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Tatiana Kudriavtseva: Editor whose renderings of American fiction introduced writers such as Updike and Mailer to the Russian public


As a pre-eminent Russian translator of English-language literature, Tatiana Kudriavtseva exposed Soviet-era bibliophiles to contemporary American masters such as William Styron and John Updike (minus the sex scenes). Most notably, she waged a successful 18-year battle with the Communist Party to publish Gone With the Wind in Russian.

She translated more than 80 American books, from high-minded literature to paperback potboilers.

Updike praised her “high intelligence and aesthetic passion. At a time when such a pursuit was not only technically difficult but politically dangerous, she was the main bridge between American writing and the Russian language.”

An editor at Foreign Literature, a monthly magazine that serialised US fiction, Kudriavtseva also translated writers such as Jack London, Norman Mailer, John Cheever, Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, Mario Puzo and Arthur Hailey. Updike, she said, was most popular writer in Russia, and that his trilogy about the Pennsylvania salesman and faded high-school basketball star, Harry “Rabbit” Armstrong, was a character of universal appeal because of his physical appetites. He could, she said, “writing about the Russian man in the street.”

She began her lobbying for Gone With the Wind in the 1960s. Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 novel had been forbidden for decades in the Soviet Union, ostensibly because of its historically dubious depiction of warm relations between masters and slaves. Finally, a party official changed his mind after Kudriavtseva broke down crying in his office. Gone With The Wind, which she co-translated, appeared in 1982 and had an immediate resonance with Russians who had lived through the devastation of the Second World War. “We were survivors of the war, like Scarlett, and this novel was ringing a lot of bells for us,” she said. “We saw the ravages, we saw the fires, we saw the pilloried villages, we saw the poverty and the hunger. And that appealed greatly to us.”

The difficulty was translating idioms. When Scarlett O’Hara’s exasperated husband Rhett Butler walks out on her and she asks what will become of her, he famously responds, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” The closest Kudriavtseva could get was a loose translation: “I spit on this.”   

Tatiana Alexseyevna Kudriavtseva, translator: born Leningrad 5 March 1920; married firstly Yuri Semyonov (marriage dissolved; one daughter), 1950 Nikolai Taube (died 1984); died Moscow 29 September 2013.

© The Washington Post