A Whole New Different Project (and question for my folks)

It’s NaNoWriMo time in about three weeks, and while I’m right about ready with what I know I’ll be writing – another installment in The Index Series – I have started thinking about my other love: history.

When I was about nine years old, give or take a year, I read a book that was de rigeur in my mother’s generation. It was the autobiography of Alexandra Brushteyn, an author, teacher, and pioneer of literacy in days of post-revolutionary Russia. Mrs. Brushteyn wrote the story of her fascinating, multifaceted, challenging and all-in-all astounding life in several autobiographic books. The specific book I read was a trilogy that encompassed her childhood and school years, which took place in pre-revolutionary Russia of the late 1890s-early 1900s.

To say that this story was amazing is not to give it anywhere near the accolades it deserves. Through the eyes of a nine-year-old growing into adulthood in that period and place in history, you get to know an entirely different world. Who in the US even knows US history of that era, never mind Russian pre-revolutionary history? No one ever considers that before the epic political and historic mess that Russia had become, it was a world that, all considered, didn’t differ that much from any other country in that time.

And lately, I dove right back into the book, having found it – and all the others that followed it – in e-book format.

And it occurred to me, especially in the wake of the current state of affairs that all the lessons that Mrs. Brushteyn learned as a girl of nine, and continued to learn well into her life, are effectively the same lessons applicable today.

Now, the book is in Russian. I speak the language fluently still, though a proud New Yorker of most of my life. And I wonder…what if I translate it? What if I translate and have it released in English?

I posit to you, my readers – and crucially, my fellow authors – a major question:

What are the copyright/rights issues to keep in mind when translating a published work, especially if the work is, technically, out of production?

This book is old. It’s about 53 years old, and it’s not been in print for as long as I recall. Right now, the e-book transcriptions I have were a fan project – that I know of – and I am not sure if there’s an English translation done already; I’ve not been able to find one. I am not sure if I should treat this story as public domain, or if I have to query someone for permission to translate. The only people who may have a stake in the translation may be the author’s descendants, but I haven’t the foggiest as to where they are right now.

I would really, really enjoy doing the translation of this story. It’s about 500 pages of grueling work that’ll test my knowledge of both languages, but it’s a story that I feel, especially in this place and time, needs to be told.

Chime in, author folk.

K.G.

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4 thoughts on “A Whole New Different Project (and question for my folks)

    1. Thanks for the link. This is the thing: the original publication rights belong to the Children’s Publishing House under the Soviet Union. To my research, there have been no global rights secured with publication, The house in and of itself is nonexistent, naturally. The e-book was released, far as I can tell, by a fan who scanned in the pages and filled in the blanks.

      So, if there’s no global rights, and no known translation, and on top of that the original publishing house is kaput…?

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