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Translators' Evening: Gaito Gazdanov and Yuri Nagibin

Gaito Gazdanov and Yuri Nagibin: Translations by Bryan Karetnyk and Sara Jolly

Pushkin Club Programme

The Pushkin Club is continuing with its series of events: “Translators’ Evenings”, where translators of Russian poetry and prose read and discuss their work. Translators, academics, students and anybody interested in Russian literature are invited to discuss the relationship between the original text and the translation, compare (if available) different translations of the same original text and see how the art of translation helps literature to cross boundaries between languages and cultures.


Gaito Gazdanov (Georgi Ivanovich Gazdanov, 1903–71) was the son of a forester. Born in St Petersburg and brought up in Siberia and later in the Ukraine, he joined Baron Wrangel's Army in 1919, aged just sixteen, and fought in the Russian Civil War on the side of the Whites until the Army's evacuation from the Crimea in 1920. After brief sojourns in Gallipoli and Constantinople he moved to Paris, where he spent eight years in relative poverty, variously working as a docker, washing locomotives, and in the Citroën factory. During periods of unemployment, he slept on park benches or in the Métro. In 1928, he became a taxi driver, working nights, which enabled him to write and to attend lectures at the Sorbonne during the day. His first stories began appearing in 1926, in Russian émigré periodicals, and he soon became part of the literary scene. In 1929 he published An Evening with Claire , which was acclaimed by, among others, Maxim Gorki and the critic Vladislav Khodasevich. He died in Munich in 1971 and is buried in the Russian cemetery of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, near Paris.

A Note on Gazdanov’s ‘The Mistake’

Written in 1938, Gazdanov’s short story ‘The Mistake’ was first published in the émigré journal Sovremennie Zapiski . Originally titled ‘The Betrayal’, the story came about during a particularly active period of short-story writing for the author, and it follows the shifting psychological and emotional developments of a woman whose discontentment with the banality of family life leads her to begin an affair. Written during a transitional period in Gazdanov’s creative output – as he began to occupy himself more and more with matters of human nature, rather than more Proustian problems of memory we encounter in his earlier works – it also marks a significant maturation in his style. The poet and critic Georgy Adamovich noted of this story: “As opposed to Sirin, whose style evokes electrical associations […] Gazdanov’s words smell of rain, of mist, they recall a branch covered in dew. This is a charming characteristic of Gazdanov’s manner of writing, and, moreover, it is an inimitable quality: no one, at least none of his contemporaries, has been able to imitate this particularity of his” ( Poslednie Novosti , 10 November 1938). Gazdanov went on further to develop the themes he explores here in his novel The Flight .



Bryan Karetnyk is an editor and a translator of Russian literature. He read Russian and Japanese at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 2008 and subsequently working for a number of years as a translator for the Civil Service. He now lives and works in London. His recent translation of Gaito Gazdanov’s The Spectre of Alexander Wolf is published by Pushkin Press.


Yuri Markovich Nagibin ( April 3, 1920 – June 17, 1994) was a screenwriter, novelist and prolific writer of short stories.

Nagibin's mother was pregnant with him when his father was executed as a counter-revolutionary. He was raised by a Jewish stepfather from infancy, and was unaware that he had a different father, so he assumed he was Jewish himself. Nagibin found out late in life that he was not in fact Jewish, but he consciously retained ethnic Jewish identity, having suffered many anti-Semitic incidents in the course of his life.

When he was a boy, a frequent visitor to the Nagibin household was the writer Andrei Platonov and Nagibin later admitted that for a long time he tried to imitate Platonov’s style.

He is best known for his screenplays, and many collections of short stories. He adapted his novel Krasnaya Palatka ( The Red Tent) for the film of the same name. The novel was based on the history of Umberto Nobile’s expedition to the North Pole. He also wrote the screenplay for for Kurosawa’s Soviet-Japanese co-production, Derzu Uzala (1975) which was adapted from a memoir by the Russian explorer, Vladimir Arsenyev.

Nagibin was married six times, including once to the poet Bella Akhmadulina.

After his death several autobiographical works were published, including his surprisingly bitter Dnevnik (Diary) in which he attacks just about everybody he knew, except for his maid, his last wife and Andrei Platonov.

A Note on Nagibin’s ‘Bezlyuby’

This is a section from near the beginning of Bezlyuby, a ten thousand word story by Yuri Nagibin (1920-1994). The word Bezlyuby cannot be found in the dictionary as it is coined by Nagibin. The intended meaning would be clear to any Russian speaker - something along the lines of ‘heartless’. I considered Heartless as a title but then decided to coin an English equivalent of Bezlyuby and have called it Flintheart as a kind of antonym of Sweetheart. I also considered Stoneheart but thought Flintheart was stronger.

The story is set in the late part of the nineteenth century and written in the second half of the twentieth ( I have not been able to find an exact date of first publication, but the version I downloaded from the internet was published in 1994).

Bezlyuby is a psychological study of a terrorist, Koryagin. He has assassinated a (fictional) member of the Romanov dynasty, Grand Prince Kirill. While Koryagin awaits the death penalty the reader learns, through a series of flashbacks, how he became a committed terrorist. In particular we learn of the influence of Sosnovsky, an exile of Polish descent.

Sosnovsky befriends the young Koryagin and ‘mentors’ him in the art of terror. Shortly before his death from consumption, Sosnovsky confesses that his own attempt at assassination failed because at the last moment he was moved by a flash of compassion for his intended victim. He tells Koryagin that he, on the other hand, will be a successful assassin, because he is a ‘flintheart’.

Безлюбый in RUSSIAN / FLINTHEART (Bezlyuby) in ENGLISH


Sara Jolly : After a degree in French and a post graduate course at The National Film and Television School I spent 20 years making independent documentary films, about either arts or environmental subjects and worked as a freelance editor on numerous broadcast programmes, many of them with Russian subject matter, including the BBC’s prize-winning series about perestroika, The Second Russian Revolution and Sally Potter’s documentary about women in Soviet cinema, I’m a Horse, I’m an Ox .

For the last ten years I taught film production at The University of Glamorgan. In 2012 I took advantage of a redundancy offered during the restructuring of the university and am now hoping to develop a career as a translator from Russian. (I began studying Russian as an adult, starting with evening classes at the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster).

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