Margarit Ordukhanyan, PhD, is a scholar and translator of poetry and prose from her native Armenian and Russian into English. In addition to contributing translations to periodicals, collections, and anthologies both in the United States and abroad, she has studied and taught literary bilingualism, translation theory, and the role of translation in language and humanities curricula. She has authored numerous articles and book chapters on the intersection between literary bilingualism and translation theory in the works of Vladimir Nabokov. Her current focus, as a scholar and as a translator, is Russophone Armenian literature, including Gohar Markosyan-Kasper, whose Russian-language novel Пенелопа (Penelope; Izdatelstvo AST, 2001) she is currently translating into English. Most recently, Ordukhanyan was the fall 2022 translator-in-residence at the University of Iowa’s Translation Workshop.
To support the translation from the Russian of the novel Penelope by Armenian writer Gohar Markosian-Kasper. The late Russophone Armenian writer Markosian-Kasper (1949-2015) graduated from medical school and worked as a doctor before she became a prolific author of poetry and fiction. Written in 1994-1996 and first serialized in 1998, Penelope captures a day in the chaotic life of a young woman in post-Soviet Armenia. The novel employs a range of puns and other forms of linguistic play, digressions, sentences of up to 150 words in length, and a complex system of allusions to Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses.
Literary translation is an exhilarating and rewarding pursuit, full of joy but also of uncertainty. From the initial plunge we take into a literary work—a moment of recognition that “there is a there there” (to paraphrase George Steiner), to the point when we reincarnate this work in another language lies a road laden with challenges, questions, and an infinite number of doubts ranging from “did I choose the right word” to “did I choose the right text.” We embrace the uncertainties and doubts and forge ahead because the world would have been bereft of a countless number of achingly beautiful and vibrantly important works of literature had it not been for the work of the literary translator.
The National Endowment of the Arts translation fellowship provides an important sense of validation and support on this journey. In addition to offering much-needed financial assistance, it helps quell some of the doubts and questions that rise along the way. For me, the fellowship came at a particularly fraught moment: after years of splitting my time and attention between teaching, department service, and family obligations, I made the difficult decision to step away from academic work and focus on my translation work. Talk about doubts! After months of second-guessing myself, I was fortunate to see the publication of my first translated piece in years, to complete a translation residency at University of Iowa’s vibrant translation program, and to receive the NEA grant, a trifecta of reminders that I was on the right path.
I am immensely grateful for the distinction, for finding my name among people whose work I have admired for years, and for becoming part of this community. Most of all, I am grateful for the validation that the NEA offers for my commitment to translating into English works of Russophone Armenian women writers, and Gohar Markosian-Kasper in particular. At this precarious historical and political moment, the time has come to recognize that Russian-language literature is not limited to a single country, and once again it falls to us translators to capture this distinction and bring it to the English-speaking audience.
About Gohar Markosian-Kasper
Born and raised in Armenia, Gohar Markosian-Kasper (1949-2015) emigrated to Estonia in the early 1990s and wrote in Russian. Penelope, Markosian-Kasper’s most critically acclaimed novel, offers a candid and humorous look at the chaotic aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Set shortly after the first full translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses into Russian, Penelope serves as an Armenian female reimagination of the central structural principles of Joyce’s work. Complete with rich intertextual allusions and language play, Penelope is a brilliant work of contemporary Russophone literature and a case-study in negotiating hyphenated literary identities in post-Soviet space.