Not Lost in Translation

Shadow Prowler by Alexey PehovA bestselling sensation in Russia, Shadow Prowler releases this winter for this first time in the English language. Incorporating folklore and medieval landscapes, the story line deals with a solitary master thief lured into working for the kingdom.

The first book in a trilogy, Shadow Prowler is translated byAndrew Bromfield, a leading professional in his field, whose work includes the novels behind the international blockbuster movie Nightwatch. Below, Bromfield talks about his experiences as a translator.

Tor:  Tell us a little bit about translations and Russian literature.

Andrew Bromfield:  My experience with translations from Russian goes back about twenty years, to when I was in Moscow and I helped a friend set up Glas, a journal of modern Russian literature in translation. Glas is still going strong. I gradually got more and more offers to translate various stories and books, and it turned into my full-time job, especially after I started translating the popular authors Victor Pelevin and Boris Akunin. I didn’t start out by translating fantasy or science fiction; in fact, apart fromMonday Begins on Saturday by the Strugatsky brothers, Sergei Lukyanenko’s Nightwatch series was the first work I did in that particular niche–although I suppose you could describe some of Pelevin’s work as fantasy, and that was probably the link that led to Lukyanenko.

Tor:  What was the working process like on Shadow Prowler?

AB:  No matter who the author is, or what his literary slant might be, you have to sit down and turn Russian into English. In the process, you have to convey the author’s voice and style, and that’s what makes every job different. [Alexey] Pehov was in touch with me about a couple of small things he wanted to rewrite in the original, but other than that, there wasn’t much contact between us, and that’s perfectly normal—translating books can be just about the most solitary trade you can imagine. You consult when you need to clarify something, but otherwise you’re on your own.

Tor:  Can you comment on the increasing number of Russian books and films reaching the United States?

AB:  Well, of course, it’s not the translator who decides whether a book is going to be translated or a film made. These decisions are made by publishers, movie directors, etc., who think that a book or film can be successful. There is plenty of good material to be mined in Russia (in all sorts of genres, including fantasy and science fiction) and it would be great to see more of it here. I don’t think people nowadays have much resistance to something just because it’s from Russia. But what’s published here has to capture the imagination of readers here, and whatever way you look at it, translation is always an extra cost. So, in these post-crisis times, I would expect a gradual widening of this traffic rather than the opening of the flood gates.

Last words from Bromfield:

Pehov is well known and widely read. His trilogy was fun to translate and I hope readers here in the States will enjoy reading it.

The first book in the Chronicles of Siala, Shadow Prowler(0-7653-2403-2; $24.99) by Alexey Pehov releases from Tor in February 2010. His new novel Mockingbirdrecently won Best Novel of 2009 from World of Fantasymagazine. Visit his website at alexeypehov.com.

From the February 2010 Tor Newsletter.