Tuesday, 23 October 2012

And Other Stories

By rights, I should have been disappointed that Deborah Levy had flu and couldn't attend on Sunday, but in fact the other half of the event was everything I could have hoped for and more.

Happiness is Possible is Book 5 from independent publisher And Other Stories. Its author, Oleg Zaionchkovsky, was born in Samara on the banks of the Volga and until recently worked as a test engineer in the small Russian town of Khotkovo.

The book's translator, Andrew Bromfield, gave the reading. I overheard after the event that it was the first reading he'd done and I wish now that I'd had the opportunity to congratulate him. Nicely understated, he captured perfectly the dark humour of the extract. He made me realise just how intimately a translator must be involved with his text.  I've read many books in translation before and even done a little translating myself. I understand a little of the nuances of language which aren't always so easy to convey in another language. Having lived in Moscow himself, you get the impression Bromfield understands very well the Moscow Zaionchkovsky is describing.

This is what the blurb has to say about the book:
'A writer is late delivering his novel, unable to write anything uplifting since his wife walked out. All he can produce are notes about the happiness of others. But something draws him into the Moscow lives around him - bringing together lonely neighbours, restoring lost love, and helping out with building renovations. And happiness seems determined to catch up with him as well...'
Modern-day Moscow is very much a character in the book and in the course of the story the narrator rediscovers his love for the city. Bromfield suggested that 'cheerful' was too positive a word for contemporary Moscow. Rather, he said, you have to attack each day to get anything done.

Conversation turned to the publisher And Other Stories. Set up by two translators to publish writers in translation, they are probably better known for the coup of Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. Bethan Ellis from AOS described the difficulties of getting publishers to invest in translation. Funding is a big issue. And Other Stories is a not-for-profit organisation, finding financial support in grants and reader subscriptions. With the help of readers, academics, critics and publishers, they have a collaborative approach to discovering new literary fiction from around the world.  Her enthusiasm for the 'hopeful enterprise' of writing and publishing was inspiring.

Happiness is Possible was shortlisted for both the Russian Booker Prize and the Russian Big Book Prize. If first impressions are anything to go by, it should be a very good read.
You can find out more about And Other Stories here.


  1. Funding is a big issue for smaller publishers. When Claire Morrell was short-listed for the Booker one of the downsides she spoke of was the fact that she would have to leave the small Birmingham Press who had published that because they wouldn't be able to afford the print run her next book would command. The trouble is, I can't see the Treasury offering to make a contribution any time soon��.


Long time, no see

I blame Facebook. And Twitter. And Whatsapp. Not to mention Cooking Fever and Candy Crush, both of which I've installed and deleted from...