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Goodreads' Authors CDN > Author Q&A: Erma Odrach

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message 1: by Renee (new)

Renee (rjmiller) | 419 comments Mod
Again, apologies for my lateness in posting. Crazy morning.

The lovely and talented Erma has volunteered to be one of our Q&A authors this week. Her father's book Wave of Terror, lovingly and wonderfully translated by Erma, is a must read. I'm a little over half way through, and I highly recommend. Especially if you're a history buff. It's an interesting look at Russia in the 40's.

So, get your questions ready, and take it away Erma. I hope you haven't left thinking I'd forgotten you.

message 2: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Thanks for the kind words, Renee, and good morning to all. I’m here on behalf of my late father/author, Theodore Odrach. As his translator, I’d be happy to answer any questions. Because it’s all kind of a long story, I think I should start by giving an intro. I’ll try to keep it brief.

My father was an émigré writer, living in Toronto from the mid-50’s until his death in the 1960’s. He authored several novels and books of short stories in the Ukrainian language, all of which were published in Buenos Aires, New York, Toronto and Winnipeg. Wave of Terror (Academy Chicago Pub), which I translated, is his first novel to appear in English. It’s about unspeakable atrocities committed by the Stalinist regime at the start of WWII, where innocent men, women and children are routinely persecuted, tortured and slain. My father was caught up in Stalin’s world and the novel is based largely on first-hand accounts. But it’s not all doom and gloom as there’s considerable humour throughout (though dark) and it’s also a love story.

A word about my father:

My father was born near Pinsk, Belarus, at the time a part of Czarist Russia, today known as the Chernobyl zone. He studied at the university in Vilnius, and later, with the outbreak of WWII, became a teacher under the Soviet regime. Like many of his contemporaries, he was deemed an «enemy of the people» by the Soviets and became a man on the run, changing his name from Sholomitsky to Odrach in the hopes of protecting the family he left behind. Eventually, my father managed to escape into Slovakia by way of the Carpathian Mountains. After roaming around Europe, marrying, and living in Manchester, England for five years, together with my mother, he immigrated to Canada. It was in our west-end Toronto home that my father did almost all his writings.

As one can imagine, things were pretty dismal back then for an immigrant writer living in Toronto, not writing in English, and whose books were banned in the Soviet Union. My father’s readership was dependent on only a handful of fellow-immigrants, mostly living in the Toronto area. And with prospects for translation being zero, that pretty well meant an instant death for any literary prospects he might have had. Of course, all that would change, but not until many, many years later … What Canada provided my father was the freedom to write, and for that he was always grateful. Some of his short stories (not yet translated) are set on the Toronto Islands, one of his favourite haunts.

message 3: by Shannon (new)

Shannon (sianin) | 237 comments Mod
Thank you for translating your father's book Erma. It was educational for me to read about htis part of th world and you really did get a sense that it was based on first hand knowledge. Are you translating more of your father's work? Was it hard for you to read his work knowing that he had first hand experience with waht he was writing? And are you authoring any of your own work?

And one last one specifically about Wave. How much of your father do you think is in the school director (sorry I have loaned the book to my dad so can't double check the name). I got a sense that the director had much of your father the friend had other qualities. (That all just based on the feel of the story and characters. quite the extrapolation I know)


message 4: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Thanks for your questions, Shannon. Actually, Wave ... was quite educational for me too, because I knew very little about that part of the world and Stalin. I suppose what happened in the book happened in all the newly formed Soviet republics at that time.

My father died when I was quite young, I hardly knew him, so I was pretty much left on my own (my mother helped a lot) to tackle his works. When I started reading Wave...in the original Ukrainian (which was a laborious and painful process!), I really had no idea what it was about or what kind of a writer my father was, good or bad. And you're right about him being Ivan Kulik (the director). I too came to figure that one out. I guess I didn't just get to translate my father's book, but I also got to know him. He had a great sense of humour.

And yes, there are other books, but still works in progress

message 5: by A.F. (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 72 comments Was it difficult to keep the original perspective when translating, or did you find own views trickling into the pages?

message 6: by Damon (new)

Damon | 1 comments I notice you have an American publisher - Academy Chicago. Do you find there's a difference between American and Canadian publishers?

message 7: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Interesting question A.F. I'm sure perspective on my part seeped out here and there, but in all honesty, I was forever conscious of staying as close as possible to the perspective of the original text. A lot of the characters in the book, for example, are on the whacky side and quite un-European, so to pull it off I had to stay firmly on track.

But tranlsation is a tricky business - and I mean that literally. Translators are forever trying to 'trick' their reades into believing that they're actually reading the original and not a translated version.

message 8: by A.F. (new)

A.F. (scribe77) | 72 comments Erma wrote: "Interesting question A.F. I'm sure perspective on my part seeped out here and there, but in all honesty, I was forever conscious of staying as close as possible to the perspective of the original t..."

