Piotr Florczyk and I spent many an hour regaling the state of modern publishing, trying to find our way in. . . his way – being an exceptionally talented poet and translator – has really paid off. Plus, now he’s working with Calypso Editions to produce some other great work in translation. Hopefully, Piotr’s thoughts will encourage you, as they have me, to consider a wider selection of works from a variety of places and people.
If youâ€™ve never read a book translated from another language, youâ€™re not alone. According to publishing statistics, mere three percent of all books published in the United States in any given year are titles carried over from another language into American English. There are many reasons for this. For one, translations rarely land on the front covers of literary journals or book review sections. Secondly, the American public â€“ or at least its reading minority â€“ prefers homegrown authors to scribblers whose names are difficult to pronounce, let alone remember. But Tolstoy is different, right?
The great Russian writer and thinker is very much present in the American imagination, even though that very same imagination may be employed solely to churning out outrageous fantasies about Russia, the land of double-digit time-zones, Siberia, and lawless politicians. Still, Tolstoyâ€™s epic novels Anna Karenina and War and Peace have long ago earned the status of classics in the eyes of many, including those whoâ€™ve never read them cover-to-cover. In this day and age, where infinitesimal bits of information clamor for our attention, we should seize the chance to read and cherish Tolstoyâ€™s newly released tale How Much Land Does a Man Need in Boris Dralyuk’s magisterial translation.
Introduced by the fiction writer Brian Evenson, this story of greed and ambition is filled with folk wisdom and insight into the fragile state of human morality that seems particularly prescient in the wake of the recent near-meltdown of the global financial system and thus the very fabric of our lives. As such, every one of us has a little bit of peasant Pahom in him or her, the main character of this timeless tale, who boasts that he only needs more land to never again fear the Devil, while the Devil himself is listening.
So Pahom begins to buy up all available land, and when there is none left, he eventually travels to the region of the Bashkirs in order to appease his insatiable appetite for more. The welcoming Bashkirs tell Pahom that he can buy â€“ for a thousand rubles â€“ as much land as he can mark out for himself in a day, but there is one condition: he has to return to the Bashkirs by sunset. Unbeknownst to Pahom, who canâ€™t believe his good fortune, the Devil hasnâ€™t forgot his boastful words. After a day of encircling a swath of land he plans to claim as his, Pahom notices the sun beginning to set. Remembering the condition, he runs to meet the Bashkirs. Unfortunately, while they are ready to honor the arrangement, Pahom suddenly drops dead from exhaustion, and is buried in a six-foot-long grave, which de facto answers the question of how much land a man really needs.
The captivating tale is published by Calypso Editions, a new co-op press started by a group of eight literary fanatics, including yours truly. We strive to publish the kind of prose and poetry that fosters a community of readers and writers who believe that great literature transcends all physical, psychological, and cultural frontiers. Like our namesake, Calypso, the sea nymph in Homerâ€™s Odyssey, we aim to publish works of timeless appeal and value, be they literary gems of bygone eras, exciting foreign writers, or emerging new voices. To learn more about us and to order our beautifully-crafted books, please visit us at www.calypsoeditions.org.
Do be sure to visit the Calypso webpage, and if you’re interested in reading more of Piotr’s work (as you should be), please see his translation if Been and Gone by Julian Kornhauser. Keep an eye out for his own poetry, too. It’s well worth reading.