The Arty Semite

The Tragic Lives and Loves of Joyce's Russian Translators

By Yoel Matveev

  • Print
  • Share Share
Mikhail Yakovlev’s sculpture of James Joyce in the yard of the State Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow. Image courtesy of the artist.

June 16 is Bloomsday, the day when Leopold Bloom, the Jewish-descended protagonist of James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses,” took his quasi-Homeric one-day odyssey through Dublin. It’s the day when Dubliners and Joyce’s fans throughout the world celebrate the legacy of the great Irish novelist, whose protagonist transcends all cultural and temporal borders while remaining both Irish and Jewish.

Like its border-transcending protagonist, the story of the novel itself doesn’t end in Ireland. In the USSR, James Joyce was long considered a dangerous and forbidden writer.

The first Russian translator of “Ulysses,” Igor Romanovich (1904-1943), was arrested in 1937 for his literary activities and died in the Gulag. His wife, Elena Verzhblovskaya (1904-2000), also spent almost four years in the Gulag after being brutally beaten by her captors for refusing to confess to crimes she never committed.

After Romanovich’s death the task of translating “Ulysses” was continued in the 1970s by Victor Hinkis (1930-1981). But Hinkis was also unable to publish his translation, and he died of illness and alcoholism brought on by anguish and depression. Only in 1989, at the end of Mikhail Gorbachev‘s Perestroika, did the literary magazine Foreign Literature published the first full translation of “Ulysses,” based on Hinkis’s work. In 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian version of Joyce‘s famous novel appeared for the first time in book form.

Now Katerina Ksenyeva, a Russian actress, singer and journalist, is working on a film based on the fate of “Ulysses’s” Russian translators called “The Joy of Love to Joyce.” She was inspired by reading Verzhblovskaya‘s memoirs, in which the author described the mystical visions she received of her husband, even after his death.

Ksenyeva is a woman of many talents. She played the role of Dasha, a destitute Russian dissident, in the celebrated 2008 film “Don’t Think About White Monkeys,” directed by satirist Yuri Mamin. She is also working on recording her vocal composition “New York, New Life, New Love” with David Quinones, the producer of IMOK Gospel and Holy Ground Music, dedicated to all New Yorkers in memory of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attack victims.

I learned of Ksenyeva’s film after she contacted me and invited me to co-write the script. Both of us were born in St. Petersburg and have many common interests. In Ksenyeva’s view, our collaboration on this film is imbued with our mutual interest in mysticism and our dedication to social justice.

“The Joy of Love to Joyce” is a film about the extraordinary love between two inspired people, about their passionate and tragic devotion to Joyce’s writings, and about the miraculous occurrences that happen to the heroine of the film, Elena Verzhblovskaya. The cruel reality of Soviet life under Stalin and images from Joyce’s works are fantastically interlaced throughout the narrative. I am contributing the Irish part of the script, which is intertwined with the lives of the Russian translators. Ksenyeva hopes that my knowledge of Irish and Jewish religious traditions can lend an extra dimension to an already compelling story.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuri Mamin, Yoel Matveev, Ulysses, Victor Hinkis, The Joy of Love to Joyce, Russian, Leopold Bloom, Katerina Ksenyeva, James Joyce, Igor Romanovich, Film, Elena Verzhblovskaya, Don't Think About White Monkeys, Books, Bloomsday

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.