Interesting way to look at it. I guess there's a bit of trickery in all writing.

message 9: by Erma (last edited Jun 18, 2010 02:23PM) (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hi Damon. About publishers, it's a loaded question.

First of all, I simply mailed out a lot of ms. excerpts, and it was surprising to me how far I was able to get without an agent. I even got an 'almost' from a major NY publisher and a few kind comments from others. Then one day out-of-the-blue a phone call came from Chicago, and the rest is history. But it's not like I didn't have my pile of rejection slips, because I did.

In the States (this is only from my point of view), publishers either like your work or they don't. And they tend to look at the book industry from an international perspective and not only from an American one. I think Canada is still, to some degree, looking for its identity or at least for a better definition of what CanLit is. My father, as an immigrant, and a deceased one, writing in a foreign language, about a foreign land, is in somewhat of an awkward place. But that's not to say I don't have my Canadian supporters. Also, Oberon Press in Ottawa expressed interest, but by then I had already signed with Chicago.

message 10: by Erma (last edited Jun 18, 2010 02:05PM) (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments A.F. - about writing and trickery. Now you've got me thinking of all writing as a form of trickery, taking me off to places I couldn't even begin to imagine, not really being there... Interesting.

message 11: by Waheed (new)

Waheed Rabbani | 30 comments Hi Erma;

I've been meaning to read "Wave of Terror," but haven't done it yet for I'm currently researching Tsarist Russia for my Books II and III, and your book's era is a bit later. I'll read it soon. But I was wondering if it covers anything on Stalin's daughter, Svetlana? She's one of the historial figures I am interested in learning more about.


message 12: by Erma (last edited Jun 20, 2010 08:57AM) (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hello Wally,

The history of Russia is dramatic and bloody no matter which era. It must be fascinating with all your research to dig deep into the times of the Czar.

No, there's nothing on Svetlana in Wave of Terror; it mostly documents how the newly formed Stalinist regime transformed everyday life. But she did write an autobiography sometime in the sixties, and talks indepth about her relationship with her father. I have it on my bookshelf somewhere but can't find it. Maybe in the morning, when the light is better. Her father was very protective of her and guarded her from the atrocities being committed all around.

By the way, is your blog radio interiew live or prerecorded? Did you get the questions beforehand?Sounds interesting. Marked it down on my calendar.

message 13: by Waheed (new)

Waheed Rabbani | 30 comments Hi Erma,

I believe Svetlana's biograpby is called "Twenty Letters." I'd borrowed it a while back from the library, but will read it again.

The BTR interview is live, although a podcast file will be available on their website for some time. Hope you can tune, or click rather, in.


message 14: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Thanks, Wally. Will put Twenty Letters on my TBR. The weight of her father's legacy must be incredible. The one I have is a bio Svetlana: an Intimate Portrait. I think it's out of print though.

message 15: by Karen (new)

Karen (karenvwrites) | 55 comments I have wave of terror on my wish list as it sounds like a first hand account of some very rough times. KUDOS to you for translating it and getting out to a wide spread audience. Good to see he retained a sense of humor through the ordeal.

message 16: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Thanks for your encouraging words, Karen. Yes, my father meant Wave of Terror as an exposé on Soviet oppression, but now, with the passage of time, it sometimes gets categorized as historical fiction (Stalinist era), which is fine.

Humour is probably one of the best remedies for mysery, so it's been said.

message 17: by CasualDebris (new)

CasualDebris Hi Erma,

As you know I was impressed with Wave of Terror. I do have a follow-up question to a comment you made elsewhere. You said that your father had intended to write an additional section to follow the current ending (though I do think the open-ended finish is appropriate). You also mention that there are many more mss. waiting for translation. Why did you choose to work on Wave as opposed to another of his mss.? Since they've been published in their original I am assuming some are more "complete"? Furthermore, is there interest from UCP or anyone to publish further works? (I believe there was a short story published in a Penguin anthology a few years back as well.)

message 18: by Erma (last edited Jun 20, 2010 06:45AM) (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hi Zybahn. So good you dropped by!

It's a great relief for me to hear you say you liked the open-ended finish! My father died before finishing Wave of Terror, and I lost a few nights' sleep wondering what I was going to do about it. I even found myself yelling at him for dying and leaving me in the lurch like that. But in the end I think I found my way out, though some (not many) have commented the ending is a bit on the abrupt side.

