Tatyana Tolstaya’s collection of short stories, On the golden Porch, published in Britain in 1989, was received with hysterical enthusiasm. Some rather silly things were said, like ‘Tolstaya writes.’ Some rather lazy comparisons were made too: she was likened to every Russian writer one can call to mind, with the exception, as far as I know, of Tolstoy. Well, now Tolstaya writes again, and the italics have become capital letters The new collection, Sleepwalker in a Fog, consists of seven stories; the first of them, the title piece, is almost long enough to be called a novella, and at 60 pages the final one must certainly be so called.
Vol. 14 No. 18 · 24 September 1992
I have become a little tired of British reviewers moaning about translations because they’re American. Whenever there’s real ground for complaint, it’s actually something other than the American provenance. For example, everything specific Patricia Beer says about the translation of Tatyana Tolstoya’s stories (LRB, 20 August) suggests she simply thinks it inept. Nothing is worse than a publisher’s attempt to turn American English into British (or vice versa): the job is always botched. Nor do I believe Ms Beer finds American English so very alien. (Shock, horror! The whole of this letter is written in broadest American.) She seems fully fluent in it.
But perhaps not. And perhaps not in the British variety either. She asks: ‘Surely the plurals of “memento mori” and “lazybones” cannot be, respectively [sic], “memento mori” and “lazybones”?’ Well, yes, they can be and are – on both sides of the pond. Since literally ‘memento mori’ means ‘be mindful of dying’ and ‘lazybones’ means, um, ‘lazy bones’, it’s hard to imagine any other possible plural for either.
Vol. 14 No. 19 · 8 October 1992
Nonne TU memento mori, VOS autem mementoTE mori (Letters, 24 September)? Post equitem sedet atra cura?