage of the Frigate Pallada. Harvard University Press, 2018.
Although Ivan Goncharov’s travelogue Frigate Pallada has always been immensely popular among Russian readers, it has been largely ignored by Western scholars of nineteenth-century Russian literature who have traditionally privileged the novel. In this wide-ranging, brilliantly researched, sophisticated, and beautifully written study that utilizes all the tools of close reading, cultural history, and post-colonial theory, Edyta Bojanowska more than makes up for the years of critical neglect.
Although not the first to make the point, Bojanowska provides the firmest and most convincing case yet for the importance of seeing mid-nineteenth century Russia in the context of the global phenomenon of imperialism. By locating questions of race and empire at the center of her inquiry, Bojanowska convincingly shows how Frigate Pallada not only reflects popular nineteenth-century Russian assumptions, prejudices, and ideologies about foreign cultures and peoples but also continues to influence Russians’ notions of imperial duty and destiny today. A World of Empires speaks directly and urgently to numerous communities of readers – not only Slavists who specialize in nineteenth-century Russian prose, but students of global literature, theorists of post-colonial culture, as well as general readers interested in understanding the roots of contemporary Russian culture.
Eleonory Gilburd, To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture Harvard University Press, 2018.
Eleonory Gilburd’s To See Paris and Die brilliantly articulates the importance of the translation and reception of Western European and American artworks (literature, film, visual art, song) during the Soviet-era Thaw. In a narrative that is at once sweeping and vividly detailed, Gilburd traces the nuances of the Khrushchev government’s internationalism and the fruits of cultural exchanges among educated professionals of all stripes. Readers will find enlightening her investigation of the channels through which Western imports reached Soviet audiences, were domesticated, and became woven into the lives of ordinary citizens. Particularly admirable are Gilburd’s extensive archival research documenting the resonance of important moments and artworks, her ability to interpret and contextualize these responses within the cultural politics of the Thaw, and her theorization of the vital role of translation across different media. An epilogue tracing the sad afterlife of the Soviet-Westward gaze sheds light on the psychology and experiences of third-wave emigres and citizens of the new Russia. The committee applauds Gilburd for her work’s archival depth, intellectual reach, and convincing argumentation, all of which make for a groundbreaking contribution to Russian cultural and historical studies.
Rebecca Reich, State of Madness: Psychiatry, Literature and Dissent After Stalin (Northern Illinois University Press, 2018).
Rebecca Reich’s State of Madness: Psychiatry, Literature and Dissent After Stalin perceptively explores the various types of discourse on madness for literary and political purposes in the late-Soviet period. She juxtaposes official medical sources with accounts by those who experienced punitive psychiatric care and the fictional texts that they wrote to subvert this supposed medical treatment. Reich provides insightful and detailed readings of the poetry and prose of Joseph Brodsky, Andrei Siniavskii and Venedikt Erofeev as the basis of her cultural analysis of madness. Significantly, she demonstrates that the creative text not only challenged Soviet psychiatry, but in so doing undermined the power and authority of the Soviet State. Dissidents such as Aleksandr Vol'pin, Vladimir Bukovskii and Semen Gluzman also exposed the ambiguity found in psychiatric categories in order to engage both aesthetically and politically with the medical narratives of Soviet psychiatry that acted as a mode of state control. State of Madness provides discerning analysis of important texts on madness, describing how literature confronted the official version of madness. In so doing, Reich provides a compelling explanation of how the Soviet State pathologized dissent in the late Soviet period.
Being Poland: A New History of Polish Literature and Culture since 1918. Edited by Tamara Trojanowska, Joanna Niżyńska, and Przemysław Czapliński, with the assistance of Agnieszka Polakowska (University of Toronto Press, 2018).
For the first time in AATSEEL’s history we are recognizing the best edited collection in Slavic Studies. And no book could inaugurate the award more stunningly than this year’s winner: Being Poland, edited by Tamara Trojanowska, Joanna Niżyńska, and Przemysław Czapliński, with the assistance of Agnieszka Polakowska. (The committee urges the presenter to approach the pronunciation of these names fearlessly!)