Actually, I started by translating some of my father's short stories first, as a way to get into translation, having never translated anything before. The stories were really a practice-run for me. Happily, many ended getting picked up by lit./univ magazines in Canada and the US. Also, one story was included in the Penguin Book of Christmas Stories, edited by Alberto Manguel.

I chose to do Wave... because I wanted to get a glimpse into my father's world before he came to Canada, and also I wanted to learn what sort of person he was. The truth is, my mother said if I wanted all those things, I should go with Wave.

As for my father's other works, it's all still a work in progress.

Thanks so much for your questions.

message 19: by Mj (new)

Mj | 3 comments Hi Erma. I read Wave of Terror a while back and I have to say I liked it a lot. It's still relevant today, and there's a modern feel to it, which is interesting. Do you think your father somehow knew it would be read so many years later?

message 20: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hello Mj. So glad you like the book!

As a writer my father strove to convey his words in a universal way and to overcome barriers of language. Human suffering, for example, has only one language as does anger, love, hate and so on. Much of my father's work has a very human edge.

Also, he wrote about a horrible time in history, one that he was witness to: he saw first-hand the terrible toll Sovietization had on the lives of average people. So that gives him a certain authenticity and value, at least historically speaking. And history will forever remain a part of our everyday lives.

As a writer, I do believe my father was fully conscious of what he was aiming for. But to see his work in English? Only in his dreams.

message 21: by Mj (new)

Mj | 3 comments Just wanted to add it's unusual how your dad mixed horror with comedy and somehow made it work. Dounia was very funny and she was my favourite character. Was she for real?

ALso, how did your father feel about Canada when he immigrated?

By the way, thanks for the invite.

message 22: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Thanks, Mj.

Yes, I'm pretty sure Dounia was based on an actual person, as were most of the characters in the book. Dounia represented the ultimate Soviet woman, of peasant stock, a bricklayer, turned schoolteacher, turned party delegate. She was crude, oversized, oversexed, and knew how to work the system. I can only wonder if things didn't catch up with her in the end.

message 23: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Sorry, forgot the Canada question.

My father absolutely loved Canada. Actually (due to complicated politics back in Eastern Europe), Canada was the only country my father had ever been a citizen of. So, of course, he was thrilled when he got his papers. He loved the Toronto Islands, and would often jump onto the streetcar with fishing rod in hand, and head down to the ferry docks. He enjoyed the quiet there so much so that sometimes he would end up staying all night, sitting over one of the canals, watching the water. (He even penned a few short stories about the Islands.) High Park was another favourite and he also liked visiting cemeteries.

message 24: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Mi, you pointed out that horror and comedy are mixed in this book. I think this mirrors life very well. those who survive make it their job to continue to laugh. Otherwise you go under. It was exactly this blend of hope, humor and terror that I found so wonderful in your father's book, erma. A book that expresses only one of these emotions never rings true.

message 25: by Erma (last edited Jun 22, 2010 06:03AM) (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hi Chrissie,

Good to hear from you! Thanks for dropping by.

Humour works in funny ways. The Belarus/Ukraine area, where my father's from during his lifetime underwent 5 different foreign regimes, where language, culture, lit. and so on were all suppressed. So, I think humour allowed for a freer form of expression - it was a way to get around things without paying the price. And of course, Russian and many Eastern European writers are masters of this - it almost comes as second nature.

Am glad you liked the book!

Problemski Hotel? Sounds oddly funny from Belgium. On my TBR.

message 26: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Problemski Hotel is about asylum seekers. It is a big issue in Belgium!

message 27: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Will move it up. Sounds humorous and disturbing. Thanks!

message 28: by Mj (new)

Mj | 3 comments Hi Erma,

Another question. You mentioned that WAVE OF TERROR takes place in today's Chernobyl zone. Really sad. It's kind of eerie that the NKVD (Soviet secret police) prison in the book is now a cancer hospital for the region. Do you think the patients there know what the building used to be under Stalin?

message 29: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Good question, Mj. When I visited the area several years ago, I was amazed that the building/prison was just as enormous as my father had described it in his book, and still yellow. It was on Sovietskaya Street, that's how I knew for sure what it was. For me, it just had the smell of death. But the windows were open and people inside were talking and smoking, and I could even see patients lying on beds. There was no plaque or commemoration anywhere outside for the countless innocent people murdered there.

There's a lot of denial of the Stalinist era, though many speak of it, but only under their breath. It's all about "The Great Patriotic War", and everything else is blotted out.

When I asked someone passing by what the building was during the war, I got a pretty simple answer: "A police station."

