The Moscow Times:
War is hell, in any genre
by Mark H. Teeter at 12/12/2011 20:23
Seventy years ago last week the United States entered World War II, and the conflict eventually produced some remarkable war novels – as well as some more remarkable antiwar novels, in Prof. Extreme’s view. Two of these became American standards during the turbulent 1960s – Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” (1961) and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse- 5” (1969) – and both have long held prominent places on the national literacy syllabus and various 100 Best lists.
Heller’s Russian-Jewish background and affinity for the Russian greats, especially Gogol, are widely known (“What’s the catch?” MN, 29 Nov 2010). Soviet readers, in any case, had virtually no chance of acquainting themselves with “Catch 22,” in the original or translated. But the fate of “Slaughterhouse-5” here is another story…
As one post-Soviet critic recently summed it up, “Vonnegut’s leftist convictions and humanistic tendencies” ensured that “he was widely published in the USSR…and enjoyed a favorable critical reception.” Vonnegut himself visited both Moscow (1974) and Leningrad (1977), even hosting a “meeting with readers” in the latter.
Yet while hawking the virtues of the Vonnegut oeuvre in Moscow is unnecessary, much of the writer’s still-sizeable Russian audience may not know what they’ve missed by not reading him in the original. Sometimes, it turns out, there’s a lot. [Read the rest]