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The Translator

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  697 Ratings  ·  92 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.
Paperback, 295 pages
Published March 4th 2003 by Perennial (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Irene
Sep 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: almost-favorites
I really enjoyed this book. It focuses on the relationship between a dissident Russia poet who is a professor at a midwestern college and his student, a female undergrad who helps him translate his work from Russian to English one summer. It is also a study of the early 1960's in America. During the course of the novel the Cold War is on, America is getting involved covertly in Viet Nam, the Cuban Missile Crisis takes place, and JFK is assassinated. These events are an integral part of the story ...more
Gwen
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: amerilit, read08
"A being such as that couldn't die all in a day and be gone, it would take far longer, wouldn't it? There would be things he would have to do, to tell us. We, the rest of us, can't turn back after we have turned to go, but surely he could, for a time. Oh turn back, she thought, turn back, make this not to have happened all in a day forever."

This is true: the novels of John Crowley are like a garden in my heart.

"If you return, O my dead, and you will, from your ashes and earth,
Return if you can a
...more
Jenni Moody
Sep 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful. Wonderful. I tried to slow down my reading of it at the end, because I didn't want for the book to be over. But the ending was amazing, filling, the world made whole.

The language was strong throughout, at times peaking into gorgeous, lush descriptions:

"He held her a long time, kissed her cheek and her cool brow, her mouth, her tears. She knew - she knew by now - that there really can be a person, one at least, that you can embrace as easily and wholly as though the two of you were on
...more
Емануил Томов
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Щеше да ми е петица, ако най-силната страна на книгата също така не й пречеше донякъде - неотклонния стремеж на Краули да обитае плътно всяка сцена и да я насити до болка с детайли, и сетивни, и психологически, до степен на някои места да почне да сладнее.

В това отношение е като един по-умерен в лексиката и метафориката Набоков, със същата страст към детайла, но и с по-редки стряскащи изненади в езика и с повече емоционалност, много по-романтически, отколкото иронически писател. В писането на ж
...more
Diane
Mar 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I was captivated by this book. It is the story of a girl, Kit, who is disconnected from her peers and life. At college she becomes involved with a Russian expatriate poet, also disconnected from his life, and works with him to translate his poems. The story moves back and forth from Kit’s childhood to her college years to a much later period when she attends a conference in Russia honoring the poet. The time frame of the early 1960’s and the Cuban missile crisis almost overwhelms the beautiful s ...more
Claudia Putnam
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Ah, such a relief... so few 5-star books encountered so far this year... Is this Crowley's masterpiece? I loved Little, Big, but this seems better-mastered to me. Also a great book to discover or rediscover for Our Times, such as they are.

You've got McCarthyism at its height. You've got national panic over the Russians, over the threat of missiles coming at any moment, apparently even worse than what we kids felt in the 70s. THESE kids had grown up with duck and cover drills, largely abandoned
...more
JSA Lowe
Oct 28, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Christa Malone the 'translator' of this tale falls in love with an emmigre
Soviet poet who has lost everything. But under what circumstances has he made it to the United States?

The story and Christa's own poetry emerges slowly. This is a haunting tale about life in the Soviet bloc that most of us can never fully appreciate. We come very close to understanding as we see the Russian poet's old work brought home. But it is also a tale of the venality and narrow-mindedness of the 60s.

I came away wa
...more
Diane
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A complex book in which I especially loved the poetry and talk about poetry/language and the way personal and shared histories intertwined, the way mysteries remained mysterious - and the main characters, Kyt and Innokenti. Good read.
Michael Battaglia
Dec 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In the interests of full disclosure, I hold "Little, Big" (and to a slightly lesser extent "Engine Summer") in such high esteem that Crowley could probably publish a book consisting of nothing but his grocery lists, or just a book of blank pages, and I'd still give it the highest rating allowed. He's the rare writer that can combine a vivid imagination for the fantastic with absolutely matchless prose, able to ground us in the ephemeral while still making it seem like a dispatch from a world tha ...more
Richard
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you're a writer and/or translator, it's a book to savor.
Nikki
Dec 15, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
This is one of those books that just do not sit well with me. This book did not cause mixed emotions or even flickering enjoyment. No, this book was not for me by page 2. I love books based on and in Russia, which is why I picked this book up 6 years ago and thought for sure I would enjoy it. Well that was before I meticulously researched books and authors, had I done so then I would not own this book. Why did I not like it? Let me explain.

