publications & papers
The Outcast's sonata
by Mikhail Levitin
(page updated 6 July 2002)
Front cover (click to enlarge)
Ottawa, Legas Publishing,
14 x 22 cm; xiv + 239 pp.
address: 3 Wood Aster Bay
Canada K2R 1B3
PUBLISHER'S PRESS RELEASE (1999)
As Mikhail Levitin
[pronounced le-VEE-teen] explains in his 'Preface
to the English Edition' (p. xi), the writing of this book "started from
very short stories, written out of despair when I lost my job as an engineer!"
These humble beginnings gradually evolved into a whole book of short stories
(some up to 20 or 30 pages long) -- with several poems -- which was published
in Russian with the help of a grant from Multiculturalism Canada
(now Heritage Canada)
in 1992, under the overall title Igra beskonechnaja [The
Game is endless], taking its name from one of the major stories.
Shortly after the original publication,
Multiculturalism Canada was kind enough to provide a grant for the translation
of the work into English, so that it could be shared with a broader
Canadian audience. To this end Mr Levitin approached John Woodsworth,
a translator and Russian-language instructor with the University of Ottawa,
who completed the translation in close co-operation with the author himself
-- a task which proved both very challenging and very rewarding.
The translation was published by Legas
in Ottawa in December 1995 -- again with financial support from Heritage
Canada -- this time as The Outcast's Sonata (drawing
upon the title of one of the other stories in the book).
In 1997 Mr Levitin (as a 'featured
author') and Mr Woodsworth gave a number of public readings from The
Outcast's Sonata at several Ottawa poetry societies: namely Tree,
Bard and Spout, and at the University of Ottawa author/translator
series. Mr Levitin has also read informally from his work at
Writers Performance Series in Ottawa, and was interviewed by Rob Clipperton
on the CBO Radio programme All in a Day. The book has drawn
favourable comments from a number of published writers (please see below).
Included with the English translation is a Foreword by Patrick White,
former Poet Laureate of the City of Ottawa.
From the author's PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION':
"I was surprised to realise how even the smallest details
of my life in Russia were still fresh and vivid in my mind. Despite
all the desperate times and tragic events I went through over there, I
am still grateful to Providence for instilling in me the deep love of Russian
art and literature -- a priceless treasure which thankfully I was able
to take with me when I left for Canada."
From the TRANSLATOR'S NOTE:
"The stories and poems by Misha Levitin comprising
this brief collection are not documentary or auto- biographical in the
strict sense of the word. They are more the broad brush-strokes of
an impressionist painter recording his emotional perceptions of the world
around him than the precise depictions of a journalist-photographer (or
even a camera-happy autobiographer) with his eye on tomorrow's history
AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR
is a former engineer and Soviet Army officer who emigrated to Canada along
with his wife and daughter almost two decades ago. Release from his
employment as an electronics engineer in Ottawa (a result of 'downsizing')
a decade later opened the door to building a new career out of some long-time
passionate hobbies -- painting, sculpture and... writing. A representation
of one of his glazed clay sculptures
graces the cover of the English edition of The Outcast's Sonata.
The author's visual-art creations have been seen in a number of exhibitions,
including two solo exhibitions -- first at the University of Ottawa and
later at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, where in May 1996 Mr Levitin
organised a one-hour dramatic presentation in English (by well-known Canadian
The Swan's Demesne, featuring the work
of three outstanding Russian poets of this century: Boris Pasternak,
Marina Tsvetaeva and Osip Mandelshtam. Mr Levitin has
created a number of plays and filmscripts. His latest work, a screenplay
entitled Shock, has been published (in Russian), along with
several of his poems, on a Moscow literary website -- <www.in.msk.ru>.
Mr Levitin has also been active in audio-visual work: in addition to freelance
writing for Radio-Canada International, he has produced a number of documentary
films and presentations for an Ottawa community cable channel and taken
part in dubbing Canadian documentary films into Russian.
