A New York Times Notable Book for 2002
Synopses & Reviews
A novel of tremendous scope and beauty, The Translator tells of the relationship between an exiled Russian poet and his American translator during the Cuban missile crisis, a time when a writer's words especially forbidden ones could be powerful enough to change the course of history.
"Crowley's lovely, effortless writing and his accurate, earnest portraits of Russians make this a sad love story with an important piece of rhetoric at its heart....A rarity: a love story with a core of intelligence and insight." Kirkus Reviews
"Crowley has a small but devoted readership for his unusual fiction, novels in which the ordinary segues almost imperceptibly into the ancient, where the complex, mystical medieval arts of alchemy and allegory bleed through into the world of subways, East Village neighborhoods and hippie enclaves in upstate New York. These philosophical ambitions remain much more submerged in The Translator, but they're still there. No one writes better about the way a land shapes the imagination of its residents, and the Midwest inhabited by Kit and Falin has a biblical quality....The wonder of The Translator is that it handles emotion with great sensitivity, yet this carefulness doesn't thin the novel out or make it anemic, whether Crowley is tracing the paradoxes of literature or of love." Laura Miller, Salon.com
"Although Falin does emerge as a vivid figure despite the faltering verses attributed to him, Kit never rings true. Crowley won't break out of cult status with this novel, and his fans may be puzzled by his hiatus from the fantastic." Publishers Weekly
"A moving, thoughtful book." Ted Leventhal, Booklist
"[The Translator] gives us a world so suffused with beauty that its inhabitants manage to speak in fragments of poetry....Grand and serious, involving nothing less than the souls of nations and the transforming power of language." New York Times Book Review
"One of the finest writers working today....Crowley's exquisitely subtle writing transports readers through the shadow lands between childhood and adulthood, through the cultural differences between Russia and the United States, and through the filtered lens of poetry and the harsher reality of the evening news." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
"A novel that affirms and celebrates language...[and] masterfully renders a moment in history." Book Magazine
"Wonderfully sensual....Layered and rich, The Translator is a remarkable novel." San Francisco Chronicle
"Nothing short of magical." Time Out New York
"Thrilling....[Crowley] succeeds with what no prudent novel ought to attempt." The New York Times
Joining the ranks of such outstanding feats of literary imagination as The English Patient and The Remains of the Day is Crowley's The Translator a story that centers on a love affair between an exiled Russian poet and his American translator, set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
About the Author
John Crowley is the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature. He lives in the hills above the Connecticut River in northern Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters. His critically acclaimed works include Dæmonomania, Love & Sleep, Ægypt, The Translator, and, most recently, Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land.
John Crowley is the winner of an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Literature. He is one of the most gifted American authors at work today, albeit commercially unrecognized. Like Fela, the late African pop star who had a huge following among American rock musicians while remaining relatively unknown to American rock fans, Crowley's biggest readership is probably other writers. He is generally acknowledged to have had a huge impact on the fantasy genre so "even if you've never read him, in a way, you have," reads an online review.
The Translator is a departure for Crowley. A novel of tremendous scope and beauty, The Translator centers on the relationship between an exiled Russian poet and his American translator, set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis. We asked John to explain further...
How would you describe The Translator?
The Translator is a novel about love and poetry and the end of the world. That makes it sound extravagant, but it isn't: it's set in the early 1960s, during the Cold War, a time when the world as we knew it seemed to be always on the verge of ending in nuclear holocaust; and it's about a young woman, a poet, and the older poet, a Russian, whom she comes to love. It might also be about angels.
What is it about this story that you found compelling?
In 1962 I was a college student at Indiana University, not far from a major air base. When the Cuban missile crisis happened, we could feel our own extinction very vividly. It's a feeling that those who grew up with the Bomb know from dreams: but we were feeling it awake. I wanted to make a story that had that feeling at its center.
Why The Translator now, and not the fourth in the Aegypt Quartet?
I've been at work on the Aegypt series for over 20 years. Each volume has been harder to write and taken longer than the previous one. Meanwhile ideas for other good books crowd in on me. They seem like not like vacations, but like escapes to wonderful new places. I can't always resist.
In many of the reviews of your writing you are said to be a writer's writer. Can you tell us the kind of work you enjoy reading? In other words, what books are on your nightstand right now?
I have teenage twin daughters and a school-choice carpool. There's nothing on my nightstand but a pair of earplugs....Writers I've had a chance to read lately that I admire and envy (for the things they can accomplish that I can't, or haven't but might) are Jim Crace, especially Being Dead, and John Banville, especially the trilogy that includes The Book of Evidence and Ghosts. I think they are writer's writers: writers in whom the accomplishment of hard things in words is an integral part of the excitement and drama of the work. I read David Lodge and Anthony Burgess for fun. Why all English, Irish, or Anglo-Irish? I don't know.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I tell my students that there are it seems no more than a thousand men and women in America currently making their livings entirely from writing fiction, less (I claim) than the number of pediatric nerurosurgeons, divas, or professional football players. I point to the New York Times Book Review and the ten or so novels reviewed this week, and note that the Review has been reviewing as many novels every week for a hundred years and more, and how many are remembered today? And if after this they can go on writing, then they have a chance. If they can stop, they probably should.