The writing style in this book can only be described as
...more
Rachel
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There are few feelings better than that of picking up a dollar paperback at some little bookstore, only to crack it open months later with some trepidation and discover something astonishing. This was one of those books for me.
It's the story of a Russian poet and his American translator during the Cuban missile crisis, but that seems a pathetically simple explanation for what the book is actually ABOUT. For anyone who has ever been forced to analyze poetry within an inch of its life, this book
...more
Kevin
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
I like to think that John Crowley is always a treat. Sure, I've only read two of his novels, but they have been so good as to allow me to call myself a John Crowley fan. The other book of his that I have read, Little, Big is often considered his masterpiece. It is unsurprising, then, that I will compare The Translator with it.

The Translator is a much simpler story than Little, Big. It is much more grounded in 'reality' (though not entirely, and the plot is not nearly as complex. This does not ef
...more
Jason Mills
Jul 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Russophiles, poetry buffs, fans of Crowley or love stories
Shelves: fiction, period, political, war
Christa 'Kit' Malone is an aspiring poet in the early '60s. The first half of this novel records the sad losses and mistakes of her teenage years, and her visit decades later to post-communist Russia, where, as a now successful poet, she attends a conference on the deceased Russian emigré poet, Innokenti Falin.

The second half depicts her first turbulent summer at a Mid-West university, where the said Falin, recently exiled, is teaching poetry. An intense relationship develops between them, built
...more
Daisy
A naive, but somehow still mature college student in 1961 has a close relationship with an exiled Soviet poet who is her professor. This is an interesting story in an interesting era fraught with US-Soviet tension. The writing is quite beautiful and the writer uses a deliberate, effective sort of non-punctuation in his dialogue which I like a lot.

Also--what it says about translation and understanding and clarity-or not... Who here is the translator? Who makes clear for whom? Who really understa
...more
Avd.Reader
I liked this book. It's the story of a relationship between a Russian exiled poet named Falin and one of his American students, a young woman named Kit, during the early 1960s, just as the Cuban missile crisis hits. Kit helps Falin translate some of his poems into English.
The seemingly simple story is anything but. Among other things, it serves as a footnote to the translations and fills us in on historical contexts (Russian and American), the relevant parts of Kit's and Falin's personal backgr
...more
NC Weil
This novel takes us to the Midwest during the buildup to the Cuban Missile Crisis. An exiled Russian poet, modeled on Joseph Brodsky, is offered a teaching position at a midwestern university. His poetry seminar is really only for upperclassmen, and only within the department. But a young woman with a troubled past, a freshman, is admitted to the course, and through her encounters with the poet both their lives are changed.

Though when she met him she knew no Russian at all, she ends up translati
...more
Susan
Dec 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
For me, if an author has more than one book out and half way through the book I am reading, I think "when I am finished with this one, I totally want to read something else he/she has written" then I know the book really is that good.

I felt that on page 10. I am not sure what exactly hooked me, but I was engaged with this book start to finish. There is something beautiful about weaving a coming of age/love story into a novel set during turbulent times. I know this is not the first time that meth
...more
Ralph
Jan 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carolyn Raship
Aug 04, 2015 rated it liked it
I normally really love his books, but this one, while I enjoyed it, didn't totally come together for me. The mid century, midwestern university setting and the feeling of nuclear dread were terrific. And gigantic props for including a romance between a male professor and a female student that was completely non-creepy, totally from her POV, and didn't smack remotely of wish fulfillment or projection. It's one of the few books that I think would have worked better for me if it was longer. I feel ...more
Liz
Nov 24, 2009 rated it liked it
This novel was passed along to me by a friend after I mentioned that I was interested in translation. It is about a love affair between a young college student and a famous Russian poet during the Cold War. Not so much about what it means to translate poetry (in an academic sense), it is a story about politics, gender politics, poetry, and coming of age. Crowly's writing is quite lyrical and pretty, and for a male author he conjures up a female protagonist who is impressively real and sympatheti ...more
Faith
Sep 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is one of my favorite novels. It's about a young girl going to college during a very tense time between Russia and America. She meets and falls for a Russian professor of poetry, and begins learning Russian. The relationship between them is complicated and her past is not exactly simple, while he remains relatively mysterious and almost in shadow for most of the book.

