Vladimir Sharov is now widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding Russian writers of the past half-century. Oliver Ready has just made the first English translation of Sharov's seminal work The Rehearsals, a stunning reflection on art, religion and national identity. It follows his translation of Sharov’s Before and During, which was launched at Pushkin House in 2014 and went on to win the Read Russia Prize in 2015.
To mark the publication of The Rehearsals, Oliver Ready and fellow translator and critic Anna Aslanyan will discuss the book and its themes. The event, which will include a reading of an excerpt from the novel, will serve as an introduction to Sharov’s strange and mesmerizing fictional landscape and assumes no prior knowledge of his writing. It will also touch on the questions of translation involved in transferring Sharov’s apparently hermetic world into English.
The Rehearsals is set in New Jerusalem Monastery, seventeenth-century Moscow, at the time of the Schism within the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Nikon has instructed an itinerant French dramatist to stage the New Testament and hasten the Second Coming. But this will be a strange form of theatre. The actors are untrained, illiterate Russian peasants, and nobody is allowed to play Christ. Who is to act the parts of the ‘Christians’, and who the ‘Jews’? Conflict follows and history begins to repeat itself.
Though written in the late 1980s, The Rehearsals remains deeply suggestive. In its treatment of the themes of faith and apocalypse, it also resonates with the renewed interest in ‘spiritual’ readings of Russian history, as shown most recently by Yuri Slezkine’s House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution.
Sharov is the author of eight novels, most recently Vozvrashchenie v Egipet (Back to Egypt) which won both the Russian Booker Prize and the Student Booker on publication in 2013. Reviewing Before and During in the NYRB, Rachel Polonsky commented that Sharov’s prose is ‘disconcerting, almost hallucinatory. His writing is at times funny, at times so piercingly moving, so brimful of unassuaged sorrow, that it causes a double-take.’
Sharov himself has said of his apparently extravagant fiction: ‘I write the entirely real history of thoughts, inventions and beliefs. This is the country that existed. This is our own madness, our own absurd.’
Copies of The Rehearsals, which is published by Dedalus Books, will be available for purchase at a discounted rate.
Anna Aslanyan is a journalist and translator. She writes for the London Review of Books blog, the Times Literary Supplement and other publications, mainly about books and arts. Her translations from Russian include Post-Post Soviet? Art, Politics and Society in Russia at the Turn of the Decade, a collection of essays edited by Ekaterina Degot (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Colonial Adventures, a forthcoming series of historical travelogues (Amherst College Press).
Oliver Ready teaches Russian literature and translation at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Persisting in Folly: Russian Writers in Search of Wisdom, 1963-2013 (Peter Lang, 2017) and is currently working towards a book on Nikolai Gogol. His translations include Crime and Punishment (Penguin, 2014), Vladimir Sharov’s novels The Rehearsals (2018) and Before and During (Read Russia Prize, 2015), and The Prussian Bride by Yuri Buida (Rossica Prize, 2005).
In collaboration with Read Russia