Irina Sadovina (PhD 2018), has been awarded the Australasian Association of Writing Programs Translation Prize.
2021 Winner: ‘White Moss’ by Irina Sadovina
The fragment from Russian to English chosen is the opening of White Moss, a novel by Anna Nerkagi, a Nenets writer, novelist, and social activist from Siberia. The excerpt sets up the novel’s main event: a loveless wedding. The translation has a strong rhythmic sense and pronounced cadence. Instead of long formal words rarely used in intimate everyday speech, the translator has chosen short, basic words that rhythmically force the reader to go slow, to weigh each simple word. As a consequence, the translation communicates a visceral feeling, a sense of urgency, a sensation of impending doom. The tone is serious, yet lyrical. From the first paragraph, the reader is acutely aware that they are about to cross some barrier and the prose elegantly crosses the barriers between ethnicities. The world of the novel is familiar, yet strange. In the translator’s statement, we read:
The biggest challenge were the terms that describe traditional lifeways and are associated in the Russian context with indigenous Northern peoples: for example, chum – a tent dwelling (pronounced ‘choom’), or narty – a long sleigh. I judged against using ‘indigenous-sounding’ terms in English (e.g., tipi), which would introduce cultural inaccuracies and exoticism. In the spirit of Nerkagi’s language – clear, not overburdened with ‘exotic’ detail – I opted to simply use ordinary English terms like ‘tent’ and ‘sleigh.’
It seems to me that this was a wise decision: it gives rise to a familiar yet strange evocation of the setting. The statement also points out Nerkagi’s ‘extended metaphors reminiscent of Old Norse kennings, which in translation often result in beautiful alliteration.’ Transferring this poetic dimension into the target language is no easy task; it highlights the ethical dimension of this translation, one that was first advocated by Antoine Berman in les tours de babel (1985).
Curiously, there is a film adaptation of Nerkagi’s White Moss directed by Vladimir Tumaev with English subtitles, but no English translation of the novel exists yet.
Irina Sadovina is a translator from Yoshkar-Ola, Russia. She was shortlisted for the Academia Rossica Young Translators Award back in 2011, and she is now looking forward to getting back to translation in order to highlight works that reflect Russia’s incredible cultural diversity. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto and a PhD in Literature and Cultural Research (Folklore) from the University of Tartu. She is working as a University Teacher of Russian at the Modern Languages Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield. Irina was selected for the prestigious Emerging Translator Mentorships Programme 2022: