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10 Questions for Alexandra Berlina

@josephbrodsky puts on a snuggly tune,
tweets a few words: “December. Like counting spoons
in the sideboard after a guest is gone.”
Grins on rereading:
this is the perfect tone.

Gets up, goes to the window, looks out. It strikes
him that the day, still young, has grown dusky. Like
a snowflake that—having lived a second in flight,
fragile, glittering, weightless, dazzlingly white—
—from "@josephbrodsky," Volume 65, Issue 1 (Spring 2024)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
I always wanted to be a literary translator, but had to make do with scholarly texts at first. Shklovsky: The Reader (2014) was the first breakthrough, an in-between project: he is a scholar with a style of his own. Later, by a fluke, I got to translate Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita” into German. Since then, I’ve been alternating literary translations into German and scholarly translations from German and Russian into English.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I hope the way I translate is influenced by the author I’m translating. :) If it’s a longer piece, it influences the way I talk, too. When translating verse, I sometimes start speaking at innocent people in iambic pentameter.

What other professions have you worked in?
I worked at a university up to a three-year post-doc sting until I ran away screaming. Loved the teaching, but couldn't deal with the organizing. I edit, too, mostly scholarly texts, and I’m a simultaneous interpreter—again, mostly for scholarly events.

What did you want to be when you were young?
As a child, a vet or an actor. But since I was twelve: a literary translator! Says so in my diary, in glitter, with lots of exclamation marks.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Babel, I guess? I’m this weird linguistic mongrel working from and into three languages…

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
The birds on the balcony sometime give advice.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I would have needed some if I was a writer. Luckily, I’m a translator—and translation itself is my ritual and therapy to deal with other things in life.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Actually, to my astonishment, I just finished writing a comedy musical libretto roughly based on The Master and Margarita. Anyone interested?

What are you working on currently?
Translating Daniel Kehlmann’s Lichtspiel from German into Russian for a tiny idealistic anti-war Germany-based publishing house. The novel, fittingly, is about the moral implications of doing “apolitical” art under a dictatorship.

What are you reading right now?
Actually, I’ve been rereading Linor Goralik’s Bobo, a heart-rendering and very funny fable written from the perspective of an elephant walking through war-time Russia. A colleague and I would love to translate it into English, all we need is a publisher!


ALEXANDRA BERLINA translates from and into German, Russian, and English. Her involvement with Brodsky is mostly scholarly (Brodsky Translating Brodsky: Poetry in Self-Translation), but she also dared translate a few poems of his, which brought her a Brodsky/Spender Translation Prize (3rd), a Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, and an ALTA Travel Fellowship. Another poem by Alina Khaitlina translated by Alexandra Berlina is to appear in Modern Poetry in Translation in 2024. Currently, Alexandra is trying to write a comedy musical based on The Master and Margarita and would be delighted to be contacted in this context.

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