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A Passion for Collaboration

In response to:

A Great Russian Writer in the Communist Cauldron from the April 29, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

It was a joy to read Orlando Figes’s review of our translations of Andrey Platonov’s Soul and Other Stories and The Foundation Pit [NYR, April 29]. My only regret is that Figes—wanting, no doubt, simply to save space—refers to the translations as the work of “the Chandlers.” Our co-translators are correctly accredited at the head of the article, but the lack of mention of them in Figes’s text may create a false impression.

Figes quotes part of a passage I wrote ten years ago, about the qualities required of an ideal translator of Platonov. This passage continues:

Not being this ideal translator myself, I realized several years ago that I could only translate Platonov with an enormous amount of help from others. Translating can be lonely work; sharing the task with others has been a joy. And I feel Platonov would have enjoyed the thought of this volume being the product of collective labour.

Since then the list of people I turn to for help has continued to grow. And I now have the good fortune to have as co-translators, arguing with me about every word, not only my wife but also the brilliant American scholar Olga Meerson. Olga was brought up in the Soviet Union, she has the ear of a trained musician, she knows a great deal about Russian Orthodoxy, and she has written a fine book about Platonov. She has deepened my understanding of almost every sentence of Soul and The Foundation Pit.
I emphasize all this not only out of gratitude toward Angela Livingstone and Olga Meerson but also because I believe passionately in the possibilities of collaborative translation. The King James version of the Bible is generally acknowledged as the finest translation in the English language. It is odd that we do not talk more about the complex, many-layered process of collaboration through which it took shape. Why do we not see it as an example to follow?

Robert Chandler
London, England

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