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An Epic Journey: Translating 'Ulysses'

Published: June 30, 2014 (Issue # 1817)



  • A 1993 printing of Khoruzhy's translation.
    Photo: Amazon.com

Exactly a quarter-century ago, in the twilight of the Soviet Union, a literary development took place that only a few years earlier would have been utterly unthinkable: James Joyce's modernist masterpiece "Ulysses" was published in Russian.

The man who dared to take on Joyce, whose writing had been condemned in the Soviet Union back in 1934, was not a professional translator, but a physicist and philosopher. Furthermore, Sergei Khoruzhy, now 73, said he never expected to even read the weighty experimental tome, never mind become the first person to translate it into Russian.

The achievement started out as a favor, albeit a rather big one. Khoruzhy's friend Viktor Khinkis was a well-known Russian translator who had been working on translating the book in secret for over a decade when he died in 1981. The novel, first published in entirety in 1922 and broadly acknowledged to be one of the most important novels of the 20th century, was banned in the Soviet Union for not conforming to the policy of socialist realism. When his health began to fail, Khinkis, who suffered from manic depression, asked Khoruzhy to help him finish the work.

"He realized he would not complete it in his lifetime, and he trusted me to help him," Khoruzhy said.

Khoruzhy was an unlikely choice, because he had no translation experience. "Actually, I disliked translations," he said. "I felt they were artificial in their language and style, and to be quite honest, I did not consider the profession of translator as something very creative. Viktor and I did not really involve each other in our work."

Working with his friend's manuscript and notes, Khoruzhy at first struggled to edit and revise.

"I tried to continue his work and I saw that it was impossible," he said. "And I started to just begin from scratch and produced my own translation. But I put his name on my work — both of our names — because without him this would not have happened."

A Hazardous Occupation

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Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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