The assets of this volume, published by University of Toronto Press in 2018, are multiple and diverse. First, it is excellently conceived and organized: the book covers more than two centuries, yet within the basically chronological order of entries the topics are well delineated and easily identified in the list of contents. Second, the editors have included cultural categories that standard ‘surveys’ normally exclude: cabaret, comics, philosophy, mass media, popular culture, translation, and genres such as essays and diaries. These complement an outstanding array of articles on more traditional topics and cultural forms. In general, the range of entries is staggering, from Stanisław Lem, Dorota Kędzierzawska, and Kazimierz Krukowski to Jerzy Grotowski, Czesław Miłosz, and Olga Tokarczuk (before she was named the Novel Prizewinner!). And many of the entries are boldly interpretive, utterly compelling in argumentation buttressed by ample data as well as imagination. Third, the editors managed to attract contributors who are the premier scholars on the relevant topics within Polish culture, tapping into specialists in Canada, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Poland, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S.—in short, a veritable U.N. of Polonists! Anyone reading this collection will appreciate numerous aspects of Polish culture that previously passed under the scholarly radar and will perceive sundry facets of Poland’s rich traditions in a productively new light.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime volume—a publication for the ages—originally conceptualized and impressively executed. It sets almost impossibly high standards for future edited collections. We wholeheartedly congratulate and thank the editors of Being Poland, as well as its contributors, for a book that is huge, not only in its length of 800-plus pages, but also in its exceptional quality. Bravi!
The Queen’s Court and Green Mountain Manuscripts With Other Forgeries of the Czech Revival. Edited and Translated by David L. Cooper (Ann Arbor, MI, Michigan Slavic Publications, 2018).
The “Queen’s Court” and “Green Mountain” manuscripts (Rukopis královédvorský and Rukopis zelenohorský, respectively) belong to one of the stranger textual traditions of the nineteenth century, namely, the practice of bolstering the project of Romantic nationalism by producing forgeries that would make the language’s literary heritage appear richer than it was. Though purported to be centuries-old transcriptions of epic and lyric verse bound to the oral tradition, the texts gathered in this generous anthology were produced in the early nineteenth century by scholars connected to the Czech National Revival. And while philologists working within the same movement were the first to cast doubt on the texts’ authenticity, the earliest English translations of these poems, produced in the 1840s and 1850s, only extended their legend as artifacts of an ancient Slavic literature.
In both the quality of these English translations and the judicious arrangement of the scholarly apparatus that accompanies them, David Cooper has provided an exciting, multifaceted work: a sourcebook of materials from a key episode in Czech literary history, an illustrated reflection on the nature of Romantic forgery, and an inviting presentation of poems whose value demands to be read beyond their bizarre origin. Here is a book that, while firmly rooted in Bohemistics, demands the attention of those engaged more broadly in the study of Romantic tradition, medievalism, and literary hoaxes.
Mickiewicz, Adam, Pan Tadeusz. The Last Foray in Lithuania. Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston (Archipelago Books, 2018).
Since its initial publication in Paris in 1834, Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz —equal parts historical novel, domestic melodrama, and romantic farce—has delighted Polish readers with its immersive storytelling and hypnotic verse. The centerpiece of the Polish literary canon, recognized as both the national epic and a remarkably sophisticated novel-in-verse, it is comparable in its durability and import to Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. And as with Onegin, Mickiewicz’s masterpiece has remained largely invisible even to those English-language readers who reach enthusiastically for poetry in translation. Earlier renditions have been, to varying degrees, serviceable as teaching texts, indices pointing students to a reading experience that would nevertheless remain out of reach to those unequipped to tackle Mickiewicz’s Polish directly. With Bill Johnston’s new version, those readers can finally experience the extraordinary breadth of Mickiewicz’s text for themselves.
Retranslations of canonical works are not unusual. However, a new version that is poised to transform how readers in the target language perceive that work, and with it the entire literature that remains bound to that work through reference and national tradition, is exceedingly rare. Rarer still is the literary translation that can offer equal value in the research article, the classroom, and the private reading experience. Such is the case with Bill Johnston’s lyric translation of Pan Tadeusz, in which the consummate artistry of the translator is demonstrated in the seemingly unmediated experience of Mickiewicz’s own wit and lyricism.
Panorama. Benjamin Rifkin, Evgeny Dengub, and Susanna Nazarova (Georgetown University Press, 2017).
Panorama is an innovative textbook engaging the intermediate-level students in a comprehensive approach to the study of Russian, offering a wide array of activities aimed at the advanced-level proficiency in all the four modalities, from the fundamental concepts of grammar to spontaneous speech.