The Vernacular, Cosmopolitan and Global in Fictional Portraits of Translators
This paper examines depictions of translation in three novels by contemporary translingual writers: Andreï Makine’s Le testament français(1995), Michael Idov’s Ground Up (2009) and Olga Grjasnowa’s Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt (2012). All three authors are native speakers of Russian who write literary works in a non-native language and thus belong to a growing number of translingual writers from the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union. In each of the selected novels, the narrator-protagonist is an immigrant who reflects upon the translingual condition, i.e. the practical and existential challenges of speaking, writing and living in a non-native language. Translation is intrinsic to the plots, characterization and themes of these novels, all of which depict language-switching in various contexts. The Russian protagonist of Makine’s Le testament françaiswrites in French and resorts to the subterfuge of a pseudotranslation in order to get his books accepted by a Paris publisher. Idov’s Ground Up chronicles the business failure of a Viennese-style café in New York along with the narrator’s failure to realize the cosmopolitan ideal that it embodies. Grjasnowa’s Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt portrays the challenges faced by a polyglot interpreter who aims for professional mobility in a globalized world. In each of the novels, translation is associated with performance and deception, serving also as a metaphor for translingual experience. Drawing on Alexander Beecroft’s concept of ecologies of literature – in particular, vernacular, cosmopolitan, national and global literary ecologies, the analysis considers how these novels depict translation and circulation in various contexts, including everyday communication, business ventures and literary markets. I argue that the fictional characters’ ideals and approaches to language-switching can be understood in terms of vernacular, cosmopolitan and global modes.
Julie Hansen is Associate Professor of Slavic Languages at the Department of Modern Languages and Research Fellow at the Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies. She received her undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is currentlycompleting a monograph, entitled “History through the Prism of Memory: Post-Communist Prose Fiction from Central and Eastern Europe”.