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Maidenhair Paperback – October 23, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 506 pages
  • Publisher: Open Letter (October 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934824364
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934824368
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mikhail Shishkin is one of Russia's most prominent and respected contemporary writers. When Maidenhair was published in 2005, it was awarded both the National Bestseller Prize and the Big Book Prize.

Marian Schwartz is a prize-winning translator of Russian. The winner of a Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Heldt Translation Prize, Schwartz has translated classic literary works by Nina Berberova, Yuri Olesha, and Mikhail Bulgakov.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 8 customer reviews
This array of connections forms a complex puzzle that can at times be dizzyingly intricate and even baffling.
B. Gorski
Put it down to my own deficiencies if you like, but I think other readers deserve a warning that this is not a book for everybody.
Roger Brunyate
Shishkin uses stories, diary entries, postcards and interviews to look at love, war, peace and freedom - the big things in life.
Tony's Reading List

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By B. Gorski on December 16, 2012
Format: Paperback
Mikhail Shishkin has been publishing in Russia to acclaim and accolades for almost 20 years. His work is allusive, dense, and strikingly beautiful. He's a challenge for any translator and a pleasure for the Russian reader. And now, Marian Schwartz's translation of his 2006 novel Maidenhair finally brings Shishkin in his full complexity to the English-speaking world.

Schwartz's translation faithfully conveys the structure and intricacies of Shishkin's novel (even as it falters stylistically at several points). The novel is built from a web of textual sources assembled so seamlessly that the subtlety of connections can, at times, flummox even the conscientious reader. Maidenhair does not explicitly differentiate between descriptions of the "real" world and second-hand stories. A detail from the protagonist's life might appear alongside a line from a book he's reading, suggesting that each has equal claim to the representation of some kind of reality.

The novel's protagonist works as an interpreter in the Swiss migration service, where he translates hearings for political asylum. Transcripts of these hearings make their way into the text, alternating with other stories including the interpreter's own. In letters to his son, he retraces the dissolution of his marriage to the boy's mother. In Rome, the interpreter tries to recapture his original feelings for his wife, and searches for the elusive originals of the Western cultural heritage. However, even in Rome, originals are hard to come by. Everything is a copy of something that came before it; everything is a reflection of the stories surrounding it.

The interpreter's account is compelling in its own right, but the real drama of Maidenhair comes in the spaces between the novel's different stories.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 7, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The star system on Amazon is meant to measure the reader's enjoyment rather than the quality of the book itself. I am quite prepared to believe that MAIDENHAIR is the masterpiece that the other reviews on this page say it is. But if you click on the fifth star, it says "I loved it" -- but sorry, no, I didn't. I found it fascinating, but a great strain to read, and I couldn't find the motivation to continue past page 200 or so. Put it down to my own deficiencies if you like, but I think other readers deserve a warning that this is not a book for everybody.

It has a very clever premise. A Russian translator works with Swiss immigration officials interviewing seekers for political asylum. Most of their stories are patently false, being mere variations on urban legends that have worked for others. Soon stories beget stories, and the questioner himself is making up extravagant histories which he offers to the applicants. Meanwhile, he is writing to his son, who lives with his divorced wife, referring to him as Nebuchadnezzasuarus, emperor of a mighty kingdom. Into this he weaves fragments of Greek history and myth, the characters from which, most notably Daphnis and Chloe, may also inhabit a modern world where they can work in late-night cafes and be run over by streetcars. There is also the life-story of a once famous singer braided into the book in segments, covering the history of most of the twentieth century, and providing the nearest thing to a through-line I have found to date, and the only character who is even halfway realized as an individual. The reviewers who say that this is a novel that has everything are not far wrong -- but only if "everything" excludes character and plot.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Will Evans on March 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
Mikhail Shishkin's Maidenhair is the type of novel that professors of Russian literature can hold up as a shining example in their classrooms that no, Russian literature is not dead (nor has it ever been), while those who might not know their Pushkin from their Shishkin can read and enjoy Maidenhair as a standalone work of literary brilliance; while at the same time the notoriously fickle American readers who might have read Anna Karenina when Oprah's Book Club made their recommendation or stumbled upon and enjoyed Master & Margarita can sink their mindsteeth into Marian Schwartz's incredible translation of Shishkin's novel and marvel in the fact that Maidenhair harkens back to the great classic Russian novels of ideas in every way.

This was my favorite book I read in 2012, it is as perfect a novel as I could ever ask for.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on July 15, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What this book is "about", per se, I have no bloody idea. But, for the most part, it's very pleasant and engaging to read if one is willing to abide different characters and time frames and what not bleeding into each other. The novel starts out with a Swiss interpreter - à la Shishkin once upon a time in his own life - listening to pleas for asylum and the narratives that accompany them. This serves as a springboard for all manner of stories, narrations, tales with which this book brims over. If there is a theme here, it is that, "We are but the mitts for the narratives within us." This statement is, I think, an essential truth about knowing another person or, even more so, knowing yourself. Who are you essentially if not the narrative that constantly streams through your own mind from hour to hour, constantly changing course as different memories come to the fore and different moods alter it.

I don't think that this book is another War and Peace, as some have claimed, but it's jolly well interesting and enjoyable - especially, to me, the sections from Isabella's diary - and addresses important questions for which life offers no answers with any certitude.

There's an especially droll self-descriptive passage towards the end in Rome wherein Galina Petrovna addresses the interpreter with the following harsh assessment:

"You're mixing everything up! You always mixed everything up! You're a bungler. The Laocoön is one thing, and Korczak something completely different. An emperor can't be a philosopher, and a philosopher can't be an emperor. Sevastopol officers are one thing, and Bernini's angels something completely different. The ancient Greeks are one, the Chechens another."

Yes, well, perhaps so. But including them all in the imbrication which constitutes this novel makes for an interesting narrative, one that serves to enrich the reader's own conversation with himself long after turning the last page.
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