Debut novel by ‘Russian Proust’ to be published in English for the first time | Books

The debut novel by Yuri Felsen, an creator as soon as considered the “Russian Proust” whose work has been forgotten since he died in Auschwitz in 1943, is ready to be published in English for the first time.

Felsen, the pseudonym of the Russian émigré creator Nikolai Freudenstein, was born in St Petersburg in 1894, emigrating after the Russian revolution and settling in Paris in 1923. He was seen as considered one of the main Russian writers of his time, ranked alongside Vladimir Nabokov, however when France was occupied in the second world conflict his escape to Switzerland failed, and he was killed in Auschwitz’s fuel chambers in February 1943. His manuscripts and letters have been misplaced – probably destroyed – after his arrest, and his work is nearly unknown right now.

Educational and translator Bryan Karetnyk discovered Felsen’s name while reading literary criticism from the 1930s, discovering that he was broadly praised, and happening to monitor down Felsen’s personal writings.

Yuri Felsen
Yuri Felsen. {Photograph}: Prototype Publishing

“In the so-called ‘Russia Overseas’, Felsen was unanimously held up by his contemporaries … to be considered one of the most authentic and important writers of his era, subsequent to Nabokov,” stated Karetnyk. “Felsen’s plunge into obscurity took place for quite a lot of causes. Not content material with having despatched him to the fuel chambers, the Nazis did every part in their energy to destroy his legacy, and his archive disappeared with out hint following his arrest.”


Karetnyk has now translated Felsen’s first novel Deceit, which was initially published in Russian in 1930, into English, with the guide due out subsequent Could from unbiased press Prototype Publishing. Written in the type of a diary, and set in Paris between the wars, it sees the unnamed narrator inform of his fraught relationship together with his love curiosity and muse, Lyolya.

“It actually made Felsen’s popularity as considered one of the main writers of the so-called ‘youthful era’, though in fact it was banned in Russia,” stated Karetnyk. “The effective psychological portraiture of the protagonist and his love curiosity, in addition to the superbly wrought philosophical meditations on love, artwork and human nature, bear parallels not solely with Proust, but in addition with different greats of modernism together with Nabokov, Woolf and Joyce.”

Jess Chandler, who based Prototype in 2019, stated that she acquired Deceit as a result of she noticed it as “an especially uncommon alternative to introduce a extremely important, undiscovered modernist work to an English readership.

“Felsen’s writing would undoubtedly have been vastly influential had his legacy not been destroyed, and Deceit will nonetheless really feel modern and groundbreaking to readers right now,” stated Chandler. “As a writer in freeform literary artwork, this novel from 1930 feels as thrilling as something I’ve learn in current years.”

Solely transient extracts of Felsen’s writings have beforehand been translated, though his collected works have been republished in Russia in 2012. His writing, stated Karetnyk, stays resonant right now.

“He consciously positioned himself as an anti-totalitarian author (in that he was each anti-fascist and anti-Bolshevik), championing love, inventive freedom and particular person id, and searching for to give them heightened expression at a time of mounting political pressures that may quite deny them, at a time when writers have been desperately searching for out new methods in which artwork may present ample response to political tyranny. With out exaggeration, I consider we’re dwelling in a time when these concepts have renewed political, cultural and inventive significance,” stated the translator.

“On a extra literary be aware, given right now’s obsessions with autofiction, his profoundly psychological prose, which marries non-public expertise with inventive expression, can be a well timed reminder that this style in truth has a protracted and distinguished European historical past.”

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