Discussion Group: Translating Sharov

In this session, Oliver Ready discussed his translations of Vladimir Sharov, particularly his recent translation of Be as Children (2021), as well as his translations of nineteenth-century Russian authors, including Gogol and Dostoyevsky.

In Ready's own words: "I began translating the novels of Vladimir Sharov (1952-2018) over a decade ago, and, despite the current low sales, I remain committed to bringing his oeuvre into English. Sharov trained as a historian of late-medieval Russia before turning to fiction in the 1980s (focussing mainly on the modern period, especially the Revolution and Stalinism). Shortly after publishing his ninth novel, The Kingdom of Agamemnon, Sharov died of cancer in 2018. In his last years, he received long overdue critical acknowledgment and awards, including the Russian Booker Prize and the Big Book Prize. Abroad, his artistic and intellectual originality have also been recognized by leading scholars. The authors of the History of Russian Literature published by Oxford University Press in 2017 assert that “Sharov invented a new form of writing about the past”, while the leading philosopher and literary scholar Mikhail Epstein has described his novels as "a mix of history and phantasmagoria, of God-seeking and psychopathy, an experiment in penetrating the collective unconscious of Russian history. I became quite close to Sharov in the years leading up to his death and have now translated three of his novels into English. I am currently working on a book of his essays, memoirs and poems for Columbia University Press."

In this talk and discussion, Ready addressed the following topics: how his acquaintance with Sharov, and his widow, have affected and contributed to my work as a translator; translation difficulties specific to Sharov’s prose, such as matters of register, pace and sentence flow/punctuation; his freedom, or otherwise, to intervene where he finds mistakes/inconsistencies, as well as larger ‘editorial’ issues; his working process as a translator, and the role of an external reader/mentor over the course of his most recent Sharov translation, Be as Children; the challenge, despite many positive reviews of the translations, of ensuring that Sharov reaches the ‘general reader’; how working on Sharov has compared/contrasted with his work on acknowledged Russian classics (Dostoevsky, Gogol) during these same years.

Ready's tribute to Sharov was published in The Moscow Times shortly after his death and may serve as a useful introduction to the author. His article, ‘How Sharov’s Novels are Made: The Rehearsals and Before and During’ was published in The Slavic and East European Journal in 2020: SEEJ, Vol. 64, No. 1 (2020): pp. 42–61.


Oliver Ready is Research Fellow in Russian Literature and Culture at  St Antony’s, and has taught undergraduates for a number of years at various colleges and as a departmental lecturer. His translations include Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (Penguin; shortlisted for the Pen Translation Prize in 2016), stories by Nikolai Gogol under the title And the Earth Will Sit on the Moon (Pushkin Press) and, from more recent Russian fiction, books by Yuri Buida and Vladimir Sharov for Dedalus, three of which have received translation prizes (the Rossica prize and two Read Russia awards). He is the author of Persisting in Folly: Russian Writers in Search of Wisdom, 1963-2013 (Peter Lang, 2017). He is currently at work on a study of Nikolai Gogol for the Critical Lives series published by Reaktion Press, and on further translations of Sharov as well as Irina Polyanskaya’s novel The Passing of the Shadow (1997).