This is a novel that jumps between past and present easily, and doesn't leave you confused as to what happened when. There ar
...more
Lacey
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Kit and Falin's stories and the story of Falin and Kit. They were wisps in each others lives but I think that reflected the poetry they both connected with.
This novel never became too historical and when it did it was on a more personal level, giving insight into Falin’s character. However, there were a few moments I felt a little irritated to have to read through war commentary. (I was at the beach for Christ's sake!)
When I was finally done, I loved closing the book and thinking on t
...more
Mary Elizabeth
Mar 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
hmmm...there were things I liked about this book - interesting characters for example - but overall I found it too vague and mysterious. The whole time I read it I was waiting for the author to give more clues as to what the heck was going on and he never did- he kept it so vague that it was hard to even think of your own scenarios of what really happened because you didn't have enough information for that! You never got that satisfied feeling of either guessing right - or guessing wrong and bei ...more
Anne
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I thought this would be a nice contrast to my Cuban book, but the Cuban missile crisis was merely another thread in a complicated story. The language is beautiful, the poetry comprehensible, the characters mysterious. The plot drew me in, again a book that you have to drag yourself away from. But the end? I certainly would like to know just where Falin went and why, rather than the mystical lesser angel explanation. Next I'm reading a non-fiction account of a Palestinian diplomat, driven by a ne ...more
Nami
Mar 09, 2009 rated it liked it
This was a good book. The only reason for only 3 stars may be a reader fault rather than a writer fault. Perhaps I did not give it the care and attention it deserved (life has been hectic; that's my excuse). I read this because I would like to read 'Little,Big' and they didn't have it at the branch I usually go to, but I thought I'd give this a go at least initially. I really enjoyed the story-telling (Cuban Missile Crisis climax) and I connected with the 'artist' in the poet/girl. I am looking ...more
Pam
Feb 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Oh excellent! I loved my time with this book...Others have reviewed and/or commented eloquently. I concur...just select one to your taste. I can add that for those four+ reviews, it is ALL true! in my opinion.

Quoting from the review from the NYT Book Review at the back of the novel:
"The book gives us a world so suffused with beauty that its inhabitants manage to speak in fragments of poetry...Crowley's subject matter is grand and serious, involving nothing less than the souls of nations and the
...more
David Edmonds
May 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2008, fiction
Told during the 1960s with the Cuban Missile Crisis as a backdrop, John Crowley has created a smart love story in The Translator. The story follows Christa, a college student who develops a relationship with one of her instructors, Falin, a Russian poet who has been exiled from his country under mysterious circumstances. Much like the translations that Christa is making for Falin of his poems, their relationship is complicated and intricate. John Crowley's prose is beautifully written and the st ...more
Lynn
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this novel much more than I expected to, somehow. For me, it brought back to life a time of great anxiety and turmoil - the Cuban missile crisis - with all the attendant stress of the Cold War. It was also a thoughtful exploration of the relative importance of poetry in Soviet and American life.

It also left me very curious about another book by the same author - Little, Big.I think I'll read it.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

John Crowley was born in Presque Isle, Maine, in 1942; his father was then an officer in the US Army Air Corps. He grew up in Vermont, northeastern Kentucky and (for the longest stretch) Indiana, where he went to high school and college. He moved to New York City after colle
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“She knew - she knew by now - that there really can be a person, one at least, that you can embrace as easily and wholly as though the two of you were one thing, a thing that once upon a time was broken into pieces and is now put back together. And how could she know this unless he knew it too? It was part of the wholeness, that he must; and that too she knew. With her he was for a moment whole, they were whole: as whole as an egg, and as fragile.” 8 likes
“But is this not what poetry must do? To say the nothing that cannot be said?” 4 likes
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