John Woodsworth is a native
English-speaking Canadian who has been active as a translator/interpreter
for thirty-five years. Since 1982 he has also been an instructor
in Russian language and translation at the University of Ottawa, where
he is currently Administrative Assistant of the Slavic
Research Group. Currently specialising in poetry translation,
he has translated a number of books, articles and poems from Russian, Polish
and Ukrainian, including: the complete correspondence between writer Leo
Tolstoy and Doukhobor leader Peter Verigin (Legas, 1995), the 1920s
play Zona [Blight] by Ukrainian dissident writer Mikola
Kulish, co-translated with Maria Popovich-Semeniuk (Legas, 1996),
the diary and correspondence of Leo Tolstoy's eldest son Sergej Tolstoy
as he accompanied the Doukhobors to Canada in 1899 (Slavic Research Group
at the University of Ottawa, 1998) and Russian roots & Canadian
wings: Russian archival documents on the Doukhobor emigration to Canada
(Penumbra, 1999). A number of his poetry translations and his own
Russian-language poems have been published in Russia and Canada.
Mr Woodsworth has also had professional experience in audio-visual production,
document research and editing and compiling books for publication.
As an amateur musician he has put out two audiocassettes of his piano improvisations.
He is a regular contributor of both poetry and music at the bi-weekly meetings
of the Sasquatch Writers Performance Series.
WHAT FIVE PROFESSIONAL WRITERS
about The Outcast's Sonata
|"A passionate and vivid work, relevant to all Canadians,
new and old. Levitin, acting imaginatively upon the detritus of his past,
fashions a chrysalis, a house of transformation, and succeeds, wonderfully,
not only in the expression of his art, but in the liberation of our common
humanity. Mikhail Levitin, for his originality, and John Woodsworth,
for his exquisite translation, are to be congratulated for a significant
contribution to this increasingly important genre of Canadian literature."
-- PATRICK WHITE (former Poet Laureate for the City
of Ottawa, recipient of the Archibald Lampman award, contributor of the
The Outcast's Sonata).
|"Because Mikhail Levitin has such a remarkable eye
for noticing the "telling" detail and the evocative moment, his stories
successfully open the door to a moving and altogether convincing world."
-- JACK HODGINS (professor of creative writing at
the University of Victoria and recipient of the 1979 Governor-General's
award for fiction).
|"Mikhail Levitin is first of all a true artist.
While he is also a talented sculptor we meet him in the pages of The
Outcast's Sonata as an artist of expression. It is his
intricate use of the common phrase as he winds around a picture of words
that puts the reader into the very heart of his stories. Mikhail
Levitin works the most simple of happenings into a magical journey and
even though we are ever aware of the origins of his stories, he has that
wonderful talent for keeping our feet fully on Canadian literary ground.
Outcast's Sonata is truly the kind of book one enjoys even more
the second time around."
-- MARY COOK (Ottawa-Valley writer, storyteller
and CBC broadcaster).
|"Mikhail Levitin, with a gift for combining reminiscences
with imagination, presents stories of rites of passage and complex relationships
in the midst of hardship and tragedy in Russia and adjustment to a new
life in Canada. Events in the lives of narrator and characters, while
told with dispassionate clarity and grace, draw a singular passion from
poignantly rendered details, a profound respect for the subjects, and an
overall sense of irrevocable loss and dislocation. Haunting poems
and brief literary portraits of artists Levitin has known round out the
collection, which has been translated from the Russian by John Woodsworth
with keen perception of and regard for the author's distinct voice."
-- SYLVIA ADAMS (award-winning Ottawa poet, author
of novel This weather of hangmen).
|"On the current literary scene, one of my votes for
efficient communication goes to Mikhail Levitin, who ... fled to Canada
in 1980, a refugee of the diaspora policy of the former Soviet Union.
In Canada he assimilated well, yet keenly felt the juxtapostion of love
for his homeland and the pain of rejection by it. That feeling led
to an admission, which spawned his first book, The
Outcast's Sonata, a collection of stories and poems first published
in Russian in 1992, and then in English translation by John Woodsworth
in 1995.... Here, in 236 pages, in poetry and prose, are the sweetness
and the fury, the loves and the pains of a soul both adrift and tethered.
It can be read as history; the brutally succinct account of his father's
death in World War II sets the scene for a no-nonsense, haunting approach.
Or it can be read for its terse poems and enlightening stories, with upbeat
titles such as 'Get moving!' and 'Canada at 5'."
-- MICHAEL BRADY (magazine writer and book publisher,
Oslo, Norway; originally from America).
Back cover (click to enlarge)