It was very sad to know this area suffered so much during the war, and now a generation later, they were suffering again, but this time from a nuclear fallout.

message 30: by Chrissie (last edited Jun 25, 2010 09:08PM) (new)

Chrissie Erma, the whole human situation, I am now thinking about thepast and present use of the "yellow building", is so depressing that one sees again the need for humor. And the need to know history. Although it seems so many of forgotten, the sense of who these people are incorporates the suffering they have experienced as a group. You see this everywhere around the world. History is not really forgotten, it lies embedded in the soul of a group of people. You see this everywhere in Europe. I think Russia has a view of Stalin that is hard for others to comprehend. So many of those who suffered by him were saddened by his death. This is so hard for us to comprehend. World experiences should teach us two things - history IS important to understand today's patterns and humor is essential! Without it you go under. Some have the ability to laugh and see the positive. Others are crushed and go under.

You really shoud read The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia by Orlando Figes, if you haven't already done so!

message 31: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hello Chrissie,

As far as the 'yellow' building goes, when translating the book, I really had no idea if it actually existed or was fiction. When I saw it, as you can imagine, I was completely chilled.

I agree, there's history happening all around, and some of it is quite horrific. Wave captures a moment of history in my father's world, as out of the way as it might be. Unfortunately, a lot of these places are not embedded with writers.

I think Russia and the former republics (some are more Russified than others) have got to confront their pasts and with honesty, if they don't they'll never heal as a nation(s). In Georgia a statue of Stalin went up recently but now due to protest it's coming down.

And yes, I've read The Whisperers and it's quite good with great insight.

PS: Read Problemski excerpt. Thanks!

message 32: by Renee (last edited Jun 30, 2010 05:50PM) (new)

Renee (rjmiller) | 419 comments Mod
Just wanted to let everyone know that I've posted a review of Wave on my Examiner page here: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-48...

Thank you Erma, for sharing your father's work with us. I'm glad you did.

This is the first in a three part series focusing on Erma & her father as part of my Spotlights on Canadian Authors. I really enjoyed it. I've hit a lucky streak in great book choices lately...either I'm getting smarter in my selection or writers have upped the bar and I'll have to work even harder to get published. Sigh.

message 33: by Friederike (new)

Friederike Knabe (fknabe) | 52 comments Hi Renee, Erma and all,

Great discussion! Very insightful indeed. I do find that discussions with authors, or like in this case, the daughter/translator, adds trememdously to the deeper understanding of a novel. That is especially true for a book like WAVE... that touches on subjects that are important for our understanding of a historical period in a particular region of the world. Erma and I have been talking about the book for quite some time and it has been a great pleasure to "meet" her in this way.

Keep the initiative going, Renee.

message 34: by Renee (new)

Renee (rjmiller) | 419 comments Mod
I agree Friederike. We're also hoping to focus more on our group's authors here if we can. I think anything we can do to promote 'our' talent is a great idea. There's so much of it in Canada, after all.

message 35: by Friederike (new)

Friederike Knabe (fknabe) | 52 comments Hi Renee, have you read any Steven Heighton? AFTERLANDS or his most recent EVERY LOST COUNTRY? I really enjoyed both books and he is very open to interviews. I did one with him for my community paper. Very kind person and a terrific writer and poet too.

message 36: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hi Friederike. Good to see you and Renee have much in common!

I read the Shadow Boxer a number of years ago and remember there is a lot of travelling involved. Really liked it. Will now check out his more recent two, since you enjoyed them. Actually, i just went to my all-time favourite reference book on CanLit, Hooked on Canadian Books, and there he is on page 295.

Am on my way to OSCAR for your interview, Frederieke. Looking forward to it!

Happy Canada Day!

message 37: by Erma (last edited Jul 01, 2010 10:29AM) (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Friederike, just checked your archives for OSCAR in Ottawa. Could you give me the month/year of your interview with Heighton? Would make things easier. Thanks.

message 38: by Renee (new)

Renee (rjmiller) | 419 comments Mod
Thanks Friederike, I'll go add those to my list. Now...what to read next?

message 39: by Friederike (last edited Jul 01, 2010 11:19AM) (new)

Friederike Knabe (fknabe) | 52 comments Hi Erma, it is in the current issue July/August. You can download the PDF and it is on pages 22/23 I think. It has the review of his latest and the interview over two pages as I did with WAVE and your interview.

yes, Happy Canada Day!

message 40: by Erma (last edited Jul 01, 2010 02:05PM) (new)

Erma Odrach | 183 comments Hi Friederike,

Excellent review and very engaging. Thanks!

For anyone interested in Friederike's review and interview on Every Lost Country by Stephen Heighton, here's the link (pg 22-23).


message 41: by Friederike (new)

Friederike Knabe (fknabe) | 52 comments Thank Erma! Heighton was a discovery for me. I had SHADOW BOXER (his first novel for those who don't know him) but had not read it. I seem to go backwards with some authors. discovering the more recent novel first.

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