Happy International Translation Day!

Today, September 30, is International Translation Day! If you know a translator in your life, let him or her know that you appreciate the massive amount of effort it takes to learn a language, and then render material in that language into another. Nataly Kelly has a great post here about how important translation is.

In honor of International Translation Day, I want to share some literary translation I have been working on, just for fun. This is my rendition of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard, his early novel based on his experiences living in Kiev during the Russian Revolution.

Great and terrible was the year of Our Lord 1918, the second since the start of the revolution. In the summer there was abundant sun, in the winter snow, and two stars rose especially high in the heavens: the star of shepherds, evening Venus, and red, trembling Mars.

But the days in both peaceful and bloody years fly by like an arrow, and the young Turbins did not notice how, in the hard frost, white, woolly December arrived. Oh, Father Frost, sparkling with snow and happiness! Mother, radiant queen, where are you now?

One year after her daughter Yelena married Captain Sergei Ivanovich Talberg, and the same week in which her elder son, Aleksei Vasilyevich Turbin, after hard campaigns, military service, and misfortune, returned to Ukraine to the city of Kiev, to the home nest, a white casket with the mother’s body was carried down the steep Alekseyev descent in Podol, to the small church of Nikolai the Good on the street below.

When the burial service was read for their mother, it was May, and the cherry trees and acacia were tightly molded around the arched windows. Father Aleksandr, stumbling from grief and embarrassment, shined and sparkled by the small gold flames, and the deacon, with a lilac face and neck, all in beaten gold to the very toes of his boots with scraping welts, solemnly murmured words of ecclesiastical parting to the mother who was abandoning her children.

Aleksei, Yelena, Talberg, and Anyuta, having grown up in the Turbin home, and Nikolka, stunned by the death, with his forelock hanging over his right brow, stood at the foot of the old brown Saint Nikola. Nikolka’s blue eyes, which framed his beak-like nose, looked around confusedly, crushed. Occasionally he raised them to the iconostasis, to the sinking twilight of the vaulting altar, where the sad and enigmatic old man, God, ascended, blinking. What was this wrong for? This injustice? Why was it necessary to take Mother when they all were together again, when relief had finally arrived?

Flying into the black, choppy sky, God gave no answer, and Nikolka himself still did not know that everything that happens, happens as it should, and only for the better.

They read the burial service, walked out onto the booming flagstones of the church porch, and carried their mother through the enormous city to the cemetery, where under a black marble cross their father had lain for a long time. And they buried their mother. Oh… oh…

Admittedly, there are some bits I am not completely satisfied with, but I hope you enjoyed it!


2 thoughts on “Happy International Translation Day!

  1. This is wonderful! I’d love to read more. (And I’m not often a big fan of Russian novels!)

    One small thought, which I find helpful in my own translations: have you considered how changing some of your punctuation might change the flow of the sentences? Dropping the Oxford comma in the 3rd paragraph, after “military service,” for instance.

    You picked a compelling excerpt to share! Thanks 🙂


    1. Thanks so much, Carolyn! I’m terrible at punctuation in English (and especially in Russian, where it’s even more confusing), so thank you for your suggestion.


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