Literature in Translation: From Russia with Light and Dark

As a continuation of my post from the other day, I thought I would try to provide examples of literature in translation—specifically genre lit in trans. Today we’re going to talk about Russia.

I was a big fan of Timur Bekmambetov‘s movies Night Watch and Day Watch from the moment I saw them. These were huge movies in Russia, making more money than the Lord of the Rings movies. If you haven’t seen them, they’re a visual feast of vampires, light vs. dark, guns, magic, car chases, and more. Even the subtitles are interesting.

I knew at the time that they came from a series of books by Russian author Sergei Lukyuanenko. I picked up the first book and put it on my shelf to read (along with several hundred other books to read) when I received Last Watch in the mail from Miramax Books a few weeks ago.

I decided it was time to start reading. The first thing I can say is that I regret not starting sooner. But isn’t that always the case? Now I’m almost done with the first book, and I need to go pick up Day Watch and Twilight Watch before I can dig into Last Watch. The books are about a group called the Others, who are divided into Light and Dark. In the first book, we are concerned with the Night Watch, who are agents of the Light who watch things at night to make sure that the agents of the Dark are not breaking any rules.

The events are told through the eyes of Anton, a low-level mage for the Light. He’s tracking down some vampires, although it’s not clear initially that’s what he’s doing. Along the way, he encounters a young lady with a dark vortex over her head. You see, when you curse at someone, say they cut you off on the highway, that creates a vortex over their heads that makes them depressed, or have a migraine, or some other small malady. But these go away quickly. This young lady, however, has a vortex larger than anything Anton’s ever heard about. All the same, the young lady is not the task at hand for Anton, and as a young operative in the field, he can’t afford to dilly dally.

Of course, this large vortex becomes much more important than it initially seemed, as do the vampires that Anton is tracking. Anton screwed up with how he handled things, but he’s given another chance to fix them. He’s given a partner, who seems unstable, and has to try and solve his case while knowing less than everyone around him. Things are going to escalate quickly outside of Anton’s comfort zone.

While the basic set up is not ground-breaking in its originality, the voice that tells them is unique. Some of it is the fact that Lukyanenko comes from a vastly different background from me. Some of it is also that Russia/Asia is an unknown entity to me as well. But there’s also something in the way the Lukyanenko (and his translator) tell the story. You really get inside Anton’s head, and you really get a sense of how different it is in Russia from here in the States.

Plus, for those of you who have seen the movies, the books are different enough to make them worth reading. For me, this is a case where the look of the film matches the atmosphere of the book almost perfectly.


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